The Growth of the Howard County FFA Chapter and Agriculture Academy

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

By: Samantha Dixon, HCEDA Agriculture Intern

Advocating and expanding agriculture education in public school systems allows the youth to gain a better perspective on the world of agriculture through an FFA Chapter.

After the 20-plus-year absence of the Howard County FFA Chapter, much community support was needed to bring back the program. Howard County’s Public-School Superintendent, Dr. Martian Marino, as well as other members from the Maryland State President and Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation were present during the chapters Charter Ceremony. With the help from all these organizations and from the upcoming class themselves, including Ellie Feaga lobbying at both county and state levels, they were able to bring back agriculture education to the county. Since being reinstated in December of 2018, the Howard County FFA Chapter quickly grabs the attention of nearby residents around the county. Going on for 5 years at the Application and Research Laboratory located in Ellicott City, the classroom size continues to grow with more opportunities opening for the agriculture academy.

Kathleen Wojcik, the agriculture educator for the academy and the chapter’s advisor, said that the people that spread the word along with more visibility has been a big help. “Members of the senior class wrote letters to their home schools guidance counselors describing the academy,” she said. “[The seniors] gave a testimonial on why this academy is so important to them.” Not only has the class reached out to their schools, but Wojcik also describes the connections they have gained through Howard County Farm Bureau and Agriculture Farm Seminar as well. “We have been having guest speakers coming in once a month and talking about their career choices that they have made in agriculture,” she said. “This has been a good project that allows the students to see different career paths.”

When interviewing Wojcik, it gave a reminder about how important this academy is to me. It brought back so many good memories of when I was a student in the academy and apart of FFA from 2020-2022. In the classroom, I learned about plant anatomy, livestock health, artificial insemination, genetic mutations, farming methods, and so much more. Being in FFA opened a whole new world of choices and experiences from livestock evaluation and contacting other individuals about potential colleges for an agriculture business degree. It has been some of the best moments during high school and will continue to support the program that has positively impacted my life.

By attempting to bring agriculture to other classrooms, Wojcik partnered with the Howard County Farm Bureau Education Committee with Dr. Barb Glenn and plans to host an ‘Ag Day’ soon. She explains that her students will be targeting middle schoolers with agriculture-based activities, like supervising a lab, and will talk with the middle schoolers about what they do in the classroom, such as learning livestock and horticulture sciences and planning different FFA events and meetings.

Ever since the FFA Chapter was created, Howard County has had representatives compete in competitions at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis from job interviews to public speaking. However, with traveling great distances, it becomes very costly. Yet, Wojcik describes the fundraising her and her class part takes in. “We have been able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from our holiday arraignments sale and our annual plant sale,” she said. “We have the great support of the community, and it continues to grow.”

While talking with the students during a classroom session, I learned that many of them did not come from an agriculture background. Instead, some explained that they heard about the academy and wanted to try something new. It excited me that people are excited and have the want to partake in FFA and the drive to learn about agriculture in Howard County. It gives me hope that more and more youth will join and gain tons of leadership skills and life skills for the future.

With all the great success the academy and FFA chapter has had thus far, there are still future goals they wish to meet. One of those goals Wojcik explains is the hopes for opening another classroom. “I would like to get a second teacher; and with the more students enrolled, the better chances we have in opening up another classroom,” she said. “We have to get a lot of people on board to say that we need another classroom. But it is something that is still at the top of my list.”

Outside of the classroom, the FFA chapter will also be helping at the 77th annual Howard County Fair this August with farm tours, managing the vegetable/garden department, as well as having two FFA members showing their livestock through the FFA division for the first time. Wojcik describes that the students who will be seen in the show ring with their livestock will show everyone in Howard County that we have our own FFA chapter.

The two-chapter members who will be showing various species of livestock have been part of the 4-H program since they were clovers and have since been showing 10 years at the county’s fair.

Kaitlyn Spicer, a junior at Glenelg high school and the chapters 2nd vice president, will be showing her pigs and sheep during this year’s fair. She explains how she really enjoyed this year and how organized and straight-forward the FFA program is. “I was one of the three that was able to go to the National Convention, which was such a unique experience to talk with people about their companies” she said. “Going to various dinners, regionals and conventions have been such a blast.”

Ellie Keefer, a junior at Glenelg high school and the chapter’s reporter, will be showing her dairy cattle at the county fair and next falls National Convention. She talks about how many close friendships she has gained as well as her surprise at how big the world of agriculture is. “Overall, this has been super great, and I can’t wait to start again next year,” she said. “We also go on a lot of field trips, with my favorite being the Trans Ova Genetics trip with artificial insemination, something I may want to pursue as a career.”

The Howard County agriculture academy and FFA chapter has provided tons of hands-on learning activities for their students with tons of great experiences for everyone to enjoy.

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