The FFA program at Arabia Mountain High School brings an agricultural experience to students who are far removed from traditional farming.
The program at the relatively young school is an official chapter of the National FFA and adheres to its mission. But its focus is more on environmental studies than on livestock showings.
“We’re nothing close to the typical agriculture-based school,” says Lauren Deas, a senior at Arabia Mountain High, who has been involved in the school’s FFA program since ninth grade. “The most we have (that is similar) is a greenhouse because we are into the environmental and urban conservation part of it. We mostly do career development that would deal with forestry or natural resources, or things we’ll be able to align to in some sort of way.”
The Great Outdoors
With much of the state being agriculture-centered, Georgia has the country’s third-largest FFA association with more than 37,000 members in some 290 chapters. Most of these are in more rural areas and centered on what one might think of as “traditional” themes and activities of a typical FFA chapter.
Arabia Mountain High – founded in 2009 as an environmental, energy and engineering magnet program – is the only high school in DeKalb County with an FFA program. Located in a LEED-certified building adjacent to the 2,000-acre Arabia Mountain Nature Reserve, the school provides students with a strong college preparatory, career-oriented foundation. And it offers the great outdoors.
“I do have the luxury of the nature preserve to incorporate the natural resource elements of [the program] along with the environmental science, the wildlife, plant identification components,” says Joshua Rogers, agriculture education instructor and the FFA advisor at Arabia. “Students like just being outside and have the hands-on application.”
Though Deas had no particular interest in traditional agriculture, she knew the program at Arabia would be her best option for a career having to do with the
environment and conservation.
“I thought about agriculture because I’m into environmental work, and that would be the closest field to it,” says Deas, who is vice president of her FFA chapter. “I started getting into urban conservation, and through FFA I was able to do my supervised agricultural experience. It was a chance for me to actually get into my whole career-building thing while being in the program.”
Arabia’s FFA program allows students to pursue a range of studies in college, and ultimately, in careers.
“Students culminate by taking a national landscaping exam and are well prepared to work in a greenhouse, nursery or in landscaping,” Rogers says. “Our satisfying aspect of animal interest is with students shadowing at veterinarian offices; some have worked at the Georgia Aquarium or Atlanta zoo; and some have even gone outside the state to work in a wildlife setting.”
Life Lessons from 4-H
Similarly, the 4-H program in DeKalb County has also helped students ages 9 to 19 participate in several activities such as summer camps, judging events, community service and project achievement competitions.
“There are issues that affect urban children, and we have a lot of programs, such as the Health Living Program, that address those concerns,” says Marie Trice, DeKalb County extension agent and 4-H coordinator.
Some 2,500 students in the county belong to 4-H, which teaches many life lessons such as responsibility, communication skills and leadership development.
“We had a mother’s testimony about how 4-H helped her son, Delvin Middlebrooks,” Trice says. “He graduated [in 2015], and many scholarship offers outside of 4-H presented themselves. She attributed it to his seven years of being in 4-H and the leadership it taught him.”