By MICHELLE BROOKS
RUSSELLVILLE - Distinguishing the animal source and the type of cut from a sample of raw meat or being able to identify dozens of cheese varieties by taste are among the skills FFA members across mid-Missouri have been studying.
Outside of classroom time, FFA students are practicing and preparing for career and leadership development events.
At Cole County R-I Schools, the FFA chapter has been reaching out to experts in the community to help with team events.
Jason Twenter and Alicia LePage both are first-year teachers. So, they too have been appreciative of outside guidance, especially from other FFA advisors and their mentors, assigned by the agriculture teacher state association.
The career development events draw from classroom knowledge, whereas the leadership development events challenge the qualities FFA promotes.
Many of the skills students are tested on are also applicable to life, such as being able to select the best cut of meat at the market, Twenter said.
Or, in the farm management event, participants are asked questions about supply and demand, taxes, marketing and other topics a business owner would need to know.
"That's tougher than any college economics class I've taken," Twenter said.
In most events, four students take individual exams and the top three scores are combined for the team score. In the next few weeks, Russellville teams will compete in many competitions, from Lincoln University to Linn State Technical College to hosting high schools, leading up to the district competition April 2.
"We hope to have several teams advance to state," Twenter said.
Junior Taylor Young has been preparing with the meats team as well as for the public speaking event.
"I really like FFA and doing contests," Young said.
She was on the Greenhand knowledge team two years ago, which placed fourth at state.
"That really go me started in FFA," Young said.
More than just competing, the events are a time to meet like-minded students from area schools, she said.
Sophomore Harley Waggoner found she could identify cheese flavors and detect problems in milk after joining the dairy team.
The chapter also requires its juniors and seniors to pass the Missouri Agriculture Skills and Knowledge exam, basically an end of course exam for ag students, Twenter said. So far, six of Russellville's 21 upperclassmen have done so.
Additionally, the event part of FFA helps motivate students in the classroom, Twenter said.
"It makes you a better teacher, too," he said.
About half of the student body at Russellville High School is involved with FFA. But there is a balance between FFA trips and other extra-curriculars, as well as the in-class tests and assignments, Twenter said.
"You have to share," Twenter said. "We have good kids who want to do everything; they can in a school this size."
The Russellville Chapter hopes to rebuild their program to the caliber of many of the other successful chapters in mid-Missouri, Twenter said.
"We have a lot of enthusiasm," Twenter said. "These are really good kids here, hardworkers. That's a reflection on the community.
"Anything they do, they will see it through."