FFA trip value?

GHS FFA Advisor Heather Nolan, right, wins a sack-jumping

Gilroy
– The decision to allow Gilroy High School agriculture students
to attend out-of-area workshops in coming weeks was met with
partial resistance from the school board.
Twelve students in the high school’s Future Farmers of America
program will spend Thursday and Friday in San Luis Obispo for a
26-hour workshop at the California Polytechnic State University’s
College of Agricultur
Gilroy – The decision to allow Gilroy High School agriculture students to attend out-of-area workshops in coming weeks was met with partial resistance from the school board.

Twelve students in the high school’s Future Farmers of America program will spend Thursday and Friday in San Luis Obispo for a 26-hour workshop at the California Polytechnic State University’s College of Agriculture. In April, seven of the students will attend FFA’s four-day state leadership conference in Fresno.

Before students can attend field trips, the board must approve the teacher’s plans. At last week’s board meeting, FFA teacher Heather Nolan’s request for approval for the upcoming trips ended in a 5-2 vote, with Trustees Rhoda Bress and Tom Bundros opposing.

One of the biggest issues was the fact that the teacher will be absent from the classroom on the days of the trips, leaving the FFA students not attending the trips with a substitute, which the district must pay for.

Between the two trips, Nolan and her students will miss a total of four school days: Thursday and Friday of this week and two days in April, as that trip falls partly on a weekend.

Also at issue is that one of the high school’s four academic coordinators will chaperone the second trip, something Bress said she couldn’t justify considering the dire need for coordinators at the high school.

“I believe that the FFA field trips would be of educational value, but this issue represents for me a question of priorities and allocation of resources. My focus has and always will be the classroom experience and student services,” she said. “This time of year is an exceptionally busy one for counselors as students choose their schedules for the upcoming year and seniors finalize post-graduation plans. … I believe that the student population would be better served by having the academic coordinator on campus.”

Part of the job of an academic coordinator is to be involved and knowledgeable in all of the high school’s different departments, which is why a coordinator was asked to chaperone the April trip, said Superintendent Edwin Diaz.

“There has been concern in the past that they weren’t familiar with the agriculture department, so this was a specific effort to get them involved in that,” Diaz said.

Bress said her specific concern for the FFA trips is part of a more general concern that field trips detract from teacher time in the classroom. She has raised similar questions over the past few weeks regarding a few plans for field trips chaperoned by teachers, such a trip planned next month for the sophomore class to a museum and three colleges in Southern California.

Dovetailing with that concern was Bundros’ question of why more parents weren’t chaperoning the trips in lieu of teachers or other high school staff. This week’s trip will be chaperoned by Nolan and an FFA student parent, and next month’s trip will be chaperoned by Nolan, the academic coordinator and two student parents.

Although Bundros also said he supported the educational purpose of the trips, he said he would have liked to see more parents “stepping up to the plate” to volunteer as chaperones so high school personnel could stay at the school, something Nolan quickly defended.

“It’s not that my parents aren’t stepping up to the plate. It’s that we do a ton activities,” she said. “I feel I ask my parents to do a lot as it is. My parents are amazing.”

The program’s students and booster club, composed primarily of parents, raise money each year to attend a number of activities, including the upcoming conferences. The group is focusing its efforts on raising money in hopes of attending the national FFA convention next year in Kentucky, said Jiana Escobar, president of the high school’s FFA chapter.

The high school’s FFA program receives an annual grant from the state that is matched by GUSD, and the funding amount changes from year to year. This year, the program received roughly $15,000 from the state and the district, Nolan said, which covers some expenses but not nearly all.

“(The program) wouldn’t go as far if it weren’t for the boosters and the kids raising their own funds,” said Joan Pires, secretary for the high school’s FFA booster club. “They’ll fund raise all year long just to be able to attend the things they go to.”

Aside from teaching four in-school classes, Nolan also organizes a number of community service activities, public speaking contests and various agriculture-related events, including the annual upcoming conferences. About 110 GHS students are involved the program, but only about 15 to 20 are considered active members.

In the 2 1/2 years Escobar has been involved with the program, the GHS junior said she’s learned everything from how to farm to how to be a friend and leader.

“The friends you meet, the leadership you learn and the opportunities you get, you can’t get through a classroom. You have to actually experience it,” she said. “You get to meet people who are like you, and you make friends for life. And people don’t realize how big agriculture is, so it’s good for us to increase the agriculture industry.”

Like Bress and Bundros, several board members said they would have liked to receive the information about the trips sooner. But that seemed to be the only issue the entire board agreed on.

“To me, it’s not that big of a deal if the parents are supporting it and there is an educational benefit,” said Trustee David McRae. “I think we’re maybe being too focused on this one area, and there’s probably better uses of our time.”

Board president TJ Owens said he didn’t think either of Bress or Bundros’ comments were representative of the entire board, adding that the board’s recently formed policy subcommittee should take a further look into current policy regarding field trips.

The current policy does not address how many chaperones should attend the trips, nor does it address when plans for the field trip should come before the board.

Meanwhile, the 19 students will attend the trips, which Nolan said will provide them invaluable experience.

“Most people think (FFA) is all about plows and cows, and that’s not true,” she said. “That’s very far from what it’s all about.”

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