Mt Pleasant News

Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 19, 2018

MP students ask for FFA, ag courses

May 15, 2018

By Karyn Spory, Mt. Pleasant News


Mt. Pleasant High School senior Austin Buckert came to the school board meeting Monday night prepared with more than a PowerPoint. Buckert, who was advocating the creation of agriculture education courses and the installation of a FFA (Future Farmers of America) chapter, brought along state chapter officials to help him make his case.

Like many kids in Iowa, Buckert grew up in an agricultural based family, after high school he plans to continue his education in an agriculture related field before pursuing a career in it. As he looks into the next chapter, however, he feels he would have been better prepared for college had there been a FFA chapter in Mt. Pleasant.

FFA is a student led organization, which teaches young adults not only about agriculture, but also provides opportunities for leadership and development of soft skills. The organization is a three-component model: FFA; SAE, which includes experimental, service and work-based; and classroom instruction and learning. Students participating in FFA must take one agricultural course per semester. Mt. Pleasant had a FFA chapter until the 1980s. Currently Winfield-Mt. Union is the only school in Henry County with a FFA chapter.

“When I came to high school I was really interested in doing ag classes, but the curriculum lacked ag classes. I even looked into open enrolling in other schools to get the ag classes I was looking for, but at the time I didn’t have a car to drive and couldn’t get there,” Buckert said.

Instead, Buckert enrolled in Mt. Pleasant’s CEL class, which stands for Civic Engagement Leadership. “We find a problem and you try to solve it.” Buckert wants to solve Mt. Pleasant’s lack of agriculture education. This isn’t the first time the school board has received requests from students to create a FFA chapter and agriculture courses. Last year Jack Pieper requested the board look into starting a FFA chapter. Pieper was unable to attend Monday night’s meeting as he is currently studying in Brazil as part of his participation in the World Food Prize.

Mt. Pleasant junior Anna Beckman said it was important for her not to miss out on the agricultural education experience and participating in FFA so she enrolled for a semester at Mediapolis. “Once you’re in college you’re expected to have some basic knowledge about how the agricultural field functions and works,” Beckman said, adding without these classes Mt. Pleasant is not fully preparing students for college.

Buckert surveyed students in the elementary schools all the way into high school, asking if they would be interested in participating in FFA. Buckert said through his polling he learned half of the high school students didn’t know what FFA was. However, over half of the students surveyed stated they would be interested in taking ag related courses.

CD Brinegar, Iowa FFA Association State President, and Cassie Bond, past Iowa FFA Association South Central State Vice President, both attended Monday night’s meeting, along with a slew of FFA students from Mediapolis High School. Brinegar and Bond both elaborated on how FFA and the ag related courses prepared them for life beyond the ag field, stating SAE (supervised agricultural experience) gives students an opportunity to create their own product that makes an impact on the ag industry. Bond, whose family raised sheep, worked as a bank teller in high school. Her SAE project focused on agricultural finance and lending, a passion she’s taking into her career. “I struggled to find this in any other student organization,” she said.

Board member Chuck Andrew asked how the district might be able to fit ag education into the budget, as in order to start an FFA chapter the district would need to hire an ag teacher who would be the FFA adviser. Earlier in the meeting, board president David McCoid spoke briefly about the financial constraints on the district. With declining enrollment and less state financial assistance the district has already cut nearly $1 million from its budget within the past few years. “There simply isn’t enough money for new programing or more staff,” he said.

As the board was set to approve spending plans for the Physical Plant and Equipment Fund and Penny Sales and Service Tax funds, Superintendent John Henriksen reminded the audience that funding a new position would have to come from the general fund, per state code.

The board members also heard from Adam Smith, president of the Henry County Cattlemen’s Association and Jon Sanbrooke, of the Henry County Farm Bureau. Both men expressed their support of creating a FFA chapter in Mt. Pleasant, even offering financial support.

Buckert asked the district to consider the matter and suggested forming a task force to look into the issue further. No decision was made at the time.

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