Oklahoma’s high school agriculture students are recognized across the country for their leadership, speaking and technical skills in FFA, the nationwide youth organization promoting agricultural education, service and leadership development.
Participation in Oklahoma FFA is growing, and the increase is coming from more high school students studying agriculture at urban and suburban high schools.
They are students like Brooklyn Maddux, a senior at Carl Albert High School in Midwest City.
“I don’t live on a farm. I took my first ag class during my junior year,” she says, while waiting to compete in an FFA welding contest at Tishomingo in April 2014. “I got involved in FFA, and it has helped me become more outgoing,” says Maddux, who was also serving as the Carl Albert FFA chapter president.
That chapter is growing, from 37 students in 2012 to 55 for the 2014-15 school year. “It’s easier for an urban chapter to grow because of the sheer number of students available,” says Jack Staats, State FFA advisor. But it is not only the bigger student pool, he says. “The number is growing so quickly because of the varied career pathways and curriculum opportunities that are offered, the leadership opportunities offered, the competitive activities offered and the hands-on learning style offered through agricultural education,” says Staats.
That is the hallmark three-circle model of agricultural education: in-class learning; applying that learning through experience, service or work-based learning; and personal growth and leadership experience in FFA. “It is the only classroom experience built around this three-circle model,” says Staats.
Grant Little, Carl Albert agriculture teacher and FFA chapter adviser, sees his students attracted to the variety in agriculture. “We learn about typical farming in Oklahoma – like livestock, crops and poultry,” says Little. “But we also learn about horticulture in the greenhouse, and ag mechanics – welding, engines and electricity,” he says. “I think it’s the diversity of our course curriculum that is the most appealing thing.”
The curriculum diversity appeals to both girls and boys from Midwest City, says Little. “The majority of the girls in my classes really enjoy welding and working on motors,” he says. “And girls make up at least half (the members) of our welding teams,” says Little, who learned to weld from his high school ag teacher.
Little taught math for nine years before taking the agriculture position at Carl Albert in 2013. He says ag mechanics teaches problem solving and applied math skills, and he looks for ways to connect shop projects to real-world needs.
“Our school shop does have limited space, and our welding students designed and made a workbench with many innovative parts,” says Little. The bench, awarded a Grand Champion at the Tulsa State Fair, is used regularly in the shop.
Agriculture teachers like Little also look for ways to connect skills learned in class with community service. Five Carl Albert students designed and constructed sculptures, made from heavy gauge wire and rebar, of a farmer and his crops. After welding, agriscience and horticulture students made adjustments and wrapped light strings around the sculptures. The sculptures were installed on the lawn at the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry in November 2014 for display during the holidays.
Maddux says that her involvement in agriscience classes and FFA has helped her set a future direction. “When I started my junior year, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she says. “Now, I’m going to go to community college and transfer to Oklahoma State to study agriculture or ag education.”