GCC GIVES BACK: Area Ag Instructors Get FFA Chapters Off The Ground
Feb 23, 2022
The following article was originally published in the High Plains Journal by Kylene Scott.
You can hear how proud Mark Hager is of his students in his voice.
Hager is in his first year of teaching agriculture and chartering an FFA chapter at Ingalls, Kansas, after being at a number of schools throughout his nearly 20-year teaching career.
“We’re brand new,” he said. “We just chartered this year.”
Hager has 48 students in seventh through 12th grades.
“We had a big charter signing ceremony this fall at one of the football games. State officers came down, and I was just hired this school year to start the chapter,” he said.
Hager is no stranger to FFA. His own father was an FFA advisor and 4-H agent. He taught in Oklahoma and later started a chapter at Herington, Kansas, and was there for seven years before moving on to Dighton and Ness City for three more years.
It’s quite a process to get a chapter started—pathway paperwork has to be approved by the state, the school district must offer agricultural education classes and on to approval by state and national FFA.
Ingalls FFA has a full slate of seven officers, along with great community and parent support.
“Ingalls is a wonderful place,” he said. “I just can't believe they haven't had agriculture education and FFA before.”
Hager said when he was hired the superintendent and principal requested an active chapter. They didn’t want to have an FFA chapter just to have one.
“We're trying to be active. We're trying to do the best that we can,” he said. “And the kids have been amazing and the community has been amazing.”
Hager has nothing but praise for his students.
“My students are amazing,” Hager said. “I have some of the best students. I'll put my students up against anybody in the country with their work ethic.”
The kids want to do well and are good, according to their advisor.
“They go out and work hard and it's a lot of fun,” he said. “It's fun for an old ag teacher to get motivated.”
Hager believes success breeds success and thinks since his students have been winning and placing at land judging, dairy judging and horse judging contests, that they have a desire to win.
“The kids are all gung ho. They want to win,” he said. “We've got those plaques up already. They displayed them in the school office. That's their goal now to get some medals and win a plaque.”
His students are having fun and it's been rewarding for them, Hager said.
“It's like the football coach told me; we didn’t have a great football season. He said, ‘Man, once you guys started winning in FFA, they came back and they were trying harder in football.’ Winning breeds winning.”
Hager’s student’s have had the opportunity to participate is so many different leadership activities and career development events. He sees the need for those experiences to help the students later on in their lives.
“I come from a family of five children—my dad was an ag teacher then a 4-H agent. So we pretty much didn't have a choice growing up we were in FFA,” he said. “Out of five kids, only two of us went into the agriculture field.”
His older brothers and older sister went into the corporate world and Hager says they will tell you learning how to be public speakers and decision making came from going to and participating in FFA contests.
“You don't have to go into traditional farming. You don't have to go into even an agricultural business job to get the benefits from FFA and agriculture education because it teaches you so many life skills,” he said.
Hager teaches his students the finer points of job interviews and making a resume, along with teaching financial recordkeeping.
“In today's world that's so important they learn how to keep their books and balance their checkbook. Everybody has a record book,” he said. “Everybody has to learn what a reference is. We'd go over how to fill out a job application.”
In his upper level classes he teaches them about what it means to take out a loan and what interest rates and variable interest rates are, and the difference between getting an FHA loan or a commercial loan.
“That's all beneficial even just to buy a house,” he said. “In the ag mechanics class—we teach the basics of home wiring, teach the basics of small engines. It's so beneficial to be able to fix your own plug in that breaks and not have to pay somebody $75 an hour and it can replace your broken plug in your house.”
Deerfield FFA closed in 2012 after their agricultural instructor left, and the district decided not to replace the instructor. The chapter was officially rechartered in fall of 2021 but didn’t sign their charter until this spring.
Lauren Hastings, Deerfield agriculture education instructor and FFA advisor was hired in 2019 and started working with Kansas FFA to figure out a plan to revive the chapter.
“I have 14 students in my FFA chapter for the year of 2021-2022,” she said. “I am thrilled to have that many for the program’s first year and hoping to increase that in the following school years as my ag program grows and develops.”
Currently her program has 30 students in her offered classes, and even though there was a program before, Hastings was essentially starting from scratch.
“It has been a challenge trying to get the chapter going again,” she said. “I have very little resources for the ag program.”
She’s struggled to find the resources she needs like agriculture-related educational posters to have in her classroom, and the funds to purchase needed resources.
“With the challenge it is also exciting to see the support I have from my administration, the community, students and their families,” she said.
There’s been some growing pains this first year, but she’s found her joy.
“With it being a new chapter and students that have not been involved, they are jumping in head first,” Hastings said. “Many of my students did not know what FFA was before or that it was even a thing.”
She’s very excited about getting their greenhouse going and working to get the final building supplies.
“Then we will work this spring to grow some plants after getting supplies,” she said. “The students are very resilient, as we are learning toget...