SCOTTSBLUFF — Panhandle FFA Chapters celebrated National FFA week from Saturday, Feb. 16 to Saturday, Feb. 23, with activities to promote agricultural education and leadership opportunities.

FFA is a vocational agriculture program founded in 1928 as the Future Farmers of America to bring together students, teachers and agribusiness to solidify support for agricultural education. The name of the organization was changed in 1988 to the National FFA Organization, and while farming is no longer in the title, agriculture and leadership remain front and center in classrooms across the country.

FFA Week was a bit hectic for many of the Panhandle schools, with Presidents' Day on Monday, multiple playoff basketball games and weather souring plans for projects.

In Bayard, FFA Adviser Justin Rafferty said things were short for the 56 students in the chapter due to no school on Monday and Tuesday and the girls basketball team traveling to playoffs on Friday.

“I get a lot of kids in town anymore,” Rafferty said. “FFA has just changed so much, and it has something for everybody — whether they’re into public speaking or floriculture, livestock judging or welding.”

Rafferty said members participated in ag trivia on Wednesday and Rafferty talked to the students about Nebraska Gov. Pete Rickett’s FFA week proclamation, the importance of FFA to the school and community and how the National FFA Organization has grown since he was a student. Members wore FFA T-shirts to school on Thursday to raise awareness for the chapter and made root beer floats for their teachers during homeroom time. Past activities the chapter has worked on during FFA week included food drives, coloring contests for the elementary students and beef promotions.

The activities help build skills that go beyond agriculture, Rafferty said.

“I always tell the kids that what they do now sets up and formulates what they will do for the rest of their lives,” Rafferty said. “We need those leaders.”

Bill Gifford, ag teacher and FFA adviser at Banner County High School in Harrisburg, said the Banner County FFA chapter has 14 active members, who are a mix of farm and town kids.

“It’s as much about leadership and development as it is about cows and plows,” Gifford said. “(Town kids) get every bit as much benefit and it makes them better consumers even if they don’t end up going into agriculture.”

The week in Banner County consisted of activities for members including Ag Trivia Jeopardy, a petting zoo for elementary students, and on Friday senior members taught fellow students swing dancing.

Again, it goes back to leadership.

“You can see them take pride in what they are doing,” Gifford said. “I turn it over to them and they do the planning and they’re responsible for going through the right channels to get everything approved. It teaches them a bit of responsibility and accountability.”

Morrill Public Schools Ag Teacher and FFA Adviser Krystal Caudill said the Morrill-Mitchell combined FFA Chapter is on its ninth year and has 64 enrolled members, about 40 percent of which are town kids.

“I think the town kids get a bit more out of it because it forces them to step out of their comfort zone,” she said.

On Wednesday, the chapter invited elementary students to the high school to learn tractor safety and how tractors work. The chapter also put on a petting zoo with cows, chickens, dogs and goats. Other FFA week activities included roping demonstrations, a corn hunt and balloon pinning.

“They plan it all and have to do it on their own, I just monitor them. They have to learn how to teach a little bit about it and interact with the kids,” Caudill said. “They learn to manage the chaos.”

At Bridgeport High School, FFA adviser and ag teacher Zach Malcolm said the chapter has planned an Ag Olympics for elementary students next week, with pedal tractor races and competitions for the teams.

Malcolm said the chapter has 38 members, and that FFA provides benefits for farm kids and town kids alike.

“Any time you’re learning about where your food comes from and the work that goes into it — anytime you can pick up knowledge that you didn’t have before, it makes you a better person,” he said.

At the Scottsbluff Chapter, ag teacher and FFA adviser Shane Talkington said the 64 members of the chapter focused on spreading the message of agriculture to the rest of the student body.

On Thursday, the chapter’s junior and senior officer teams wore official dress on campus to bring attention to the FFA chapter.

“We have ROTC on campus now, and those kids wear their uniforms every Wednesday, so it was nice to have FFA members showing other students what their official uniform looks like too,” Talkington said. “It’s been quite a while since we’ve done that, and some of the students really want to push FFA, and they’re not embarrassed to wear the corduroy.”

On Thursday evening, the junior officer team conducted the chapter’s regular meeting with the senior members sitting behind them to offer direction and guidance for the opening ceremonies and parliamentary procedures.

As part of the ceremony, the president asked FFA members why they were assembled, and in unison they recited words that any FFA member new or old knows by heart:

“To practice brotherhood, honor agricultural opportunities and responsibilities and to develop those qualities of leadership which an FFA member should possess.”