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With a membership of 145 students, the Twin Valley FFA is the largest student organization at the Twin Valley High School, and its members do a lot more than study farming – with lessons in wildlife, forestry, leadership development, and technology all being found within the FFA scope – and at Twin Valley this wellspring flows from the schools’ Agriculture Program.
“The FFA and our agriculture classes are intertwined,” said Heather Gardener, a junior and an officer with the Twin Valley FFA. “You do not have to be in the FFA to take Ag classes, but you do need to take Ag classes if you want to be in the FFA.”
The agriculture classes taught at Twin Valley include Agriculture Science, Animal Science, Horticulture, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Leadership.
According to Agriculture teacher and FFA Advisor Nicole Weaver there are Agriculture classes being taught at Twin valley that fall into a special national curriculum called CASE - Curriculum for Agriculture Science Education. CASE is a partnership with FFA and other Ag organizations that incorporates more science standards and science based learning.
“In (adding CASE) our Ag department is raised up a level and allows our kids to compete with all of the new science and math standards that are coming out,” Weaver said. “That’s one of the big pushes we have done here and there is specialized equipment that is used. I believe in it, it’s good for the kids.”
With CASE, students are outfitted with equipment such as the Vernier Lab Quest handheld devices, which are miniature computers that come with an array of different probes that are used for collecting and analyzing scientific data.
“Not only do we provide training for real careers using this kind of technology,” said Weaver, “we use it in a way where we bring back creativity and problem solving skills into the lessons rather than letting the computers do all of the work.”
She added that the Twin Valley FFA is among the top FFA chapters in the state, and nationally recognized as a three star FFA chapter, which places them in the top 5 percent of all chapters based upon goals, accomplishments, and more.
In addition to the classroom learning that takes place at the school, there is also portion of the school’s Agriculture Wing that houses what could be described as agriculture labs – there is a greenhouse where the horticulture students grow things such as the flowers for the school’s Mother’s Day Flower Sale (approximately 3000 flowers per year). There is a room where snakes, chinchillas, and other animals are handled and cared for. There is also a space with large water tanks for the study of aquaculture and aqua science where students must maintain the tanks and keep the fish alive (chiefly goldfish) – thereby developing skills one would use if they were to work in a hatchery.
“I learned a lot about fishing and the health of waterways and the effects of pollution on wildlife and the environment too,” Gardener said.
Then there is the learning which takes place outside of the school.
Hikes become studies in natural resource management, where students tap sap and study birds. Trips to farms offer lessons that involve taking soils samples, studying erosion, and monitoring crops. Ventures into forests become exercises in identifying trees types, recognizing the signs of diseases and parasites, and life-cycle lessons about seeds and losing leaves.
“There are definitely a lot of field trips,” Gardener said with a laugh.
One particular partnership Gardener brought up was the Twin valley FFA’s partnership with a school in Philadelphia, W.B. Saul, which has a farm where the students accomplish tasks together and learn by doing.
The social benefits for belonging to the FFA are tremendous. At Twin Valley the students participate in things such as holiday parties (their Easter Egg hunt is soon to come), recreational activities capture the flag a recent activity, and they attend events like the Philadelphia Flower Show.
Belonging to the FFA also means participation in local, state, and national conferences and competitions. It is at these events that FFA officers and upperclassmen gain ‘polish’ by learning about things such as how to speak publicly and how to network and develop their leadership skills.
“There is a huge social aspect to FFA,” said Gardener, “It is a good way to meet people from other schools.”
At one such conference, the State Legislative Leadership Conference, FFA members get to meet with legislators, learn about legislation, and participate in mock debates. Gardener herself participated in a conference speech competition, where she spoke about kelp forests and natural resources.
She added that the conferences also offered career advice and guidance.
“One of the most useful conferences I attended had a job interview competition.” Gardener said. “We did more than just practice interviews, we were told flat out ‘This is what you do in a job interview’ and ‘This is how you win the job’. It was a great experience.”
The FFA is also very involved locally in community service. Their Christmas tree recycling program, for example, takes discarded trees and finds ways to use them to enhance the environment, and their Baking for the Hungry event donates baked goods to the Twin Valley Food Pantry.
Personally, Gardener leads a FFA pet therapy program, where every other Tuesday students bring rabbits to Green Hills Manor in Reading to visit with the residents.
“I run it as an officer,” she said. “It is very rewarding to see how (we) can help people through what we learn from the Agriculture program. It is nice to see that we can make a difference in someone’s life.”
To find out more about the FFA, visit www.FFA.org.
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