IJAMSVILLE, Md. (AP) — A new school usually comes with new programs, and Oakdale High is a case in point.
Frederick County's newest high school began a new FFA program with 28 members last year. Membership in the agricultural program has increased to more than 50 this year.
That one-year membership spike reflects a national trend, attributed to a growing recognition of the need for a thriving agriculture industry that safely produces quality foods.
"FFA has achieved a record-high national membership of 579,678 — an increase of 22,360 over last year. The total number of chapters grew from 7,498 to 7,570, a net increase of 72 chapters," National FFA CEO W. Dwight Armstrong wrote in a Sept. 30 letter.
"Through real-world experiences, agriculture teachers are helping students develop the technical knowledge, skills and problem-solving capabilities to be the industry's leaders of tomorrow," Armstrong said in the letter to agriculture stakeholders.
Oakdale High School agriculture teacher and FFA advisor Brittany Arnold is one of those educators.
Under Arnold's leadership, the Oakdale FAA has racked up 13 accomplishments since the program was chartered Nov. 15. The dairy judging team recently placed first at the Maryland State Fair, earning them a spot at the FFA National Convention and Expo in Louisville, Ky., at the end of this month.
"What makes this win extra special is that our chapter has been in existence less than a year, and our team competed against much more experienced teams," Arnold said. "This is normally not a big deal, but we haven't even been a chapter for a whole year yet, so everyone was shocked and surprised."
Arnold offered congratulations to seniors Courtney Blair, Chelsea DeNenno, Brooke Martin and Alexandra Louise McCollum — students who played key roles in Oakdale's accomplishments.
"Going to nationals in only one year makes it a pretty big year for us; it's pretty much unheard of," said DeNenno, the Oakdale FFA president. "We couldn't have done it without our adviser, Ms. Arnold. There was a core group of three or four of us who wanted an FFA, and once Ms. Arnold came on, it happened."
"We're the No. 1 FFA program in the state, in my opinion," said Ed Mayne, regional FFA coordinator for Frederick County.
All of the relatively new programs — at Oakdale, Tuscarora, and Urbana high schools — have strong agriculture programs with a lot of interest in pre-veterinarian small and large animal care, Mayne said, and those courses have rekindled an interest in agri-science classes.
Most local chapters exceed 100 members, Mayne said, and about 10 chapters have earned a spot at the national convention.
In addition to strong ag programs, local FFA members complete many volunteer projects, including collecting food for local food banks and acting as tour guides at The Great Frederick Fair. There are inner-city FFA students living in apartments who come out to a farm once a week to raise goats, Mayne said.
FFA growth in Maryland and nationally is not a surprise to David Miller.
"I believe agriculture is higher on everyone's radar screen today than in the past for many reasons," said Miller, Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation Inc.'s director for high school/postsecondary education. "To name a few — having one's own garden, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, buying local products, organic farming, farmers markets, bio-fuels, food safety, world hunger, and the list goes on."
With the average citizen's increased awareness of agriculture, everyone — and especially young people — are learning more about the 300-plus careers in the field, Miller said.
Students are enrolling in high school agricultural education and becoming actively involved in FFA, he said, which are great ways for them to prepare for agriculture careers at an early age.
Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, http://www.fredericknewspost.com
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