St. Cecilia FFA program has fruitful first year – Hastings Tribune

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Clear early then increasing cloudiness after midnight. Low near 30F. Winds light and variable..
Clear early then increasing cloudiness after midnight. Low near 30F. Winds light and variable.
Updated: March 25, 2022 @ 9:51 pm
Chloe Erie (left) and Catharina Nguyen, sixth-grade students at St. Cecilia, hold rabbits White Lightning and Keno in the school’s agriculture classroom on March 17.

Chloe Erie (left) and Catharina Nguyen, sixth-grade students at St. Cecilia, hold rabbits White Lightning and Keno in the school’s agriculture classroom on March 17.
As Shelby Wachter approached the task of forming a brand-new agriculture program at St. Cecilia, she had a particular hope for students in her classes.
“As a teacher, my goal isn’t to get every kid to join agriculture because that’s just not the way it is, but I want every kid to have an appreciation for agriculture and hopefully be an informed consumer that someday when they go into the grocery store will know what they are buying, know what they are investing in,” she said.
The program has had a fruitful first year.
Wachter set a goal as an adviser of the school’s Future Farmers of America chapter to qualify 10 club members for the state convention April 6-8 in Lincoln.
“I knew that was probably kind of a high goal, especially because we only have about 35 kids in our program,” she said.
The Bluehawks qualified three teams each composed of four different students, plus two individuals.
Club president Garrett Parr qualified in two contests, employment skills and agronomy, so St. Cecilia is taking 13 students to Lincoln.
While Wachter’s goal for students in her classes was an appreciation for agriculture, her goal for FFA competitors was to make the school’s program known.
“I’m pretty proud of them,” Wachter said. “I think probably they surprised a lot of people. I don’t think a lot of people thought of St. Cecilia as this school that’s going to come in in FFA and make a name for themselves. Like I told them from the beginning, our goal was just at award ceremonies we want to hear our name called. We want to make them hear our name. I think they did that. Whether they qualified for state or not we had a lot of kids that were toward the top end and performed well in their contests. I think they definitely made a good impact their first year. I’m very proud of them.”
A committee of volunteers was assembled to plan for the start of ag education and FFA. Committee members included Matt Greenquist, a beef cattle nutritionist; Amanda Hoffman, a local business owner; and Ryan Weeks, owner and CEO of Weeks Family Farms.
Aiden Weeks — St. Cecilia junior, FFA club sentinel and son of Ryan Weeks — appreciated the opportunity presented by the new program.
“You see quite a few other schools around us have that,” he said. “To get that at our school with that hands-on activity is something cool that it brings to our school.”
Junior Robby Hrnchir, who serves as club parliamentarian, said when he heard about the incoming program it was something he wanted to try.
“I’m definitely glad that I joined,” he said. “There’s a lot of new things I’ve done and places I’ve gone, people I’ve met.”
“I think for most of us it was something we wanted to try, something we wanted to do, especially for our officer team, just because we all have some sort of background in agriculture,” Parr added. “That was important to us.”
Wachter said students without an agriculture background have a different level of excitement than those who grew up in agriculture.
“It’s not that I mean Aiden or Garrett are any less excited than the other kids, but everything’s so new to them and so anything I’m showing them or telling them they’re excited and they’re excited to learn,” she said. “A lot of them came in open-minded, which I really appreciate.”
Other club officers include senior Kiersten Kober, vice president; senior Olivia Kvols, secretary; senior Shaye Butler, reporter; and junior Cooper Butler, treasurer.
“Being from a small school, all of us kind of knew each other,” Kober said. “We kind of bonded right away and didn’t have any problems. It was really easy.”
FFA officers are proud of their club’s first-year accomplishments.
“I think it’s really exciting,” Shaye Butler said. “I’m really proud of us and all of the people who qualified, especially being a first-year program, kind of making a name for ourselves right away.”
Parr said club members qualified in what they are passionate about.
“It’s definitely a new experience for all of us,” he said. “I think we’re all excited to see what that includes and we’re along for the adventure.”
In this first year, Wachter taught four sections of Introduction to Agriculture, which covers a broad spectrum of agriculture topics.
“I definitely am excited for future students because then they’ll kind of get to pick which way they would go with things, whether they learn about ag business or animal science or plant science,” Parr said. “Once you kind of get past that first year you’ll get to choose what you want to take, what you want to learn about and what you like.”
Next year, Wachter will introduce plant science, animal science and agribusiness classes. She’s hoping to make agribusiness a dual credit through Central Community College-Hastings.
“When we set up intro to ag, I just wanted to be able to cover as much of different topics as I could in that timespan,” she said. “I also knew as a first-year teacher myself it wasn’t going to be perfect. I’ve already found things I’d rather do differently next year.”
A new agriculture classroom is part of a planned $8 million renovation and expansion at St. Cecilia.
Wachter was able to design what she wanted in a classroom. A recent University of Nebraska-Lincoln agriculture education graduate from Blair, Wachter reached out to more experienced ag teachers for advice.
“It’s kind of a tough task to do, because as a first-year teacher I’ve only taught in one classroom, so I only know what I like and what I don’t like for this classroom,” she said.
The new classroom will include a hand-washing sink and utility sink, extension cords hanging from the ceiling providing electricity wherever it is needed, plus plenty of storage.
The new classroom is going to be where one of the math/science rooms is currently located, adjacent to a restroom.
“They are going to tear down the wall,” she said. “I said, ‘Can you keep the drain in there from the bathroom?’ We’re going to have a drain in the classroom, so when I do make a mess, because I inevitably will, then I can just hose off the floor. I’m really excited about that.”
For this first year, Wachter’s classes are taking place in the largest classroom in the high school, one students historically have referred to as “the barn” because of its size.
“It’s kind of funny that they have always called it the barn and it ended up being the ag classroom,” she said.
Kansas Avenue will be closed between Fifth and Sixth streets as part of the renovation to allow for the expansion as well as for the safety of students walking between the school and the Frances Consbruck Chapman Gymnasium. Landscaping will be introduced between the buildings.
Wachter hopes that landscaping provides an opportunity for students.
She also hopes to install a greenhouse on campus in the next few years.
“It’s all going to be in steps, but we’re hoping as the years go on we just keep adding onto our program,” she said.
Placement of a greenhouse on a school campus in downtown Hastings could be tricky.
“We have a couple ideas of places, but when you put together a greenhouse there is a lot that goes into designing the location as well, because if we put it by a light that comes on at night it actually can mess with the greenhouse and settings depending on how automated it is,” Wachter said. “People don’t realize how much actually goes into it when you select an area for a greenhouse.”

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