Students grow valuable life experiences and skills

FFA provides opportunities for students to travel to compete in different competitions and events within the FFA national community. (Courtesy photo)

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When hearing the acronym FFA, one may envision the iconic blue corduroy jacket and livestock. However, it’s a misunderstanding that the FFA program is only about raising livestock and selling them to the highest bidder.

“A big misconception is all we do is animals. We are so much more than that,” said Kiana Miller, Winters FFA Vice President.

The Winters FFA program has evolved over the years since it was first established for students at Winters High School in 1955. WHS includes agriculture as one of its CTE Pathways that students can select to receive an education that integrates academics with real-world relevance to prepare for college and career readiness.

Kayla Mederos, WHS ag teacher and FFA advisor, said the ag education is based on a three-circle model, which each circle representing a different requirement in the ag program. The SAE (Supervised Agricultural Experiences) is a project students perform involving practical agricultural activities outside of the classroom, while the core classroom curriculum is where students learn and get hands-on with all things ag. FFA is the last circle of agricultural education that prepares students with leadership skills, personal growth experiences and business-related opportunities.

Ag educators Donnie Whitworth and Mederos provide a space for every student in the Winters FFA program. FFA students are given opportunities to explore diverse and unique SAE projects and dive head-first into the experience with resources, the ability to learn what they can and gain exposure through hands-on projects.

“It’s really important that we provide those opportunities to students. We provide students with a number of opportunities to get involved,” Mederos said.

Kiana Miller listed off a variety of programs FFA students are able to experience including floriculture, woodworking and welding shop classes, raising livestock, working on the ag site farm site, and leadership opportunities.

Eden Miller, an FFA student, said the ad teachers harbor an environment where students can explore their interests.

“Teachers are willing to offer resources available to help students to achieve their goals and project ideas,” Eden Miller said.

Ava Skinner, Winters FFA President, said she’s acquired better communication and social skills by serving as an officer and participating in competitions.

“The officer team interacts with people outside of the school. It encourages you to make new friends and strengthen your public speaking skills. I talked to other officers in competitions, the state conference and at Nationals,” Skinner said.

Eden Miller said it’s not just the FFA leadership members who get to experience interacting with other FFA chapter members.

“Other students have opportunities to go to different types of competitions. In Freshmen creed speaking students memorize the FFA Creed and need to use public speaking skills to answer questions about it,” Eden Miller said.

Allison Aguiar (center) placed first in the nation in the Individual Ag Sales Contest at the National FFA Convention in October 2022. (Courtesy photo)

Additionally, she mentioned the Impromptu public speaking career development competition where students learn how to speak on the fly and make a sound and cohesive speech without full-on planning, and the Job Interview where students pretend to apply for a job and gain skills they may need to know when actually do start applying for careers position.

Mederos said in addition to leadership and public speaking skills, FFA students gain valuable life experience by going to competitions. Many students get to experience air flight and travel for the first time when participating in competitions. They also learn how to order off a menu, get to attend fancy restaurants and visit attractions like Disneyland for the first time.

“By traveling and having simple life experiences that many adults may take for granted, these students may experience what it’s like to step out of Winters,” Mederos said. “They realize there are so many opportunities because they never had a chance to explore other areas of our state and our country.”

FFA is not just animals and tractors, many students have found success in executing specifically focused Senior Capstone Projects. From excavating and plowing the field to prepare for planting crops, to creating wedding floral arrangments for a wedding, and growing pumpkins to sell to the community — FFA students gain business skills and real-life experiences they first learned about in class.

“Our students can really flourish here and see success after college if they take opportunities in FFA,” Mederos said. “Our students are successful in their Senior Capstone project because of the experiences they have in the FFA.”

Winters FFA students are also eligible to apply for over $10K in scholarships that are earmarked just for ag students. However, they have to take advantage of the opportunities and do the work to gain insight and real-world experiences.

Skinner said during an interview to Stanford, the interviewer was impressed by the leadership skills she gained through her SAE project. Skinner has learned a lot about public speaking, debate, leadership and practical skills through the program. Her involvement in FFA made a huge impact on the scholarship opportunities that were available to her.

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