Over 3,000 students, advisors, parents, alumni, and sponsors from throughout Wisconsin gathered at the Alliant Energy Center June 9-12 for the 85th annual Wisconsin FFA Convention to support and celebrate this past year's accomplishments in agricultural education.
For the fourth straight year at the convention, Waupaca was recognized as Wisconsin’s top FFA chapter, an honor the chapter has received more than a dozen times in the past two decades.
“It takes a community to earn such an honor year after year,” said Jenifer Erb, who, along with Rene Lehman, serves as chapter adviser.
“The Waupaca FFA has that support from the Waupaca FFA Alumni, the Waupaca School Board and High School Administration, faculty members and the greater Waupaca Community,” she said. “Everybody works together and the kids benefit.”
The FFA National Chapter Application incorporates activities that students plan and implement in the three areas of student, chapter and community development. This year Waupaca earned first place in Student Development and Community Development, and third place for its Chapter Development activities.
“In total, the Waupaca FFA holds 32 community service events every year,” Erb noted. “To make those a reality, the FFA advisors simply could not be in charges of all facets of those activities.”
She stressed that the FFA officers and committee chairs take the lead in planning, executing and evaluating all the chapter events. “I think that’s what really makes our chapter successful,” she added.
FFA members assist with the community garden, plan and implement FFA Farmfest at Turner’s Farm Market, and conduct environmental day activities for all the third-graders in the Waupaca School District.
“These are events the entire community can be involved in, and because students plan and implement them there is not a lot of money that needs to be spent or outside resources needed,” Erb said.
Chapter Development activities include a day on the farm, eighth-grade ag career day and a greenhouse sale. “The FFA members and agriscience students are involved in all phases of making these events a reality,” Erb emphasized.
Members also assist with students who have severe cognitive disorders. “FFA members go into the elementary schools and tutor these students like big brothers and big sisters.” Erb noted. “They help with schoolwork, lend an ear and advise kids who b=may be struggling socially and academically.”
Several members of the Waupaca FFA were also honored for individual achievements. Ben Nickel took second place in the Wisconsin Star in Ag Placement competition, which recognizes students who are employed in agriculture production.
“This is a huge honor,” Erb remarked. “Ben’s application focused on his responsibilities in operating a farm that raises 2,200 acres of soybeans, corn and wheat.”
His application included the proficiencies he’s gained over the years in selecting the varieties of seed corn, the purchase of planting and harvesting equipment and utilizing global positioning systems on the farm. “Unfortunately his dad passed away, so he’s had to take on even more responsibility,” Erb said.
Three Waupaca FFA members took first-place honors in their proficiencies. Alta Littrel earned gold in Equine Science Entrepreneurship, Ethan Riley won the Organic Agriculture Proficiency, and Garrett Orr earned top honors in Poultry Production.
“These applications will be sent to the national FFA for further judging,” explained Erb.. “The top four from across the United States will be the finalists and will be interviewed at the national convention, and one will be the national winner.”
Ellyssa Grant, Morgan Orr, Austin Zempel, Caleb Hamm, Anna Swisher, and Jessica Allen earned second place in the FFA Opening and Closing Ceremony contest for high school students.
Nicole Jacowski placed 4th in the extemporaneous speaking contest. “This involves picking three agricultural topics from a hat. After selecting one of the topics, the contestant has a half hour to prepare a 4-6 minute speech,” noted Erb.
Jacowski also participated in the FFA Job Interview Contest which requires the students to select an entry level job, write a cover letter and resume, and then be interviewed for that job. “Participants are judged by professionals and critiqued on their poise, confidence and other necessary traits to be successful in the business world,” Erb said.
Taylor Eilers earned fifth place in the State FFA Creed Contest, where memorized the creed and answered three questions.
Waupaca students earning Wisconsin FFA Degree were Natasha Hales, Ashley Mertz, Allexica Moeller, Melissa Nelson, Ben Nickel, and Avery Nowak.
At the state convention, Jessica Allen earned recognition as a Three Star Leader. Winning this award ranks her among the best FFA members in Wisconsin during the 2013-2014 school year.
The Three Star Leader Award recognizes a selected FFA member from a local chapter for being actively involved in chapter activities.
Erb cites this as an example of the student leadership that is one of the key reasons for the success of the Waupaca FFA Chapter.
“We’ve had members win national proficiencies, and our chapter had done well on the national level,” she remarked. “This serves as an inspiration to current members and gives them confidence to succeed because they see that others before them have done it.”
Waupaca FFA members also served on the Courtesy Corps during the convention, assisting as ushers, taking tickets for luncheons and helping with workshops. Others worked in the newsroom taking photos, proofing articles, and writing news releases.
Several members also participated in the Day of Service event during the convention, planting vegetable, weeding flower gardens, and spreading wood chips.
The 143 members of Waupaca’s FFA Chapter can be justifiably proud of their accomplishments, according to Erb. “They continue to set and accomplish career and personal goals,” she said. “Each year, higher standards are set for members – and with dedication, time management, and personal commitment, the goals are achieved.”
Erb is also willing to work with other agriscience teachers and FFA advisors who might be looking for ways to improve their programs. “If they just contact me, I’ll be happy to help in any way I can,” she said.
Because they won first place Waupaca FFA members will be staffing the Wisconsin booth at the National FFA Convention this October in Louisville, Ky.
That booth will showcase FFA achievements in Wisconsin and the state’s agriculture industry. “In the past, we gave out 400 pounds of cheese, 100 pounds of sausage and 100 pounds of cranberries,” Erb related. “We will also highlight FFA members who are competing at the national level.”