Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

February 21, 2013

Schools celebrate FFA week

Jackson Adams
Effingham Daily News

STRASBURG — As many local schools are cutting programs, FFA Week celebrated the opportunities of one elective class that educators say is still vital to learning.

At Stewardson-Strasburg High School Wednesday, elementary school students were able to see what the class does with a petting zoo and demonstrations showing the source of their food.

"Hopefully, they have a better idea of where their food comes from," said Jennifer Barker, the agriculture instructor and FFA adviser at the school. "We wouldn't have anything without agriculture."

The petting zoo, which featured horses, cows, pigs and a variety of birds was visited by preschool through fourth-graders from around the area.

Barker said she hopes that while younger students can learn about food, her agriculture students could gain valuable lessons from the activity as well.

"This is an opportunity for them to learn more about communicating with younger students and help them with public speaking," she said.

School budget cuts could make some agriculture programs around the state a thing of the past, with some local schools cutting or reducing funding for such programs.

Doug Thurnau, the agriculture teacher at St. Elmo high school, said the lessons students can learn from the program are able to take them far beyond farming.

"The important part is kids looking at what's ahead," he said. "This is the only program to help develop real leadership. This is the only program that lets them see what life is going to be like."

Thurnau, who also serves as a district officer with the Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers, said students are able to apply the lessons they learn in other classes to his classes, bringing the Common Core standards to life.

"We've been dealing with Common Core for 30 years," he said. "Out there, the kids have to put real world knowledge together, and they're doing that here. I know it's an elective, but it's an accumulation of everything they're learning in other classes."

Barker said advances in agriculture have made their way into the curriculum for her classes.

"There's definitely a lot of science in there," she said. "The nice thing with a class like this is we don't have to stick to one curriculum. We also teach English and social science and business in these classes."

Thurnau said in order for agriculture programs to survive statewide, community members and elected officials need to change the way they think about farming.

"Last year, six new ag programs started in schools," he said. "These were brand new programs but now with budget cuts we're losing programs. That's scary, because we're losing programs that directly apply to the local economy. People drive through and see corn and beans, but they don't see money or jobs. They see something to walk through before shooting a deer. We have to change that."

Jackson Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 131, or jackson.adams@effinghamdailynews.com.