Making the Best of It

By: Maggie Maratsos, Southern Region Reporter

As the end of the school year approaches, many of us may find ourselves reflecting on what was probably the strangest year of our educational careers. It’s a time for thinking back on what worked and what didn’t. It’s also a time to think about what we could improve next time and remember with fondness what worked out well. As someone who was teaching remotely for the entirety of this year, this Reporter knows that the struggle was indeed real for most of the year. However, this year also forced me to reflect constantly on my skills as an educator, helped me revitalize my curriculum, and made me rethink the way I do things in my own classroom to make content more accessible for students.  

Southern Region teachers, just like our colleagues throughout the state, have had plenty of reasons for reflection these last few weeks. Although students’ active involvement in FFA has taken a hit this year, the Southern Region has been able to shepherd in plenty of student success this past year, and still strives to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education (I mean, that’s the mission, right?).

 Some of the biggest achievements Southern Region has to look back on include:

-Three State FFA Officer Candidates on this year’s ballot, one of whom was elected!

-5 State Proficiency winners

-1 State Scholarship winner

-11 CDE teams from different chapters placing in the top 5 in their respective state contests

-2 State Agriscience Fair winners

-1 Chapter Website Award winner

-199 State FFA Degree recipients

This story is similar for each of the regions in CATA. Even though many of us probably didn’t have students “buying in” to our programs as much as usual, just remember: you were still able to make a difference in the lives of students this year. The Southern Region, just like the other regions, wouldn’t have been able to reach the level of success we did without outstanding agriculture educators doing great things for their students. 

However, success doesn’t always have to be something like achieving a statewide award or winning a state title. Even little moments can be meaningful experiences to a student. This year, success in the eyes of a student could have just been staying motivated, or keeping connected with one another, or staying engaged with their communities. Sometimes, it could have meant that students stayed involved in agriculture with their SAEs. Other times, it just meant making the best of an online learning situation. Chapters across the Southern Region did just that this year. 

Southern Region chapters found a variety of ways to keep students active and successful through FFA activities, as I’m sure many of you from more northern parts of the state did. For instance, maybe you did something similar to Hemet FFA, who held a Halloween craft contest where students could pick up supplies from the school and complete the activity at home. Their virtual meetings this year included a “Monthly Ag Focus,” where the chapter officers chose different agricultural and FFA-based topics to interactively teach the other chapter members about. They also set up a booth in their school’s front office for their Greenhand Degree recipients to take a picture in when they picked up their certificates, pins and Greenhand Degree “Survival Kit” for each student. 

And speaking of Greenhands, Temecula-St. Jeanne Catholic FFA’s Chapter Officer team stepped up to the plate this year, and planned and presented the Greenhand Leadership Conference for their freshman Speaking of Greenhands, Temecula-St. Jeanne Catholic FFA’s Chapter Officer Team stepped up to the plate this year, planning and presenting the Greenhand Leadership Conference for their freshman students. They also hosted a full slate of FFA week activities, including a state officer visit, a Tik Tok dance challenge (students versus teachers), an Ag Education Petting Zoo for younger students on their sister campus, and a day of service cleaning the school farm, replanting the school gardens, and delivering items to a local food pantry. Additionally, they hosted a State Conference Opening Session watch party, as well as an SAE Showcase, where students brought in display boards that were designed to teach all about their SAE projects. These were put on display for the entire student body and staff to view.  

Fullerton FFA, on the other hand, hosted a “potato drive-through” for St. Patrick’s Day to connect Fullerton FFA, on the other hand, hosted a “Potato Drive-Thru” for St. Patrick’s Day to connect specifically with Greenhand students. Students received a hot potato with all the fixings, and there was a booth set up for those students to receive their Greenhand Degree pins and place their painted green handprint, on a big banner at their farm. 

Going along with the holiday-specific activities, La Habra FFA’s Officer Team did two drive thru events for the members of their chapter. For Valentine’s Day, they decorated the farm in red, white, and pink and as students drove through the school farm, they received a goodie bag with candy and a Valentine’s Day card. La Habra also had a drive-through game night for St. Patrick’s Day. The officers set up several stations around the school farm where students were able to play games from their vehicles. 

Elsinore FFA held a virtual paint night social, allowing students to bond with each other and to participate in an activity that was accessible to members of all skill levels. Many programs, including San Jacinto FFA, hosted virtual banquets. San Jacinto FFA specifically set up a website for the purposes of their banquet, and it not only included a video of the officers delivering the official ceremonies, but also included photos, certificates, and slideshows for the entire community to see.  Menifee-Heritage FFA even managed to have a drive-thru awards pick-up night for their virtual banquet. 

Out at Littlerock FFA, the chapter hosted Bingo, scavenger hunts, and movie nights. Down at El Centro FFA, keeping students involved above the chapter level was a focus, and they served as the host of their online sectional leadership conference. They created a virtual escape room to encourage attendance and draw in more participation at the sectional level

Perhaps, though, your chapter was more focused on keeping students engaged with their SAEs and with agriculture. Maybe you did something similar to Escondido FFA and Hemet FFA, who sent home materials for their students to complete projects at home, like bird houses, 3D diagrams of skeletal systems, floral arrangements, or even corn hole games! Escondido FFA was even able to have an end-of-the-year corn hole tournament and BBQ with the projects that their students constructed! Additionally, Escondido students were able to participate in a farm-to-table program, in which they picked up supplies like plants, seeds, soil, and fertilizers, and grew their own crops.  In partnership with the school’s culinary teacher, they were able to harvest their own food and cook with it, via Zoom instruction. 

Over at Palmdale FFA, the chapter raised over 75 different varieties of tomato and pepper plants. Every student got to grow their own crops at home as a project; the chapter also sold over 3,000 of their own plants to their community, and was able to plant some crops to serve as community food donations in the Fall.   

El Centro FFA hosted an “Agriculture Easter Hunt,” wherein large Easter eggs were hidden at a variety of lateral canals and gate numbers throughout Imperial Valley. Clues were hidden in plastic eggs and then were sent to the students virtually. Members were able to confirm that they found their correct field or canal through an app. This allowed them to learn about the unique layout of the Imperial Irrigation District’s water distribution system. 

Maybe your chapter did something more like Indio FFA, where their floral students sold arrangements at a new farmer’s market and their horticulture students were able to install a reflection garden at a local middle school.  With the help of some grant money, they also spent time making new planter beds out of recycled materials. Littlerock FFA distributed Living to Serve Grant garden kits, and students were able to plant them together online.

Maybe, for your chapter, your focus was on giving your students the best education possible virtually. The Ag Chemistry and Advanced Sustainable Ag students at Citrus Hill FFA, for example, did an at-home research experiment investigating allelopathy, wherein they germinated seeds of one type (their control groups) and seeds of two types combined (as their experimental groups) and observed qualitative and quantitative differences in germination. Students then posted pictures onto a Padlet to record their observations at different stages; they also learned how to graph data and how to write a full report.

It’s possible that your chapter focused on the surrounding community and did something like Jurupa Valley, which hosted 5 community “drives,” collecting clothing, nonperishable foods, blankets, and toiletries for local organizations like the Lion’s Club or the animal shelter. Poway FFA, amongst a whole host of other activities that their chapter was involved in, found time to recycle old t-shirts by having students turn them into braided dog toys; these were then donated to a local animal shelter. To involve their community, El Centro FFA and the Southwest Booster Club collaborated to run a Cow Pie Bingo fundraiser, in which a bovine was released into a field that was divided into a grid, and depending on which grid the animal stayed in, this decided the winner of the cash prize. Community members bought tickets to claim a square, and followed along via a livestream to watch the steer…ahem…relieve itself…on the square of the winner!

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted just reading (and writing) about all of those activities!  As things slowly start to return to normal, this Reporter hopes that you, too, take time to reflect on the good, the bad, and even the “meh” moments from this year.  Let’s take what we learned and make the next year an even better one for CATA and the agricultural education profession!

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit http://calagteachers.org/

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