Hillcrest launches Future Farmers of America chapter
On Wednesday afternoons, a small group of students head to the science wing of Hillcrest High School to Sharon Blauvelt’s classroom. They’re freshmen and seniors, new to agriculture and children of farming families.
Together, they’re the 22 founding members of the inaugural Future Farmers of America chapter at Springfield Public Schools.
“This is the first year of a three-year process,” says Blauvelt, environmental and natural science pathway lead teacher in the Hillcrest STEM Academy. “I’m working on getting my certification from DESE to be certified to teach agriculture. And going forward, we’ll have at least three agriculture classes, hopefully more. This is just the beginning, and Hillcrest has 70 acres, with half of that land covered in forests. We have a lot of space for our students to learn.”
Future Farmers of America, or FFA, is a highly credentialed, specialized curriculum that benefits students in a variety of ways. From soft skills, like public speaking, confidence and collaborating with local businesses, to the hard skills of stream management, livestock and plant science, there’s a benefit for every student.
And students have been asking for FFA to come to Hillcrest for years, Blauvelt says.
“We have two seniors this year who have asked every year if FFA is coming to Hillcrest, so bringing FFA to our school has not just been supported by our community, but also driven by our students.”
Senior Madison Edmondson was a strong supporter of FFA’s launch. She was raised on a farm and had participated in 4-H, another agriculture learning program, at her previous school district. When she arrived at Hillcrest as a freshman, she was disappointed that there wasn’t FFA at the school. She wanted to become an agricultural lawyer. So, she didn’t stop asking about FFA.
“Last year, I really went full swing on it and asked around to see if FFA was possible, if a teacher could be certified in agriculture,” said Madison. “Now my senior year, it’s finally here. Our location is just perfect for FFA, and I thought it would be a perfect club or organization for our school. There’s the northside, which is maybe more countryside, but then there’s also kids who maybe don’t know about farm life but are interested in it. So it’s a great place for both.”
Fellow senior Kenson Handley grew up working on a hobby farm, surrounded by farmers in his community. He saw FFA as an opportunity to get more involved at school with something he was passionate about, as well as celebrating his rural heritage.
“We’ve lost some of our northside heritage, because a whole bunch of this used to be farm land,” said Kenson. “It brings back recognition to the families that are left who are farmers, still, and gives them recognition for what they do on the northside.”
Kenson is excited to see the number of freshmen who are actively engaged in FFA meetings at Hillcrest. His hope, like Blauvelt’s, is for the program to thrive and be a fixture at Hillcrest for many years to come.
“FFA means better things for my kids,” said Blauvelt. “Job opportunities, farm tours, business connections, leadership skills, scholarships, even making connections with the agriculture department at Missouri State. These are opportunities that weren’t available to Hillcrest students before, and now, they’re here for anyone. We welcome everyone because anyone can wear the blue FFA jacket.”