FFA combine learning and fun at Heritage High

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By Mark Dowlen
Heritage High School FFA Advisor

At Heritage High School you can often look up and see students walking through the halls wearing a blue corduroy jacket with a golden emblem centered on the back. They are probably on their way to a meeting, a Career Development Event (CDE), a community service project, or a leadership workshop. If you haven’t guessed it by now, these students would be members of the Heritage Future Farmers of America (FFA), who had a full calendar in the fall semester beginning with the annual Back-to-School Cookout hosted by the FFA each year. With guests including school administrators, school board members, parents, and FFA alumni members, the students and advisors provided a meal of smoked, hand pulled Boston Butt from Benton Ham’s in Vonore. Along with the meal, many door prizes provided by local businesses were given away to those in attendance.

FFA members aren’t just at work during school hours. Most of them have Supervised Agricultural Experience Programs, or SAE, that requires year around work outside of school. Many of those programs include raising garden produce, beekeeping, raising chickens, carpentry, and metal working. The students have the opportunity to exhibit products of their work at the Tennessee Valley Fair. Many of these students won prize money in their respective categories with chapter total winnings of over $300.

Several students’ SAE’s include equine ownership and management. These students either have horses of their own or work with horses at a nearby stable including the two horses owned by the Heritage FFA. Eight girls, all with equine science SAE’s had the opportunity to participate in the State FFA Horse Judging CDE at the Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro. They each had to evaluate both conformation and performance classes as well as present oral reasons. The FFA incorporates leadership skills such as public speaking into many of their contests. The girls did well in the competition and are looking forward to their next competition.

Each year Heritage has a tailgate party competition prior to one of its home football games, and each year the FFA succeeds in raising the bar. This year was no different! With a "Mountaineer Morning" theme, the FFA members, decked out in their old timer pajamas, served up a classic mountain breakfast complete with all the meats, eggs, gravy and biscuits, and all the fixin’s. Top honors again went to the FFA for their breakfast meal, and even the Maryville Rebel fans must have agreed as many of them stopped in and helped themselves to a meal courtesy of the Heritage FFA.

Throughout the semester students participated in the Hometown Scholarship program to raise funds to assist the FFA in its numerous activities as well as provide monies for those leaving the program to continue their education in agriculture at the next level. With the help of Beaty Chevrolet, the sponsoring dealership, students raised more than $2,600 dollars for the FFA with more than $2,000 of that staying with the Heritage FFA chapter. This was accomplished by donors giving a $5 donation for the chance to win a 2006 Chevrolet truck. Of the 29 FFA chapters in Tennessee that participated, Heritage ranked tenth in scholarship money raised. Thank you to Beaty Chevrolet and to those who donated to the FFA.

The semester never seemed to slow down with the FFA’s tractor pull occurring mid-semester. Having been a successful event for over five years, the FFA continued again this year with its combination of antiques and V-8 hotrods. The tractor pull continues to grow having drawn pullers from adjoining states and the increase in the participation. This years pull had 200 hooks to the sled, which was a one-night record for sled owner, Jack Reed, who travels with the "Predator" all over the Southeast. The FFA is continually looking for ways to improve this event as it hopes to continue to see it grow.

In the midst of all the work these students are doing, they always enjoy the opportunity to stop and play as demonstrated at their first FFA bonfire hosted by the England family in the Porter area. Hotdogs and marshmallows and lots of fun and fellowship made the event a success. Another great opportunity the FFA members had during the semester was a trip to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. This was a great opportunity to reward the students for great semester. On the trip the students were given a guided tour of the mansion, which was decorated for Christmas. After a picnic lunch, the tour continued to the newly opened Historic Horse Barn where students had a glimpse of agriculture in the past as well as the opportunity to see and touch all of the species of livestock which are studied in class. The FFA plans to make this trip a yearly event for its students.

As stated earlier, public speaking is an important leadership characteristic promoted by the FFA. Two different opportunities are given for freshmen to demonstrate their speaking abilities through CDE’s. One of these CDE’s is the FFA Creed Speaking. Students must learn and recite the FFA Creed as well as answer questions asked by the judges. All freshmen must learn and recite the FFA Creed in class, and one student is picked to compete at the District CDE, which was held at Lenoir City High School this year. Students also learn the Official Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the FFA during their freshman year. Seven freshmen chosen to compete must learn and perform the ceremonies in a contest format. This year’s team won the District CDE and placed fifth in the East TN Regional CDE held at Walter’s State Community College. Congratulations to those who competed!

Another important part of leadership is the value of community service which is important to the Heritage FFA chapter, especially during the holidays. Each year students give money prior to Thanksgiving to purchase complete turkey dinner meals to be given to families in need. During the Christmas holiday, students provide Christmas gifts for the angels which are adopted from the Angel Tree at Foothills Mall.

The Heritage FFA is quite active, which keeps advisors Jon Waters and Mark Dowlen on their toes. It was a very successful semester for the Heritage FFA, and they are looking forward to the Spring semester and what is still to come. With the Tennessee Leadership conference held at the Airport Hilton in Janurary and National FFA Week taking place in February, it
will be another busy few months for Waters, Dowlen, and their students.

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