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Hear that? The silence is the sound of successPosted Thursday, March 24, 2011, at 9:13 AM
I had never "heard" 800 teenagers be so quiet. And I had never, ever whispered while outside at the Saline County Fairground.
But that was before I attended my first ever FFA Career Development Event contest on Wednesday, March 15.
The "event" was the Marshall FFA Alumni Contest Day, where students from 23 schools came to Saline County to compete in different written tests and judging events on agriculture-related subjects.
There were students in hard hats, like those worn in a meat locker, studying different cuts of beef and pork set out on a plates on tables in front of them in the fairground Multipurpose Building. Clipboards in hand, the students didn't even look up to see a photographer flashing pictures.
Another group of students sat outside the "cookshack" taking a test about poultry. They too, were intent in their work, ignoring anyone passing by.
Another group wore old clothes and mud boots, wading into "pits" dug in order to study the soil from the inside-out. Students pulled out pieces of the soil, wetting it down, rolling it in their hands and writing notes on a clipboard. Most of them carried five gallon plastic buckets, from pit to pit -- apparently another tool of the trade. I soon learned the bucket doubles as a place to collect dirt samples, carry clipboards and spray bottles -- and when turned over provides a seat for writing notes and marking scorecards.
Having never been at a contest, I had to admit I was taken by the diligence of the students and the way the contest was organized.
Students participating in livestock judging knew that when approaching a new set of animals to judge, they had to turn their backs until the time keeper started the official time. This kept them from "studying" the animals before official time began. After official time started, they walked around the pens, studying the animals, marking their scoresheets attached to clipboards.
Volunteers from across Saline County, ranging from ag related business people to parents, grandparents and former FFA students helped run the contests.
They took care of problems (like muddy soil pits) before the Marshall advisory committee members and the Marshall FFA teachers who organized the contest ever knew there were problems. And believe it or not, this was the first time such a contest had been held here in Marshall.
Watching the students it was obvious -- by the quiet and the concentration -- that this was an activity that students wanted to do. They have spent (and will spend more) hours of classtime, as well as time before and after school, studying the skills and learning about their "CDE."
But what they were really learning, goes beyond the event.
They are learning to study, to compete, to work as a team and to stretch their skills and knowledge.
They are learning that practice does make perfect and that hard work can pay off.
They are also learning that while not all of us can be academic stars, basketball players or cheerleaders, career based education such as FFA and DECA can provide another place to learn, compete and succeed.
This contest, with the students and the volunteers, was a glimpse of Saline County agriculture ญญ-- both the present and future -- at its finest.
And I'm glad I got to see it -- even if I had to whisper.
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