During the last week of October, fifty-four Shenandoah County’s FFA members and sponsors boarded a bus bound for the National FFA Convention and Expo scheduled for October 28-31 in Louisville, Kentucky. Included in this lively group were FFA members whose first-place win at state advanced them to competition at the national level. The FFA Chapters themselves would compete for national recognition.
Shenandoah County Public Schools’ FFA Chapters have a history of ranking among the best in the nation. This year was no exception. There are over 7,000 FFA Chapters in America. Chapters ranking in the top 10% at the state level advance to the national competition where they are recognized as National Gold Chapters and are awarded 1, 2, or 3 Stars. In June of 2015, FFA Chapters from Peter Muhlenberg Middle School, Signal Knob Middle School, Stonewall Jackson High School, Central High School, and Strasburg High School were ranked in the top 10% of Virginia’s FFA Chapters; and, as a result, they were named National Gold Chapters. At the national level, Signal Knob Middle School received 3 Stars, while Peter Muhlenberg, Central, Strasburg, and Stonewall each received 2 Stars.
In mid-August, Signal Knob Middle School’s FFA Chapter was listed on the National FFA web site among the top five middle school FFA Chapters in America. While Signal Knob’s FFA was not judged the Outstanding Middle School Chapter in the nation, the Chapter came very close! “Being named in the top 5 is huge,” said Jaclyn Roller Ryan, FFA sponsor.
Several Shenandoah County students and alumni received national recognitions.
American FFA Degree
Tyler Wakeman, a graduate of Strasburg High School and Holly Sine, a graduate of Stonewall Jackson High School, received the American FFA Degree. According to the National FFA web site, approximately 3,500 American FFA Degrees are handed out each year at the National FFA Convention & Expo. That number represents less than half of one percent of all FFA members, making the American FFA Degree one of the organization’s highest honors. This degree is awarded to members who have demonstrated the highest level of commitment to FFA and made significant accomplishments in their supervised agricultural experiences (SAEs). Among other requirements, American Degree recipients must have donated at least 50 hours of community service and must have demonstrated excellent leadership skills.
Tiffany Heishman, a student at Strasburg High School, placed 1st in Virginia and 7th in the nation in the National Agriscience Fair with her project titled “Combustion Levels of Livestock Bedding.”
Austin Weaver, a student at Strasburg High School, placed 1st in Virginia and finished in the top 16 (with a Silver ranking) in the nation in Extemporaneous Speaking, His topic for the first round was “What are the barriers to the success of urban agriculture?” His second round topic was “Should mandatory GMO labeling be enforced? Why or Why not?”
Mykah Smith from Central High School competed in the Dairy Handlers event. She placed 1st in Virginia and was awarded a silver ranking at the national convention.
Students from Central High School and Peter Muhlenberg Middle School teamed with a group of students from California to participate in the FFA’s National Day of Service. This group of about 25 students and sponsors packed 1,100 boxes of food for the elderly living in and around Louisville.
The FFA’s National Conference and Expo was a big event even for those not competing. Mindi Freed, Junior President of the Massanutten FFA Federation and an eighth grader at North Fork Middle School, was amazed at the size of this event. “Over 65,000 people were there on Wednesday!” she exclaimed.
There were nationally recognized speakers and entertainers, a huge college and vendors’ exhibition and a schedule packed with general sessions, competitions, interviews, award ceremonies, meetings, and of course, there was time for fun and time for making new friends who share an interest in FFA. “I learned so much especially from FFA members from other states,” said Mindi.
“Awesome” is a word National FFA Conference attendees often use to describe this big event. Sherry Heishman, Central High School agriculture teacher and FFA sponsor said, “To me, words can't describe the feeling of awe. You actually have to see the 65,000 members together. Many times when sponsors and students meet people from other states, it is more like meeting a long lost friend. The respect, support, and admiration for each other are impressive.”
At the end of week, FFA students and sponsors headed home with national accolades, renewed energy, memories to last a life-time, and dreams of next year’s National FFA Conference. .