The North Scott FFA chapter of Eldridge in eastern Iowa has been chosen as a finalist to compete for a 2020 National FFA Model of Excellence award from the National FFA Organization. This places the chapter, for the first time, as one of the top 10 programs nationally.
High school chapters earning high ratings during judging at the state level are eligible to compete for the national Model of Excellence award, the highest honor awarded to a high school FFA chapter by the National FFA. Of the top 10 chapters named Model of Excellence Chapters each year, an overall national winner is chosen.
The national chapter award program recognizes outstanding FFA chapters from across the country that actively implement the mission and strategies. These chapters improve chapter operations using the National Quality FFA Chapter Standards and a program of activities that emphasizes growing leaders, building communities and strengthening agriculture. Chapters are rewarded for providing these and other educational experiences for the entire membership.
Growing tomorrow’s ag leaders
The Top 10 Model of Excellence chapters will complete in a presentation and interview process for top honors during the 2020 National FFA Convention & Expo, Oct. 27- 29, to be held virtually. The chapter selected to receive the national Model of Excellence award will be announced online during the convention.
All winning FFA chapters receive honors made possible by corporate sponsor John Deere. “We are proud to support FFA and help prepare young people to be involved in agriculture and the continuing effort to feed a growing world population. Feeding 9 billion people by midcentury brings unprecedented challenges for today’s farmers,” says Amy Allen, manager of national corporate contributions for Deere. “Skills and experiences learned by students through the FFA will help meet tomorrow’s critical needs.”
The National FFA provides leadership, personal growth and career success training through ag education to 669,989 student members who belong to one of 8,630 local FFA chapters in the U.S., Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. The organization is also supported by 459,514 alumni members in 2,236 alumni chapters throughout the U.S.
Rigorous selection process
Competition is keen as chapters nationwide enter the annual awards program. FFA chapter activities the students were evaluated on for 2020 were based on programming that took place in 2019. However, the judging and selection process occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
“That’s why when you see photos of our North Scott FFA Chapter’s activities associated with earning the Top 10 Model of Excellence Award recognition, in some of the pictures our students are wearing masks and in other pictures they aren’t wearing masks,” says Jacob Hunter, ag teacher and FFA adviser at North Scott High School.
Hunter explains the activities that helped North Scott FFA earn Top 10 recognition:
Strengthening Agriculture. The chapter works with a local farmer, John Maxwell at Cinnamon Ridge Farms, hosting a farm-to-table event each year at the dairy farm. Attendees include the Governor of Iowa, state and local officials, local business leaders and others invited. “Our FFA students help teach these people about agriculture and show them what it’s like to work on a farm and how a farm operates,” Hunter says. “The students set up a tour and also explain various experiments and educational projects our chapter does during the year.”
North Scott FFA also hosts an Ag University Day for elementary schoolkids to see and learn about livestock production. This is specifically targeted to third through fifth graders. The Iowa Corn Growers Association brings their mobile classroom, a trailer equipped with videos and interactive exhibits. “Our school district has five elementary schools and last year we were able to reach four of them,” Hunter notes. “The students rotate to the stations in groups to learn about ag topics.”
Building Communities. The FFA chapter hosts local debates and invites news media. Last year they held a school board discussion and all board members participated, examining issues and answering questions about the future of ag education in the community. Other education concerns were debated, and a straw poll conducted. “This taught our students the importance of voting and being informed,” Hunter says.
The chapter also assists with hosting Farm Days, held in Davenport. “We welcome people from the Quad Cities to come and learn about farming,” he explains. “They do fun, hands-on activities. The Iowa Ag Literacy Foundation suggests the activities and helps guide our students in planning this event.”
Growing Leaders. North Scott FFA’s mentoring program helps younger students entering FFA know what is expected of them in class and in chapter activities. Studying ag is more comprehensive than it used to be, with new technology in today’s agriculture. “There are more topics for students to study and learn about,” Hunter says. “We help freshmen and others new to our school in our ag program.”
Another part of the Growing Leaders activity at North Scott is 65 acres farmed by the FFA chapter. The chapter farms 40 acres owned by an FFA alum who strongly believes in the program. The chapter rents it and pays the bills to grow the crop, and students do the work. The chapter also farms 21 acres the school owns. North Scott bought the land for a future site where it plans to build a facility focused on the school’s ag education program. That 21 acres is in soybeans in 2020.
The chapter has an evaluation plot for corn and soybean varieties. “We work with seed company representatives and local co-ops and related businesses. The students learn not only agronomy lessons but also about careers involved,” Hunter says.
In-person, online classes
How many students, freshman through senior year, are enrolled in ag at North Scott? This year enrollment is a little uncertain transitioning between virtual and in-person classes. The two ag teachers are Jacob Hunter and Kailey Barlow. “Between my classes and Ms. Barlow’s, there are about 154 high school students and another 20 or so totally online,” Hunter says. “We have around 170 to 175 students enrolled in ag classes. A significant number are enrolled in the junior high ag program, too.”
All North Scott ag students are FFA members. “Our alumni truly believe in including all students in the three-circle model — ag classes, FFA involvement and Supervised Agricultural Experiences,” he says. “Our alumni pay for all our ag students to be FFA members.” Annual dues are approximately $14.50 per student.
Being named one of the nation’s Top 10 FFA chapters is quite an accomplishment. Only one other Iowa chapter has previously achieved that goal. West Liberty FFA was named a National Model of Excellence FFA chapter several years ago. “The key to having a successful FFA chapter is community support,” Hunter says. “At North Scott, our FFA program and ag classes are a community effort. Without the community and alumni backing us, we wouldn’t be where we are today. The students are doing a fantastic job of being leaders. They do a lot to help their chapter grow.”