Freedom FFA has been building student leadership skills for 66 years
The Freedom FFA Chapter was chartered in 1950, and during the following decades it has grown along with the school district’s agriculture education curriculum, providing numerous opportunities for member development.
Currently serving as chapter advisors and agriculture education instructors are Paul Larson and Kevin Champeau. Larson, who has spent his entire career teaching in the Freedom School District, is beginning his 30th year. Champeau, is starting his 26th year at the school following six years at other schools in the state.
While Larson and Champeau teach a full program of classes at the high school, Larson also teaches an Introduction to agriculture course at the middle school, which is an elective for 7th graders that usually attracts around 80 students.
”We have a broad spectrum of high school agriculture courses,” said Larson. “We begin with our foundation course: Ag Science 1 and 2. In the first semester we cover animals, wildlife and fish, and in the second semester we teach about plants, markets and food.”
Larson noted those introductory classes also provide students with vital background information the school’s FFA chapter. “Their FFA projects are established at that point, and once students complete the introductory course, they can branch into several different areas,” he said.
One string of classes includes animal science and vet science, equine science and plant science, which also includes studying soils. “Forestry, horticulture and landscape technology are also offered in that string,” Larson noted.
There are also classes in food science, ecology, wildlife management and aquaculture. “We have a pretty extensive fish operation here,” Larson remarked..
Students also have the opportunity to take a leadership class, along with ag business and personal finance. “We offer a wide span of courses, including an occasional bio-technology class, and many of the class offerings are scheduled based on student requests,” said Larson.
FFA community activities
Freedom High School currently has 178 students who are FFA members, according to Larson. “Typically, we have between 175 and 200 students in our high school ag program out of a total high school enrollment of around 500.”
Advisors generally meet with the chapter’s officer team in July and August, depending on the availability of the students. “We go some place where we can sit down for a couple of hours, and talk about what they want to do, what we want to accomplish and what direction we want to go with our activities for the coming year,” Larson explained.
The FFA chapter is involved in numerous community related activities. “We do farm tours where we take all the second-graders from our elementary school out to a farm,” said Larson. “Typically this is at a farm that has robotic milking technology so the students can see how robots milk cows, We also show them where the milks goes, how the cows are fed and the safety procedures used on the farm.”
FFA members work closely with the local food pantry, which is currently serving between 50-55 families. “We conduct several food drives and coordinate food drives with other groups,” Larson said. “Our members help sort the food, pack the bags and prepare them for distribution.”
Each year the chapter assists Outagamie County dairy producers with their annual dairy breakfast on the farm. “In addition to helping prepare the breakfast,we have a booth where we inform the public about different issues related to farm safety,” Larson explained.
A new community project brought Freedom FFA members to Theda Clark Children’s Hospital in Neenah where children face significant health challenges.
“Groups are allowed to come in and paint characters on the windows in the waiting area to help boost the spirits of the patients,” Larson said. “Several members painted a Peanuts-themed display right before Thanksgiving, and the students really enjoyed that.
“This was a new activity for us, and one that we’re being recognized for nationally as a Model of Innovation. We’ll have students at the National FFA Convention as one of the 10 Models of Innovation in student development,” said Larson. “Based on interviews, one of those 10 chapters will be selected as the Model of Innovation winner.”
Students grow hydroponic lettuce that is donated to the school lunch salad bar. “Our students also grow radishes in a high-tunnel type of greenhouse,” said Larson. “Food that isn’t used in the school lunch program is donated to the food pantry.”
This past school year, the FFA chapter partnered with the school’s technology education department, which is known for its auto body work.
“We had some students who wanted to work on a tractor, so the FFA chapter purchased an old Farmall H tractor, and the students in both departments completely renovated it,” Larson noted. “We recently raffled it off, and the proceeds from the raffle will benefit both the FFA Chapter and the Freedom Auto Club.”
Each year several Freedom FFA students are involved in a variety of Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) projects that enable them to apply for proficiency awards and state degrees.
“Some of our members raise animals, work in various ag businesses, or have their own ag-related business,” Larson said. “There are many opportunities for students to be recognized for their work in the classroom and community.”
In addition to being recognized for their Model of Innovation contribution to the children’s area at Theda Clark Hospital, several FFA members have earned state degrees and advanced to the national level.
At this year’s FFA State Convention, Freedom FFA member Danielle Angotti, received her state degree and was also elected as the FFA vice-president for Section 8, which includes 25 chapters in schools throughout east central and northeastern Wisconsin.
Angotti recently began her freshman year at UW-River Falls where she plans to major in agricultural education. “It is my goal to become a teacher and advisor and to continue to make a difference in the lives of others,” she said.
In addition to FFA, she was involved in many activities throughout her four years of high school. “I participated in cheerleading, soccer, forensics, auto club, yearbook, band, jazz band, school newspaper and more,” she said. “If it was offered I probably tried it. I really enjoyed staying busy and trying new things because I never knew what could come if it.”
Her SAE was in Beef Production Entrepreneurship, and she enjoyed participating in the Livestock Evaluation Career Development Event.
Angotti advises new FFA members is to get involved, and try as many new things as they can. “Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and meet some new people,” she said.