February 29th, 2024

school board winchester presentationLocal citizen Evan Winchester talks to the USD 480 school board Monday evening about implementing new agriculture education programs throughout the district. Winchester said there are many benefits that would be seen from implementing such programs. L&T photo/Elly GrimmELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


Some new agriculture education classes and programs could be making their way into the USD 480 curriculum in the near future. 

At the most recent USD 480 school board meeting Monday evening, a pair of citizens spoke in favor of introducing such programs to the district, beginning with Evan Winchester. 

“I would like for the board to consider forming a committee to add an agriculture education program, along with a National FFA Organization chapter, to USD 480,” Winchester said. “The first question that comes up is ‘Why would we add an agriculture education program?’ Well, first and foremost, one of the main emphases we have in education, in my opinion, is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education, and there’s no better way to enhance that learning that to give students hands-on opportunities, which can be done with an agriculture education program. As you also know, in the Liberal community, agriculture and energy are the two primary economic drivers, and what better way for area students to understand what’s going on in their community and how their community operates? There is funding through the Kansas State Department of Education, and there’s an additional 0.5 FTE (Full-Time Equivalent), so this doesn’t just happen, it does require some additional funding. I do want to filter through just a small sample of the 36 approved courses through this, because I don’t if people really stop to think sometimes about what all can be taught through agriculture education. A big one is Environmental Resources and Wildlife Science, that could cover a very broad number of students who could come into an agriculture education program. With Food Science, if you want your student to take a class so you can retire and let them pay for everything, send them to college for food sciences. There is also Small Animal Care, Agriculture Biotechnology, Agriculture Leadership & Communications, and Agriculture Entrepreneurship.”

Winchester then talked about implementing a National FFA Organization chapter. 

“FFA is separate from the agriculture education courses, it’s the organization that goes along with the agriculture education classes. The National FFA Organization chapter is best described as a youth leadership organization, and the organization’s home page sums it up nicely, saying it’s helping with ‘Growing the next generation of leaders who will change the world,’” Winchester said. “Many board members will automatically think of Future Farmers of America, but the official name was actually changed a few years ago, so now it’s the National FFA Organization, and the fact is, it much describes the diversity of agriculture and all the things agriculture education can lead people toward and all the available career paths. FFA consists today of more non-farm members than those who are raised on a farm. During my time at Seward County Community College, there were many classes that would come in with only one or two students who had actually been raised on a farm. Leadership skills learned through FFA are used for a lifetime, and some of those include public speaking as well as parliamentary procedure, which comes in very handy for those who ultimately decide to dabble in politics. There are also several resources available should you decide to go through with this.”

Current SCCC sophomore Ashlyn Cook-Huggins then spoke to the board. 

“I’m originally from Gold Canyon, Ariz., which is a suburb of Phoenix. I’m a first-generation agriculturist in my family – my mother is a nurse and my father is an attorney,” Cook-Huggins said. “I enrolled in an agriculture class my freshman year of high school hoping it would help me become a dermatologist, and obviously, I strayed from that path, but in the best way possible. I quickly fell in love with the class and the National FFA Organization through career development events, leadership opportunities, supervised agriculture experience projects, and most importantly, the connections and relationships it provided me. Agriculture classes have provided me with a plethora of opportunities I never would have received otherwise, and they have shaped me into who I am today. Prior to joining the National FFA Organization, I was rather shy and timid and feared public speaking, and some of the SCCC instructors can say that is definitely not the case anymore. All of the classes I’ve taken have allowed me to find my true passion in life as well as give others in my class a head start in their careers. I’m a member of the Livestock Judging Team, which has helped me be active on campus and throughout the community, and through all the connections I’ve made, I’m proud to be able to complete my education at an amazing school roughly 750 miles away from my hometown 100 percent debt-free, which I didn’t imagine would be possible prior to joining the National FFA Organization. The National FFA Organization offers a lot of money in scholarships to help students like me achieve their goals, and I’m here to be an example of how an agriculture education program and a National FFA Organization chapter would be beneficial to all students throughout the district. All these require is support from this board and district, and some passionate teachers willing to give their time to build this amazing program.”

USD 480 Board President Naomi Vargas praised the idea. 

“While we do live in a more agriculture-focused part of the country, I think there are a lot of young people who have no idea where their food comes from, so I feel like this would be an amazing program to try and get started,” Vargas said.