Growing into their own

April 13, 2019

UNION MILLS — The South Central Junior-Senior High School FFA team continues to grow — both in members and in accolades.

Last month, students brought home several awards during the District 1 Convention, which took place March 16 at Frontier High School in Chalmers, Indiana. Among other distinctions, senior Katelyn Rudolph was named the district’s Star Farmer, while advisor Kyle McCallum was voted by his peers as the District 1 Outstanding Young Agriculture Educator of the Year.

Rudolph advanced to sectionals for her supervised agricultural experience project, a series of agriculture activities the student performs outside the classroom, that she has worked on since the summer, she said. She recently took first place at the sectionals competition, which took place March 29.

Rudolph, the chapter president, also took third place in the district food science demo competition, joined by her teammate, Sidney Swanson.

Another senior, Maggie Thomas, will advance to the state convention at Purdue University in June. The student took first place at March’s district convention for her plant science ag demo on crop scouting, a technique used by agriculture professionals to inspect farmers’ fields for pests, weeds and other things that may impede crop development.

“As seniors, it’s exciting to have a chance to wear our blue jackets one last time,” Thomas said. “Usually, the banquet [in May] is our last event of the season.”

Morgan Hinz will join her at state, as she took first place in the job interview competition at the district competition. Hinz also won a third-place plaque for extemporaneous speaking.

In addition, the four-member Quiz Bowl team took third place at the March event, bringing home a plaque from that particular challenge for the first time in school history. The event required members to answer 50 of out of 247 possible questions, which the students have studied for months in advance, said Jolie Klimczak, one of the freshmen members of the team.

“We studied on the bus there, we studied before we entered the room for the quiz — we made sure we were covered,” Klimczak said.

Klimczak also took third place in the convention’s Creed Speaking competition, which requires participants to recite the FFA’s creed from memory in front of a panel of judges, who also ask the speaker a number of questions about the motto and the history of the organization. The freshman set out this year to place in the top three after failing to do so the year before, and felt rewarded after accomplishing her goal, she said.

McCallum, meanwhile, earned the FFA’s Outstanding Young Agriculture Educator of the Year award in his last year of eligibility for the distinction, he said. Like several of his students, McCallum will attend the state convention, where he will compete against other district-level winners.

“I’m not the top dog yet,” he joked.

It was the Purdue graduate who started the SC FFA chapter with the help of several local farmers around seven years ago, shortly after the high school hired him as an agriculture instructor, he said. Given the number of farms and fields in the Union Mills community, giving local students a chance to connect more with agriculture through FFA felt like a natural move to make, McCallum said.

South Central students have responded strongly to the program over the years. Membership has more than doubled since McCallum’s first year advising the group, which is currently up to 56 students — more than half of the total teenagers studying agriculture at the school.

Students learn about more than just crop management or animal science while in FFA, though, as McCallum is quick to point out. The organization gives students a chance to work on their public speaking, leadership and ability to work on a team.

“[FFA] makes them more well-rounded individuals,” McCallum said. “Without a doubt, the senior class is ready for any job or school. I’m proud of that.”

Since joining FFA, Rudolph and Thomas have come out of their shells and blossomed into leaders, both serving as officers on the school FFA board, they said. Klimczak, too, is climbing the ranks of the team, currently serving as the chapter historian.

Developing new friendships is a large part of their love for FFA as well, they said.

“I’ve learned a lot, even though it’s only my second year,” Klimczak said. “Hopefully we can get more people in FFA by showing them what it is and how we’re like a big family.”

Though he would rather praise his students for the hard work and long hours they pour into FFA than take any credit himself, McCallum’s students have no shortage of compliments for their advisor, with Klimczak saying he is one of her favorite teachers.

“I don’t know if FFA would be what it is today without him,” Klimczak said.