Sarah Widener—Staff Writer
Clusters of anxious high school students filtered into the science and technology center Tuesday morning during a heavy rain. After signing in with Future Farmers of America (FFA), filling out name tags and forming teams of up to four students, students divided into four groups that rotated clockwise around the lower level labs to take four different tests. Students had been studying ever since they received their study materials weeks ago to prepare for this 40-question agronomy test.
Some student teams huddled together around samples whispering quietly and methodically recording observations, while other teams labeled their specimens haphazardly and loudly.
Students identified 10 insects, 10 field crops and 10 weeds, and completed a 10-part soil quiz. Teams had 15 minutes at each station, using word banks if they got stuck. Sixty students participated.
Results were graded, scores were tallied and the winners were announced. Winning teams received baseball hats and bragging rights. Afterwards, all the students trooped to the commons to spend some time getting to know each other before heading back to their respective high schools.
This is the third year Dordt has run this program. Dr. Jeremy Hummel started the FFA Crops and Soils Competition as a way to support high school agriculture programs and engage students. The first year, the program was purely educational and lecture based. This created a good program, but students lacked focus and interest. The second year, Hummel decided to fix the lack of student engagement by transforming the program into a competition. This new format turned out highly successful, with great student enthusiasm and participation. Hummel designed the test himself, but Ag club members and his fellow Ag professors assisted him by running stations.
“We are trying to give resources and access to materials to teachers and students,” Hummel said. “The Crops and Soil Competition is a training session and imitates FFA competitions at a smaller scale under lower pressure. Students are able to get used to the testing environment and learn test time management skills.”
Teachers, FFA leaders and TA’s accompanied the students. Several students wandered the labs and scoped out the campus, full of curiosity. Over lunch, students and FFA teachers could be heard discussing their scores, the school’s environment and upcoming FFA competitions.
“It is an educational tool that helps us show students what they don’t know and fill in that knowledge gap,” Dordt Ag professor John Olthoff said. “It is a great help to the local teachers. They enjoy having our support.”
September 20th is national Agriculture teachers’ appreciation day, giving Dordt an excellent opportunity to show appreciation to the high school ag teachers inspiring students to enter that field. FFA teachers often work by themselves and face an uphill climb to gain student cooperation.
“We have 84 students in our Ag program,” said Dennis Banson, FFA teacher at Unity Christian. “Our goal for our ag program is to help students find their place in God’s Kingdom.”
Branson’s students did well in most tests, but struggled with soil ID. They were able to learn through the post-test review. “There were good explanation of each area after the contest,” Branson said.
Dordt plans to continue this program and other FFA programs in support of area teachers and future Ag students.