The National FFA Organization presented its first-ever “chapter of the year” award at the 85th Annual National FFA Convention in October 2012 to Spencer County High School FFA from Taylorsville, Ky.
“It felt awesome. My friend Drew and I got to go on stage and accept it, and hearing our names called out was amazing,” says Tyler Goodlett, a Spencer County FFA junior. “Being able to represent our chapter, our state and even National FFA felt so great.”
Spencer County FFA advisor Darryl Matherly echoes that sentiment.
“Our members were excited, and our community was too,” Matherly says. “By the time we got back from Indy, it was already on the school marquee sign in front of the building, and the newspaper wanted to run a front page story about it. It was a great honor for our program and entire community.”
The prestigious National Model of Excellence Chapter award consisted of a plaque and $500. Spencer County was among 10 finalists, including chapters from Ponchatoula, La.; Marysville, Ohio; Eldon, Mo.; Southmont (Crawfordsville), Ind.; Ridgemont, Ohio; Versailles, Ohio; Lawrence County, Ala.; Marshall, Mo.; and Aiken, S.C.
“The National Chapter Award Program recognizes chapters that successfully complete an annual Program of Activities with a series of activities designed to encourage members to grow as individuals, to work as part of a team and to serve others,” says Dr. Dwight Armstrong, chief executive officer of National FFA. “Being selected as a Model of Excellence finalist is an honor bestowed each year on only 10 chapters that exude excellence in their day-to-day activities. Spencer County FFA rose to the top in 2012. After being selected as a finalist in the summer of 2012, they competed against nine other outstanding chapters and have earned the title of 2012 Model of Excellence Winner.”
Because Spencer County High School is located in a fast-growing, urban community near Louisville, Ky., the chapter has limited access to agriculture and has had to be creative in planning activities.
“When we plan, it is always a matter of keeping in mind our community and audience. Planning toward our audience has been a key element of being successful,” Matherly says. “Our Ag-Arithmetic Day is a great example. We bring all the eighth-graders to the high school for one-hour ag math rotations, which promotes our program and shows the eighth-graders that our ag-ed program is about high-level instruction that connects to high-level academic skills.”
Spencer County FFA junior Caleb Fulkerson has helped with Ag-Arithmetic Day since his freshman year.
“It helps us recruit non-traditional members. We send a bus to the middle school with FFA members on it who talk with the eighth-graders and explain what the day will be about,” Fulkerson says. “We use our aquaculture center and have the eightth-graders determine the probability of getting a certain kind of koi color and let them see if their calculation is true. It lets us show off our facilities and shows them FFA produces high-level thinkers.”
Spencer County FFA also holds an annual Ag Commodity Breakfast featuring Kentucky-grown products. It is always held the Monday of FFA Week, and the chapter invites local community leaders and FFA alumni.
“We serve local ag products like eggs, Purnell’s Sausage, gravy, hashbrown casserole and milk from local dairies,” Tyler says. “We teach our local leaders about agriculture in our county and about our ag program. It’s a great way to give back to our community, and it has helped me get to know a lot of our community members.”
During the 2012-2013 school year, Spencer County FFA had more than 250 members on its roster. Matherly says the reason for the chapter’s growth has been moving away from teaching traditional agriculture.
“When I was a student, we were learning about tobacco production. Now you would never have a class that involved that aspect, because there is a limited amount even produced in our county today,” he explains. “We have done well trying to focus on the leadership aspect of ag-ed and what a student can get from the program as a whole.”
Caleb says what makes Spencer County FFA unusual is its focus on each individual’s experience growing and learning.
“At our school, FFA lets you be surrounded by like-minded people who want to be contributors to society,” he says. “FFA inspires us to succeed, much like you’d get at a private school. Our teachers, Mr. Matherly and Mr. Baird, are so supportive, always making sure we succeed at whatever we do.”
For Goodlett, FFA has been a valuable tool for meeting people and developing communication skills.
“FFA has helped me branch out. Anywhere I go now, I know people through FFA,” he says. “I’ve met great people in our school, our community and all over the state.”