FFA Returns to Thornapple Kellogg High School

A core group of about 15 TKHS students can’t wait to wear the iconic blue corduroy jackets with the gold FFA symbol on the back, attend local and national competitions and gain more experience in leadership, agriculture-related careers, animal science and so much more. They’re excited about being part of FFA - a national organization that started nearly 100 years ago and has more than 850,000 members in nearly 9,000 chapters in all 50 states.

Annabelle Pennington is the FFA club’s new President. “I grew up being in 4-H and still am, and I’ve always known what FFA is but never had the opportunity to be part of it. I’m excited to be starting FFA here again,” said Pennington, who is considering a career as an agricultural director or educator in the future.

Freshman Adalyn Cook serves as the FFA secretary and said she’s looking forward to seeing the group grow. She said one big misconception is that FFA is just for farm kids. “It’s about leadership and developing public speaking skills and knowledge. It’s about learning about different career options. It’s not just for country kids at all.”

Competing in rodeo, Cook said she’s heard many of her friends talk about FFA, but has never had the chance to be part of it herself.  “I like being around more people with the same interests and having that teamwork,” she said. “I’ve wanted to be in FFA and now I finally have the chance.”

Restarting an FFA chapter at TKHS isn’t as easy as it seems. FFA advisor and ag science teacher Amanda Kozlowski has spent hours getting the organization restarted. She explained the four pillars involved in an FFA chapter include a classroom component, labs, work-based learning, and leadership. FFA members must be enrolled in an ag science class and until this year, there were no ag-science classes offered at the high school.

The FFA chapter also had to establish an advisory committee including representatives of  industry professionals, post-secondary education, special population, and parents

Kozlowski said timing was the reason the TK FFA program is starting again now.  It’s a time when education is refocusing attention on tech degrees and specialized training.  “We’ve got people here now who really want to see this happen and have it be successful,” said Kozlowski. “We can’t wait to make it all happen.”

This fall, the ag science classes and the FFA students raised broiler chickens, took them to a state competition and sold the processed birds as a fundraising effort. Their next goal is participating in the FFA leadership competition in February where they’ll compete in the Greenhand public speaking and Greenhand conduct of meetings categories.

And that’s just the beginning of what the group hopes to accomplish. “There are so many opportunities you can do, but we can’t get overwhelmed by all of it to start with. I want to expose the students to different opportunities in careers and degree certifications. I want them to know there are options and that you don’t have to be a farmer to benefit from FFA. We have to narrow it down to start with and expand as we get a little more established,” said Kozlowski, who participated in FFA at Caledonia.

In the future, she hopes to take the TK FFA group to the national convention, get more students involved and continue to grow the opportunities for students. She would also like to have a small greenhouse and barn available for the FFA club in the future.

Nate Shoemaker said he’s looking forward to being part of the new group. He’s interested in diesel technology and other possible ag-related careers.  “I’m mostly interested in building my leadership skills,” he said.

Trygg Hicswa serves as the club reporter. “I love the environment and raising animals. I grew up raising goats and in the future I want to raise chickens,” he said. “Being in FFA has a lot of great opportunities.”

“For me I want students to have an understanding of what FFA means - to be role models and to be able to set that bar and those standards. To show people - this is what a leader looks like and to have others follow it. I want them to have pride in what it means to be in FFA and to be an FFA leader.” said Kozlwski who emphasizes the FFA motto “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve.”