Ffa Offers Students Range Of Opportunities

Payson High School students attend national convention

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Rising with the sun to plow a field, or feed a steer may be two things people equate with Future Farmers of America club members.

They can also gain leadership skills for life.

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Jessica "Jessy" Wedell, a 2007 Payson High School graduate, photo above, received the American Award at the Future Farmers of America national convention. The American FFA Degree is the highest level that can be achieved by an FFA member. Only 11 PHS students have earned this award during the past two decades.

On their recent trip to the FFA national convention in Indiana, 10 Rim Country teens mingled with more than 50,000 of their peers from 7,210 chapters in 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

"Chad Hymas, the keynote speaker (at the national FFA convention), told us about the last day he ever walked," Nikole Nelson said.

Hymas was loading hay when 12,000 pounds landed on him and made him a quadriplegic.

"He told us how he and his friends were picking on a girl and his dad made them be nice to her. She went on to be one of the smartest girls in school," she added.

In past years, famous athletes and actors have spoken.

The profession of agriculture covers an enormous range of opportunities.

John Deere, Dodge Trucks and Dow Chemical are among the corporate sponsors.

Dow scientists gave interactive demonstrations on herbicides, crop disease management and healthy cooking oils.

Payson FFA member Chenoa Cherry plans to enter the wildlife contest at the district level. The competition includes building a bat habitat and identifying Arizona flora and fauna.

She picked up pamphlets on predators at one conservation-themed booth.

University representatives are on the convention floor to talk to students about the agri-business, science and technology programs they offer, plus available scholarships.

"For some of my kids the convention is the first time out of Arizona or the first time in a plane. They see a different part of the country where the culture is different. They have to make group and individual decisions," FFA teacher, Wendell Stevens, said.

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Doug Marks, Shea Nelsen and Nikole Nelson with Kool-Aid and Kraft cheese mascots at the FFA convention.

"I enjoyed meeting people from around the U.S.," Heather Boldt said. She and her nine companions on the trip have been in FFA since they were freshmen -- the range is two to three years.

"My mom talked me into trying FFA. She said it would be fun. She was right," Boldt said.

The six-day-trip, is a reward for service projects FFA teens do throughout the year. These projects include coursework, animal care and community service.

Doug Marks has raised animals and sold them at the fair, grown plants, worked in a veterinarian's office and helped at FFA petting zoos.

There are FFA competitions throughout each year.

First-place wins at the state level mean exacting competition at nationals. The club from PHS goes to the national convention no matter the number of wins.

"It is hard to quantify this event as an educational experience, but the impact is huge," Stevens said.

The students must arrange to do homework ahead of time with teachers from other classrooms and know when they return, there will be more waiting.

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The Payson FFA club at the Indiana Museum of Natural History. FFA officers are Doug Marks, president, Chenoa Cherry, vice president, Nikole Nelson, secretary, Cassidy Hayn, treasurer, Kevin Marks, sentinel and Shea Nelsen, reporter. FFA members: Heather Boldt, Mike Wicks and Lanie James. FFA graduate: Jessy Wedell. Instructor: Wendell Stevens.

NAVIT has paid for the bulk of the $800 per-student cost for the past three years, but students must bring their own money for food and spending.

The convention offers many workshops off-site, but clubs must pay for their own transportation.

This year's group was able to go to the Indiana Museum of Natural History and the Zoo.

"We got to go behind the scenes at the museum and see the artifacts from a recent dig. There were native American artifacts, stuff that looked like it might have been Civil War era and mastodon bones," Doug Marks said.

At the zoo, the teens petted sharks and watched a dolphin show.

"It was 30 degrees outside, but all the kids sat in the splash zone," Cherry said.

Club members also said they were impressed with the elephant exhibit.

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