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NELIGH, Neb. (DTN) -- There's no reason to be blue about FFA. In fact, it appears the national student organization, along with its iconic blue corduroy jacket, is making a comeback.
The nation's largest student-led organization in the nation is getting bigger. School districts are adding agriculture and FFA back into the curriculum again. In some cases, they work closely with the community with the long-term goal of showing that there's still opportunity in rural areas.
Neligh-Oakdale Public School is an example of the revival. The rural school district of 383 students, located 150 miles northwest of Omaha, relaunched its FFA chapter this year after a 13-year hiatus. The program was discontinued in the 2003-2004 school year because of funding issues.
Scott Gregory, superintendent of the Neligh-Oakdale Public Schools, told DTN the community had "a desire to restart" the FFA chapter as the district was in a better financial situation than when the program was dropped. The Board of Education began to explore the possibility in the fall of 2016 and after much consideration, hired Kali Bohling as agriculture teacher and FFA advisor for the 2017-2018 school year.
Local farmer Kenny Reinke is an alumnus of the Neligh-Oakdale FFA program. While not everyone favored rekindling the dormant chapter with roots back to 1931, Reinke said he, as well as many others of the community, pushed hard for a return.
Reinke said even the older women in his church would quiz him on the subject. "They definitely had a passion about it," he said.
For Reinke, he said the skills the kids learn in FFA could help them find a career and allow them to live and work in the community. Like many small towns across the Midwest, a shrinking population has been a major issue, especially in rural school districts with fewer children attending class.
Bohling, the teacher hired by the district, graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) in May 2017 with a degree in agricultural education. The first-year teacher had the challenge of being a new teacher, in a new area and restarting FFA all in the same school year.
"It certainly has been a learning opportunity for me, but I have great support here," Bohling said.
The first year, she had 16 students join FFA, with membership made up of a few seniors and juniors, but mainly sophomores.
All junior high students are required to take a nine-week exploratory agriculture class in both seventh and eighth grades. Bohling's hopes this first taste will encourage students to continue sampling agriculture and FFA once they reach high school.
Bohling said most of her FFA students live in town and have a limited ag background. While a few are from farms, a majority are town kids getting an introduction into agriculture.
JOINING THE RANKS
Kristen Snodgrass and Hannah Schrader joined the FFA ranks. Snodgrass, who will be a senior this fall, will be president of FFA in the 2018-2019 school year. Schrader will be a junior and will be the FFA secretary.
Snodgrass said her family operates a corn and soybean farm, but has no livestock. After taking some animal science classes, she has decided she'd like to become a vet tech.
"I was always kind of jealous of schools who had FFA as it always appealed to me," Snodgrass said. "I have two older brothers who went to school here and they didn't get to take part in FFA."
Schrader said her experience in FFA has led her to believe she would like to be an agriculture teacher. The legacy is important too, as her father was an FFA member at this high school.
Bohling said her vision for the future of FFA at Neligh-Oakdale is not defined by how many students join the organization.
She hopes to increase the number of competitions the chapter attends in future school years after limiting the number during this first year. The group did attend the state FFA convention, held in Lincoln. This event was eye-opening for the kids as they saw how many kids in the state are involved with FFA.
The Nebraska Agricultural Education website (http://www.neaged.org/…) listed the Nebraska FFA Association with a membership of more than 8,000 members in 184 chapters across the state. Bohling said the state actually has 189 chapters at this time.
More than 4,500 FFA members attend the state convention each year. Roughly 7,000 members, advisors, parents and guests participate in the event each spring.
"One thing I really hope happens in the future here is these students have an opportunity to perhaps find viable careers from joining FFA," Bohling said.
A National FFA Organization (http://www.ffa.org/…) factsheet stated the group has 649,355 student members in grades seven through 12 who belong to 7,859 local chapter throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands