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FFA teaches life, career skills

Photos provided by Marathon High School teacher Crystal Aukema

Eighth-grader Evan Larrabee, a member of Marathon High School’s Future Farmers of America program, cuts out a wooden key holder with a band saw.

MARATHON — The start of the 2016-17 school year at Marathon School District marked the return of the Future Farmers of America program to the district, introducing students to everything from veterinary career paths to entrepreneurship skills.

The program helps schools go beyond the typical agriculture curriculum, providing students with in-class or out-of-class activities that help them explore biology, chemistry, engineering, etc. in hands-on settings. The program had not been part of the Marathon district curriculum for three decades, said Crystal Aukema, Marathon Junior-Senior High School agriculture teacher and head of the FFA program.

Through career development events and activities, FFA members are challenged to real-life, hands-on tests of skills used to prepare them for 235 career possibilities in agriculture, according to the program’s website.

Before the start of the school year Aukema worked in a different school district, but when she saw Marathon, her hometown, was looking to add an agriculture program, which is combined with the FFA program, she wanted to help.

“I wanted to be a part of bringing agricultural education to the youth,” Aukema said. She added she wanted to give back to her hometown.

About 30 students take part in the program. The seventh- to 12th-graders learn a broad range of agriculture topics in the class and then apply them to various hands-on activities. The program and the classes overlap a lot, Aukema said.

The students are now designing a garden for a resident. They learn how to do it in the class and then they meet with people, discuss what kind of garden they would like and present their design. Aukema said once the final design is approved, the students will construct the garden.

The agriculture classes range from an introduction to agriculture to horticulture. And as part of the FFA program, many activities get the students involved, even kids who are not yet in the junior-senior high school.

Workshops throughout the school year let students take part in projects and learn new skills. Local companies dealing with forestry, animal grooming and other topics will come to the school to show what they do, Aukema said.

Since the program started in September, Aukema said it has been going well, providing new opportunities for students.

More than 600,000 students nationwide take part in the program and more than 7,800 schools have a chapter, FFA reports. It attracts both girls and boys.

The Homer School District has had its FFA program for many years, said Homer Superintendent Nancy Ruscio.

“It has always been a strong program,” Ruscio said. “There is a lot of involvement from students and they take away new skills from fun experiences.”

Students get to attend FFA conferences, interact with students from different schools and compete, she said. They are new experiences for kids that teach them life skills — such as interacting with new people and public speaking.

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