Winters FFA program shifting focus to agriculture career opportunities

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Winters FFA members Bianca Dyer-Gonzalez, Joe Aguiar, Allison Aguiar and Riley Hurst represented the Winters at the Central Region Public Speaking contest in Modesto in February. (Courtesy photo)

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Gone are the days of the Winters FFA being known only for judging livestock. In fact, the age-old notion doesn’t scratch the surface of its modern-day offerings. That’s why now, in 2022, the Winters High School students and teachers give a nod to their past roots and talk about the Winters FFA as it is today.

It’s no secret that Winters isn’t a bustling livestock community. When one looks around, it’s all fields, orchards and vineyards. This fact inspired WHS teachers Kayla Roberts and Donnie Whitworth to work on shifting the local chapter’s focus to teaching students about the surrounding agricultural industry. Beyond that are a myriad of classes designed to bolster leadership, confidence and knowledge of practical skills that can be easily transferred into career opportunities.

“We have ‘Introduction to Agriculture’ which is an introduction to all of the pathways of our program. We’ve broken that class down into a few units, there’s welding and woodworking, a leadership and public speaking unit and plant and animal science,” Roberts said. “The students get a taste of everything and get to decide what’s best for them.”

Along these pathways are Roberts’ floral design and ag biology classes and Whitworth’s ag mechanics courses, fabrication and welding as well as ag practices which — literally — allows students to get their hands dirty in the learning experience.

“I saw what was available and wanted to run with it. Especially getting involved as an officer — competing, speech competitions, going to the fair and raising animals. I wanted to check all those boxes,” said Joe Aguiar, a senior and sectional FFA President. “Not only as a student but in general, the public speaking skills I’ve learned are something that will always come in handy.”

Other Winters FFA members opt to shape their future as they would a piece of metal in welding class.

“Welding’s my favorite thing with stick welding definitely being my favorite type. It’s always fun and I just wish class periods were longer so I could weld more,” said Bianca Dyer-Gonzalez, a sophomore and chapter reporter. “There’s so much more than you think there is. This is my second year of FFA and I haven’t done a single thing with animals. There’s so many more opportunities in the FFA outside of working with animals, so if you’re thinking that’s all we do, think again.”

That’s not to say the FFA has completely abandoned livestock. For Emmett Edman, a senior and chapter treasurer, he’s incorporated the welding skills he’s learned into his Senior Capstone Project.

“I love everything about the FFA. The leadership, the teamwork that goes in and just working in the welding shop. I’ve also learned a lot and gotten a lot better at public speaking,” Edman said. “I want to be an engineer when I grow up, and my senior project is rebuilding the pig pens. There’s a lot of engineering that goes into it and just making it work.”

Meanwhile, some FFA members are simply in it to cultivate their natural leadership abilities.

“I joined FFA for the leadership opportunities. After that I joined Ag Leadership and started doing public speaking contests and won a regional contest against schools like Woodland and Davis,” said Ava Skinner, a junior and chapter secretary. “Through your SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experience) you can get college scholarships. FFA also just gives you job skills, like the public speaking is a main one because we have to do senior capstones and FFA kids usually do really well in that.”

The hands-on opportunities gives students an opportunity to travel and engage with other FFA chapter members. Between competitions and regional events, there’s no shortage of experience and opportunities for students to grow as individuals.

“The FFA does a fantastic job with events and competitions above the local level,” Aguiar said. “I love the travel and meeting others from all across the region who share the same values that I do.”

In the beginning of February the Winters FFA team had a successful day at the Central Region Public Speaking contest in Modesto. Aguiar, Riley Hurst, Allison Aguiar and Bianca Dyer-Gonzalez represented the Winters FFA chapter in the event. Allison placed second in Creed Speaking and Dyer-Gonzalez placed third in Impromptu Speaking. This March, the duo will represent Winters again when they head to Sacramento to compete in the State Finals.

From melting metal with honed welding skills to captivating minds with confident public speaking abilities, the Winters FFA is cultivating intelligent, young leaders the town can be proud of.

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