By Craig W. Anderson
San Joaquin County’s high school FFA programs represent the diversity of both agriculture and the education today’s students receive while immersed in the county’s agriculture industry valued at more than $2.5 billion. Today’s high school students interested in pursuing a career in ag are well served by county high schools.
The county’s high schools present meaningful courses to their students and here the hard-working instructors tell the story of their FFA programs.
Delta Charter School, Tracy
“We have 140 students in our ag program,” said ag instructor Rex Mendonza, “and two instructors in the program, myself and Skottlynn Snyder.”
“There aren’t too many FFA programs that have a superintendent with a degree in agriculture from Cal Poly, [and] who comes from a multigenerational farm family in the area,” Mendonza said. Delta Charter also boasts a three-person board, two of whom are farmers with the third a former farmer.
“Given that, we have great support from our administration and they’re very involved in our program,” Mendonza said. “It was the superintendent who had the vision to get the [FFA] chapter started.”
In the classroom, Ag Earth Science and Ag Biology are college-aligned courses; outside, the school farm is primarily a varietal fruit orchard with pluots, nectarines and peaches. According to Mendonza, Delta Charter boasts a two-sided laying hen house “where we house 60 laying hens and feed out broilers. We also have a pheasant run, 25 vegetable planter boxes and a greenhouse as well.” A unique offering is the Farm Management class, which is used to manage the school farm as a “hands-on” course.
The school’s first American Degree was earned by Emily Bogetti with Vincent Bogetti and Madicyn McDonald receiving state degrees.
2019 San Joaquin AgFest champions included McDonald, Peter Peknik, Aubrey Deutschlander and the Chapter Group; Ashlee Pike was a state officer candidate.
A tractor and greenhouse tables were added during the school year; fundraisers included a drive-thru chicken dinner, sales of The Pie Company products, Stuart and Jasper Nut Company goods and eagerly anticipated is next year’s first pancake breakfast.
To accomplish all of this, Mendonza said, “We have great support from our parents, community and administration.” That support springs from the Delta Charter School’s philosophy, explains Mendonza: “We will continue to provide a place where students feel welcomed and wanted.
“A challenge is the lack of direct state funding,” said Mendonza. “The school must find a way to pay for the FFA activities out of its general fund, along with the fundraising we do.”
East Union High School, Manteca
One of the larger ag programs in the county is East Union High School’s which numbers 713 students, taught by John Hopper, Kristen Buck, Tristyn Silva and Lucas Schultz. Hopper said one of the major projects of the just concluded school year was a Career Technical Education Incentive Grant the school used for remodeling the ag department. “The administration has been very supportive about this and other projects,” Hopper said.
With a remodeled ag department, the college aligned courses – A-G [a series of high school classes that prepare high schoolers for college] Earth, Floral, Chemistry, AG Science and Leadership – fit comfortably with the facility improvements.
In keeping with East Union’s commitment to ag education and FFA participation, campus improvements included gardens, a new greenhouse and shadehouse, a new metal shop, two new classrooms, a remodeled wood shop and floral lab and maintaining the school farm.
Hopper said, “A lot of modernized equipment was acquired and implemented throughout the ag department” with sales of fruit trees and shop projects aiding the necessary fund raising.
East Union fared well with seven State Degrees earned and Samantha Loprieato’s swine breeding project producing two litters of piglets with some being shown at this year’s AgFest. “She’s an officer and has been involved with every activity the FFA has done this year,” explained Hopper.
Course pathways available for students included A-G Science, Ag Mechanics, Floral and Natural Resources. Hopper said, “We’ve had a lot of support in getting our grant.” In fact, CTE grants and other funding sources resulted in East Union receiving more than $7 million in funding.
With all of this positivity hovering over East Union’s Ag/FFA program, the “future looks really good,” exclaimed Hopper, “a great program with great students. We have to keep the momentum going. Ag education in California is finally getting the support from the state that it has earned and deserves.”
Escalon High School
Escalon may be a small country town but the 350 students in the Ag/FFA program comprise a group worthy of a school twice Escalon’s size. Isabella Leventini is one of three instructors charged with getting the message to that group. The others are Kenny Saephan, Ag Mechanics; and Gypsy Stark, Vet Science, Animal Science, Ornamental Horticulture, Ag Leadership and Floriculture.
As do most agriculture programs in county high schools, Escalon has a very supportive administration that, commented Leventini, “sees the value in agriculture education. Our principal, Eric Simoni, is instrumental in our success by helping us write grants and find the funding we need.”
“We’re very lucky to have an amazing support system at Escalon High. We’re very grateful for our Parent Ag Boosters who help support our students financially as well as through volunteer opportunities,” Leventini said. “Our community always steps up to support our students through their fundraisers.”
Of the major projects Escalon has implemented during the last school year, Leventini said, “We have several large events that occur during the year. Our largest is the Agriculture Day Recruitment event in March where we host more than 200 eighth-grade students.” Escalon’s FFA invites industry professionals to come in to make presentations on various topics in agriculture. “We also have our FFA students present on career development event opportunities that our program offers.”
College-aligned courses maintain a vital role in Escalon’s ag ed process, according to Leventini, as the “majority of the classes are UC aligned and we have many electives that are focused on preparing our students for careers.”
That process is aided by the redoing of the school farm and creating an OH [Ornamental Horticulture] center; recently purchased new equipment – including a greenhouse – will be constructed in our new OH center,” said Leventini. She mentioned that fundraisers are needed and that Escalon has a “plethora of fundraisers over the course of the year, including a Drive Thru BBQ, and ‘You’ve been Farmed’ and cookie dough fundraisers.”
She said the ag department is currently creating plans for improving the school farm. “We’re looking for sponsors and community support to help with this endeavor,” she said.
“Escalon prides itself for its competitive program,” Leventini said. “We currently run 10 Career Development teams that are very competitive in the field days at various college campuses. This year we had the State Winning Ag Pest Team at the Fresno State Field Day. Danny Bava was recognized as the high individual in that contest. We had seven students receive their State FFA Degree this year as well.”
This year, Escalon took 40 students to the San Joaquin AgFest where students showed beef, swine, sheep, goats and dairy. Winning championships were Abby Corriea, Austin Terra, Noah Rast, Gracie Azevedo, Chris Vidales, Blake Matos and Miguel Sandoval.
Two students who go above and beyond in their FFA participation, according to Leventini, are Austin Terra, current FFA president, Central Region Reporter and past Delta Cal Sectional Vice President, and Alayna Azevedo, current Sectional Secretary and currently FFA secretary. “These students are true student leaders who exemplify what it means to be an FFA member,” Leventini said.
Leventini noted that Escalon’s FFA is excited for the future as “we believe in our students and their potential. We hope to continue growing our program.”
Lathrop High School
Lathrop High School’s Agriculture program has 350 students with two instructors and Department Head Danelle “Dani” Ariaz said, “We have very good support, not only from the school administration but also at the district level.” She added that parent support “this year has been amazing, from helping pay for different supplies we need to being there as support. We have an amazing principal, Greg Leland, who is extremely supportive.”
Courses that can be considered unique include Floral – “A big class for us,” Ariaz said – and the school’s Ag/FFA programs do “lots of events for different occasions” with the Stockton Women’s Shelter, AgFest Farm to Fork dinner and many weddings.
FFA accomplishments include two State Degrees and two American Degrees; Josh Flores won the floral competition at the State Fair. “Josh was our outstanding student this year. He was a Sectional officer, MUSD District representative and selected as one of the top two students overall in the school – not based on grades, just [on] how active they are,” Ariaz said.
Ariaz noted major projects included a canned food drive a flowers for The Commons Assisted Living facility.” Ongoing campus projects consist of three Co-ops at the school farm: sheep and goats with 50 animals, and rabbits with 30 animals, and a recently created Bee Co-Op. The Co-Ops allow an extra couple hundred kids use the farm.”
Among the school’s important fundraisers, the biggest is the drive-through Tri-Tip dinner, an annual success.
The school farm’s importance is defined by the services it provides, Ariaz said. “All of our students keep their animals at the school farm. This year we had about 20 large animal projects and more than 250 check-ins at the Co-Ops.” The check-ins are part of the Five Star program that tracks all on-campus activities by students, including ag activities. It’s used as an accreditation proof of kids helping with on-campus programs. “More than 80 percent of our ag kids are doing events that require their presence on campus helping with our Co-Ops.”
Lathrop didn’t receive any grants other than the Ag Incentive but “this year we did get two new vehicles for CTE to share,” Ariaz said. “They are an amazing van and an Expedition. We’re very blessed that they will be used for only a couple programs at our school.”
The course pathways are Ornamental Floriculture, Ag Wood, Animal Science and Welding, she said.
“We are teaching something that is instrumental to life,” Ariaz commented. “More and more students are getting away from agriculture and even if we can reach a few students, it is better than nothing. So many kids in the city think chocolate milk comes from brown cows … we need a trend to move back to the farms.”
Linden High School
The 316 students in Linden’s Ag/FFA program represent nearly half of the school’s student body which may not be surprising, considering the rural agricultural nature of the small town. Three ag instructors – Chris Lemos, Natalie Stevano and Jana Colombini – conduct college-aligned courses and “our advanced ag mechanics and advanced floriculture classes are community college articulated,” Lemos said.
He added, “The administration has given our AG science teachers time off to go to Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS] trainings and has encouraged the creation of a new veterinary science class.”
In the major projects department – some to be built and sold – Lemos said, “In the ag mechanics classes, students built the usual trailers and BBQs. We’ve continued to set up our nursery and horticulture program which we plan to have the students run as a retail nursery or farmers market.”
Linden’s ag students maintain the school farm where walnuts, cherries and wine grapes are grown; the campus has a pair of greenhouses, one of which was built two years previously with grant funds. In 2018, students built six raised planter beds which are used to grow plants for SAE [Supervised Agricultural Experience] projects. “The greenhouses are full of plants, especially succulents,”Lemos said, adding, “Next year we’ll be offering an Animal Anatomy and Physiology class for the first time.”
This school year, the agricultural mechanics program acquired five new welders using Perkins Grant funds along with a drill press and acquired some new livestock equipment including a beef scale.
“Linden has continued to conduct similar fundraisers as we have in years past,” Lemos said. “Some of our largest fundraisers include a spaghetti dinner sponsored by the Linden Lions Club, helping at the Mid Valley Ag grower association lunch, and a tri-tip booth at the Cherry Festival.”
During the recently concluded school year, Linden had five FFA State Degrees, one American Degree and one state proficiency finalist. “We won the co-op marketing test for the section and had the highest individual. Close to 40 students have exhibited at AgFest this year, including animal and still exhibits.”
Erika Chaney was high point individual this year and part of a new tradition of winning high point student of the year and the Linden FFA belt buckle for being the most active member of Linden FFA.
Funding has come from numerous grants including Career Technical Education Incentive Grant, Agriculture Incentive Grand and a Perkins Grant.
“This year we had one of the most active freshman classes that we’ve had in years,” Lemos said. “This was the first time in recent history that we had to get a parent to drive to the State FFA convention because we had more students going than the advisors could drive. We expect this to be a continuing trend and we’re excited for the expected expansion in the upcoming years.”
Linden’s greatest challenge currently is a positive one: the program’s growth that’s created transportation difficulties.
“We’re excited to welcome Jana Colombini to our department as a replacement for long time Linden AG teacher Dean Archer,” said Lemos. “Jana is a Linden High alumni and past president of Linden FFA. She’s done an outstanding job in her first year as an ag teacher and FFA advisor.”
Lodi High School
With 330 unduplicated students in the Ag/FFA program, the three instructors — Brent Newport, Jessica Barrett and Kim Schmierer — are busy, said Newport.
“Among our major projects was the installation of a new greenhouse and a new plasma table for the shop,” he said. “Administration and counselor support for these and other projects is outstanding.” Another welcome addition is a Miller Augmented Arc System welding simulator.
“We have awesome parent and community support,” enthused Newport. “They helped with the vineyard replant, our crab feed and scholarships. Student support was also great.” Lodi High also benefitted from Ag Incentive grants, California Partner Academy grants and grants from the Central Region Ag Education Consortium.
The college-aligned courses offered include Ornamental Horticulture, Introduction to Ag Mechanics and Welding (Delta College) and Floral Design (Modesto JC). Course pathways include Agriscience, Ornamental Horticulture and Ag Mechanics.
Lodi’s FFA competition accomplishments were strong with the State Champion Horse Judging Team, 17 State Degree recipients and five Proficiency Award winners. Other Lodi teams included Vegetable Crop Judging, Ag Sales, Livestock Judging, AET (Record Book), FFA Creed, Job Interview and Impromptu Public Speaking.
“113 of our students entered AgFest showing pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits and steers,” Newport reported.
“The future holds potential for an additional teacher next year,” he said. “Ag education in California continues to grow in student numbers and the need for ag teachers is at the high demand level.”
Manteca High School
“We have 376 students in our program and three instructors,” said Amanda Martinez, one of the three. Her partners in Manteca High’s Ag/FFA department are Heather Nolan and newly hired Ryan Coggins.
The primary project of the last school year was the new greenhouse and the administration’s support was good. “They’re always up for new ideas, projects and classes,” said Martinez.
All ag science classes are aligned and this includes Ag Biology, Ag Soil Chemistry, Animal Science, Companion Animal Care and Management, Introduction to Vet Science, Introduction to Art History of Floral Design and Ornamental Horticulture. Course pathways are: Ag Mechanics, Animal Science and Plant Science.
In the special or unique classes department Martinez notes, “New for spring added back to the program: Ornamental Horticulture, a class designed to develop an interest and awareness in Horticulture. The class will also learn how to run and maintain the new greenhouse.”
A new class offering is Landscape Maintenance. “Students will develop skills to be able to obtain an entry level job with employers like a city or a school district,” Martinez said.
“We have a school farm that’s shared by all five high schools in the Manteca Unified School District,” Martinez said, pointing out it is 50 acres, some planted to almonds, some as pasture for sheep and goats and areas to house project and fair animals including beef and dairy cattle and pigs.
“I am now supervising the honey bee hives at the school farm,” Martinez said. “There are currently 11 students from all five high schools on the Honey Bee Co-Op learning about hive health, bee care, harvesting, packing and marketing honey.”
The very active ag program acquired a soil sterilizer for the greenhouse and a small hydroponic growing table; saws and hand tools for shop classes, a multi-level reptile enclosure for the Companion Animal Care class.
“Planned acquisitions include a shade house, a plant label machine and for vet science and an artificial reproduction tract for learning about artificial insemination for livestock,” Martinez said.
“Our Floriculture and Dairy Products teams qualified for state finals and Hannah Gonzales and Alyssa Post received State Degrees,” she said, adding, “The B.I.G. (Best Informed Greenhand) competition, which includes freshman and first-year ag students, had four hard working freshmen competing.”
Traylynn Simerley received her American Degree and Reyan Blanco will receive hers in October.
Fundraisers include a BBQ at home football games, drive through BBQ dinners, Butter Braids and Jamba Juice cards.
“We are growing! Our classes are full for each subject,” Martinez said. “Ag education is very important in California. It prepares students for successful careers and a lifetime of informed choices in the global agriculture, food, fiber and natural resources systems.”
Merrill F. West High School, Tracy
Marlene Hepner, agricultural instructor at Merrill F. West High School, “530 students are in the Ag/FFA program and we have four teachers.” The four include Hepner and Jordan Dajani, Abigail Ferrell and Grace Minton.
“There is lots of support for our program from our principal and assistant principals. The district and site supported a textbook adoption process for the newly approved Advanced Animals Science course,” Hepner said. “We are so excited about our new textbook; ‘Modern Livestock and Poultry Production.’”
The major projects of the last school year included her writing the Advance Animal science course to complete the animal science pathway and submitted both Animal Science courses to Modesto JC for articulation and dual enrollment.
Students completed the dual enrollment process with Modesto JC for the animal science course; 16 students completed the process and earned three Modesto JC credits.
The students and the department gathered and purchased materials for a meat bird fryer, worked on a livestock project area and developed more space for swine, goats and are in the process of building a rabbitry.
“Next year, Advanced Animal Science will be offered for the first time,” Hepner said. “And a grant provided for a self-contained building to house the Rabbit breeding project.”
Fundraisers are doing well at West via an annual Tri Tip drive thru dinner, Poinsettia and two See’s candy sales, Flowers by the Month subscriptions, Easter Lilies, Banquet Placemats and a Silent Auction.
FFA accomplishments included two State Degrees, placing in the Delta-Cal section speaking contest and doing well in Job Interview, Impromptu and Prepared Public Speaking contests; Livestock Judging qualified for State Finals and Ag Sales and Pest Team fared well.
West’s outstanding Senior, said Hepner, was Dalton Davis for four years of accomplishments, including a State FFA Degree and leadership in the program.
“Merrill F. West FFA is thankful for the San Joaquin Farm Bureau grant for $500 in support of our transportation costs to travel 12 students to Anaheim for the State FFA Convention. Farm Bureau also donated two FFA jackets,” Hepner said.
The Central Region Consortium Grant and America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education Monsanto Fund Grant have been put to good, effective use.
The future holds replacement of one instructor, increased use of the agricultural garden and looking forward for additional student’s completion of college units.
Ripon High School
Ripon High School has 215 students participating in the Ag/FFA program with three full-time teachers Ryan Patterson, Sherry Johns and Celeste Morino taking care of Ripon’s agricultural education.
“Applying for grants to help support students in their career paths in agriculture as well as to bring ag awareness to seventh and eighth-graders, Patterson said.
He said the Ripon High School administration is “extremely supportive of our program” because they see the value of agriculture education and “the positive effect of the FFA on our students.”
The Ag Advisory Committee helps guide the program and its offerings. “They support and offer feedback to our grant proposals, school farm activities and new programs,” noted Patterson. “We’ve received two different grants, one to support a newly revamped work experience program and the other to promote agriculture.”
Ripon is in the process of remodeling its ag science classroom to improve the lab facility so it will be closer to the “NGSS” [Next Generation Science Standards].
“We are excited to now offer a compact diesel engine class,” Patterson said. “We’ve added 12 two-cylinder engines for students to learn the diesel engine systems and disassemble/reassemble techniques. This is a growing program that serves many industries in the San Joaquin Valley.”
Always looking to improve and expand the offerings to students, Ripon has outfitted a veterinary science classroom with lab kits, replaced the old plasma table with a new industrial quality koike cnc plasma table, compact Diesel engines, new computer lab computers and a Co2 laser cutter.
“We continue to use our school farm as a place for students to take advantage of agricultural opportunities with the goal of building those necessary skills to become successful in their chosen career path,” Patterson said. “The goal is to bring awareness of the school farm to the community and to show the importance of ag education to our changing community.”
Fundraising can also be exciting and Patterson said, “We’re very excited about our annual Cows, Carbs and Cocktails fundraiser being held Dec. 16, 2019. We host a dinner for 350 program supporters at the Ripon Community Center.”
Ripon Christian High
Ripon Christian’s Ag/FFA numbers may be small – it’s a small school – but the program’s enthusiasm and dedication to teaching and learning is just as intense as it is in larger programs.
“The administration’s support is very good!” said Allison Hoover, the lone instructor in the program, noting that the “new principal in the high school this year is eager to learn about agricultural education and sees the value in our FFA chapter. [The] K-12 superintendent continues to see value in the program and give support.”
An excellent source of support is the Ripon community, according to Hoover. “All five of my teams are coached by volunteers in the community, three of whom are parents of current or former ag students. They reflect the outstanding support I receive from the community.”
“47 are in classes and two alumni are still on our roster for American Degree eligibility,” explained Hoover.
Major projects undertaken during the past school year included four raised beds designed, built and maintained by Hoover’s plant science class, which also designed and installed drip line irrigation in the beds. Winter and spring crops were grown and the resulting produce was used in the school and given out to teachers. The class also built a composting area as a component of the nutrient management unit.
All four courses Hoover teaches are A-G approved and, she said, “I’m working this summer on course articulation at local community colleges.” The courses are Ag Biology, Agriscience Systems Management, Plant Science and Agribusiness Management.
Hoover’s situation is somewhat unique due to space availability because, “We do not have specific ag facilities other than the garden beds. I share a science lab with the rest of the science department.”
Regardless of a program’s size, fundraising is necessary. Hoover explained that Ripon Christian’s funds generally consisted of selling donated Poinsettias, Coffee, and receiving a portion of the proceeds generated by the Ripon Christian Schools annual Merchandise and Livestock Auction.
FFA accomplishments included four State Degree recipients, a State Agriscience Fair winner, and a State Press Corps position. The school had the California State Fair FFA champion steer – Tanner Hoekstra; Stanislaus County Fair Supreme Champion Breeding Ewe – Colton Hoekstra; Stanislaus FFA Master Showman – Hoekstra; Stanislaus first place FFA Intermediate Goat Showmanship – Janine Prins; the Small Engines team won High Team honors at three field days and the Light Horse Judging team took home High Team honors at the Fresno State field day.
Tanner Hoekstra received a State FFA Scholarship and he and Gianna Smith each received a National FFA Scholarship and five High Team state finalists finished in the top seven of their event.
Hoover selected Hoekstra and Thea Vander Meulen for recognition due to their “dedication to the ag program and outstanding service to their school and community.”
Ripon Christian High School is expected to increase in numbers over the coming years, according to Hoover. “The means we will have more students in the program and more opportunities to provide them. We will also have a new course next year that will alternate with Ag Business – Ag Communications, Marketing and Leadership.”
She said single teacher management is a challenge “but [is] something that’s been remedied by much community support.”
Sierra High School,
Amy Bohlken, Sierra’s lone Ag/FFA instructor for 150 students doesn’t feel overwhelmed because, she said, “I receive a great deal of continuous support from all [of] my administrators. They are amazing!”
In addition to administrator support, she said, “My freshman class has also brought excellent parent support along with them.” Bohlken said she’s “received a great deal of support from our district CTE program.”
One of her major projects last year was a partnership with another ag program in which they conducted a district-wide (Manteca Unified) donation drive for the Camp Fire survivors. “We delivered two truckloads of human and animal donated goods, along with over $3,500 in gift cards to the Chico area,” Bohlken said.
Good deeds tend to be rewarded and she said, “We were fortunate to have received a brand new CTE vehicle. In addition, we will be receiving a brand new truck next school year.”
Bohlken has two classes that are articulated with Modesto Junior College and she is currently working on getting two additional classes articulated.
Two fundraisers were both notable and new. “Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls and Rocky Mountain Candy Apples were a hit and we earned a great profit from this combination,” said Bohlken.
The school farm is busy with several different market animal projects currently ongoing.
The Cooperative Marketing Team placed second High Team at the Delta Cal Sectional contest and one student received their State Degree this year.
About her students, Bohlken said, “I’ve been blessed to have such a great freshman class this year. These students have really stepped up and gotten involved, including taking on various leadership roles. I am super excited about the upcoming Officer Team. In addition, a student of mine was one of three Manteca Unified Students awarded the San Joaquin County Every Student Succeeding Award.”
Tokay High School, Lodi
The Tokay High School Ag/FFA department and veteran ag teacher Becky Freeman, received good news at the beginning of last school year: “Our 365 students and I were excited to welcome two new ag teachers, Jessie Peterson [Ag Sciences] and Matt Vierra [Ag Mechanics and Woodshop],”said Freeman who teaches Floriculture and Ornamental Horticulture classes.
Freeman said she is “Grateful to have an extremely supportive administration that has allowed for the continued success of Tokay’s ag students and department.”
“Our FFA is blessed with incredible Boosters who support all members of Tokay FFA,” Freeman said. “They bought every ag student a Tokay FFA shirt and bought the Ag Department a new vehicle and supported many students in attending competitions, conferences and events.” The Boosters also host an annual fundraiser crab feed to fund senior scholarships.
Tokay has been the beneficiary of two new structures to house both small and large animals; a new opportunity for students was implemented, the Poultry Co-Op. Freeman explained the Co-Op: “Due to the Paradise fire last fall, many chickens were displaced as people lost homes or their ability to care for animals. Tokay FFA adopted 20 laying hens who now reside on the school farm.”
The eagerly awaited completion of the new greenhouse. “Our hope is to have year round plant sales and to conduct plant based, hands-on labs in the various classes,” she said.
“Currently, the Floriculture course is articulated with Modesto JC and the Ornamental Horticulture class is articulated with Delta College,” Freeman said. “We’re working to articulate the shop classes in the upcoming school year.”
The FFA members helped beautify the campus by planting succulents at various places on campus during FFA Week; a new Plasma Cam for the metal shop arrived; fundraisers utilizing fruit trees, wreaths, poinsettias and fundraisers: a Drive Thru BBQ and “our first ever Fun With Flowers Night when students taught parents and community members how to make arrangements,” Freeman said.
Freeman pointed out that the school farm houses market pigs, goats, lambs, turkeys and rabbits that students raise for Ag Fest. “We also have laying hens year round,” she said.
FFA accomplishments included Brittany Mogler taking first place in Sectional Speaking, Job Interview; three American Degrees received; many top five finishes in Vine Pruning competition and many top five finishes and Top Five individual placings in Floral competition; 21 students attended the State Conference in Anaheim.
“We’ve been very fortunate that the CTE Incentive Grant has funded multiple projects including the new livestock facilities, greenhouse and science and shop equipment,” she said.
“We are very excited for the continued success of the Tokay FFA Ag Department,” Freeman said. “Next year we will be hosting a student teacher from Chico State and we’re looking to expand our instructor numbers to offer an even broader range of classes.”
Ornamental Horticulture, Ag Science and Ag Mechanics are Pathway courses.
Tracy High School
Tracy High School’s Ag/FFA program boasts 449 students, which is overseen by Ag Department Chair Laura Kelley and ag instructors Pat Rooney, Georgia Souza and Jason Gentry. Kelley said a key to the program’s success is “our site administration which is very supportive. Our principal includes our department in decision-making regarding staffing needs, teaching schedules, helps with sub costs, and is even attending the National FFA Convention to chaperone our students.”
“We have amazing parents who always come to our aid when in need, they step up to help with fundraisers, transporting students and more, Kelley said.
Major Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) projects included swine, sheep, goats, bees and a Farm to Fork program initiated by an ag student for her senior project. Kelley also said a chicken coop is under construction to start an egg co-op.
Tracy High offers a very unique course, according to Kelley. “At Tracy High we have one of only five meat processing classes in California and one of three that is USDA inspected. We can cut and wrap beef, sheep, goats, hogs and poultry.”
“We have Sustainable Ag Biology, Ag Soil Chemistry that are AG aligned,” Kelley explained. “We have Vet Science and Welding that are articulated with the local junior colleges; students can receive college credit for the class if they attend the junior college. We also have two course pathways: Agri Science and Ag Mechanics.”
A new van will allow more members to participate; fundraisers included a Yankee Candle sales event, the annual February Crab Feed and a March/April popcorn sale.
“We apply each year for the Agriculture Incentive Grant,” Kelley said. “That money is used to offset student costs, pay for leadership development events/activities, sustain the FFA/Ag program, buy books and new computers and pay for student conferences and field trips.”
Kelley described the FFA’s significant accomplishments: a livestock judging team finished in the top 20, earning a spot at the State Final and four individuals participated in the Sectional Creed Speaking Contest with one advancing to the regional contest. “Two members participated in the Impromptu Speaking Contest; four students earned State FFA Degrees and nine students will attend the national convention in October.”
Kelley said Madison Kelley and Anthony Santiago stood out as they were elected to the Delta Cal Section Officer Team, Kelley as President and Santiago as Sentinel. “Both served at the San Joaquin County Farm to Fork Diner with their newly elected officer team.”
The growth in student numbers encouraged the hiring of an additional teacher who will teach our small animal classes and Ag Soil Chem classes,” Kelley said.
Regarding the future, Kelley is enthusiastic. “I feel like the sky’s the limit. If we, as a department/FFA chapter, put in the work, stay dedicated to our goals, and persevere through the obstacles, we will be limitless because our program is growing by leaps and bounds.”
She also said a major challenge is retaining FFA members as they move through high school and become involved with other activities, making agriculture a scheduling challenge. “That’s why it’s so important that our classes be A-G aligned and articulate with the local junior colleges. That makes it a little easier to hang on to students and have them be four year program completers.”
Weston Ranch High
According to Chris Livengood, ag instructor at Weston Ranch High School, “There are over 300 students currently enrolled in the Weston Ranch Program. We’ve had to turn students away due to not enough teachers for the classes the students want to take. We now have waiting lists for several classes.”
Livengood said that Weston Ranch has a “brand new administration team, two new vice principals, one new assistant principal and a new principal. They have all been working more closely with the Ag program and supporting students at events.”
The Animal Science class will be aligned with Delta College for Dual Enrollment; new classes this year included Veterinary Science as well as Small Animal Care. “The Animal Science pathway has grown 300 percent in the last two years,” Livengood said. “We currently offer these pathway courses: Ag Mechanics, Animal Systems, Ornamental Horticulture and Ag Wood.”
The school is currently raising money for students to represent the chapter at the National FFA Convention this fall. “We are doing a car wash, tri-tip meal sales and a dog-washing day,” Livengood commented.
“This year, Weston Ranch’s Christian Gomez received the school’s first American FFA Degree. Receiving State FFA Degrees were: Logan Reid, Reibecca Castro, Dominic Yabut, Clyde Wilson and Breanna Cheavers,” Livengood said. “We were also recognized nationally as a two Star Chapter from California and National FFA.”
“We need another teacher so we won’t have to turn students away,” Livengood said.