Tuesday, May 18, 2010, My Turn • Mourning the loss of another good program

Publisher’s note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, May 18, 2010, edition of the Lassen County Times.

I was sorry to learn that Westwood High School will most likely not have an FFA program next year. Covering the school board meetings the past few months, I have witnessed the difficulty the trustees have in making the necessary cuts to remain within budget as funds dwindle. Sadly, eliminating services always impacts students in some way.

Not everyone chose to take Ag classes, which qualified students for FFA, but many who were involved grew in leadership skills and confidence. It was a good program.

FFA was implemented at the high school about the same time I became the Westwood Editor for Feather Publishing, receiving its charter in November 2001. Therefore throughout the lifespan of the program I wrote quite a few stories about FFA and students involved. As a result, in June 2008 I received a citation from the Westwood FFA Chapter as a token of appreciation for “helping them accomplish outstanding achievements in agriculture, leadership, citizenship and community development.”

Yet it was these achievements that drew the press coverage not the other way around. There were quite a lot of opportunities for good stories.

In the early stages of the Ag program at Westwood High grant funding was obtained to build a barn. This made it possible for students involved in FFA to purchase animals and raise them to show at the Lassen County Fair. It was astounding how well they did. In 2003 Daniel Lawrence was awarded FFA Champion Hog and Reserve Grand Champion Hog and Nolan Bussey was awarded Reserve FFA Champion Lamb; in 2004 Matt Johnson was awarded FFA Champion Hog; in 2005 Johnson raised the Grand Champion Market Steer and his brother Kyle was awarded Reserve FFA Champion Hog. Also in 2005, Westwood FFA competed in the best pen of five competition selecting their five best market hogs and finished first. In 2008 Kyle Johnson once again received Reserve FFA Champion Hog and in 2009 Tahnee Beal was awarded FFA Champion Hog.

Many students involved in FFA worked to achieve as much as they could from their participation in the organization. Matt Johnson was elected to a regional FFA office and in 2006 ran for one of 12 positions as a state officer. He served as the California State FFA sentinel.

Four WHS students earned their FFA State Degree, the third highest degree that can be earned in FFA. Megan Brecht was awarded her State FFA Degree this year, joining former graduates Matt Johnson, Kyle Johnson and Jennifer Worthington.

In the fall of 2008, Westwood FFA received the “Speak Out for Agriculture” award for the Intermountain section due to the media coverage the chapter generated for the Ag industry. Coverage included newspaper articles, radio commercials and an article in the National FFA Magazine.

The award reads: “It takes dedication and time to present the truth, or at least a positive side to an agricultural issue. Our story needs to be told. The media presentations you created have helped all of agriculture. We greatly appreciate your efforts to keep the public aware.”

Also that fall, Westwood FFA received the “Star Administrator Award,” because of the support by Henry Bietz, the superintendent of the Westwood School District and principal at Westwood High gave FFA and agriculture in 2008.

When I interviewed Johnson following his victory in the election process for a state office, he summed up the benefits of FFA calling it by far the best youth organization he has ever taken part. He stated he pushed himself in order to get everything out of it he could including leadership skills, people skills, self-confidence, and ways to be motivated to be a better person and to succeed in life.