Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard for many people and organizations, but the FFA chapters in Williams County have done their best to adapt to the new circumstances.
Kristine Manning, FFA advisor at Edgerton Local Schools, said the last year has been “a crazy whirlwind.”
Much like many people, the pandemic drew the organization online, eliminating in-person conferences and contests, which she said is a major draw for the program, and kids are having difficulty getting into the virtual aspects of it.
It’s like that across the county.
“The kids have been really affected by that; They’re really bummed out that we can’t go out and do what we had wanted to,” said Katie Frey, Millcreek-West Unity Local Schools FFA advisor.
To make up for it, they’ve had to learn to adapt to the new circumstances and deal with a lot of changes from past years.
Adaptation came in a variety of ways, Frey said, as in-person competitions and many meetings were canceled and moved to Zoom.
“Usually, we’ll go on field trips and there have been a lot of virtual trips offered, which I know is not the same,” Frey said. “We’ve been able to do some local field trips, just like some walking field trips. I have still taken my advanced animal science class out to my farm ... and we’ve been able to work hands-on with some of the animals I have on my farm.”
Hannah Everetts, the FFA advisor at Edon Northwest Local Schools, said it’s been hard to keep kids motivated and they were even disinterested in various conferences they normally go to as they were “burnt out” on virtual meetings.
For competitions, it’s been a struggle.
“Right now, we’re trying to practice for general livestock judging and they’re going to watch (the animals) on video and it’s not the same as standing in the barn and actually seeing those animals in person,” Everetts said.
One big difference this year was the National FFA Convention going completely virtual.
“Despite the circumstance, it’s a bummer this year, but I thought National FFA did a really nice job trying to get the kids recognized for their accomplishments,” Frey said. “I think locally, too, we’ve done a really nice job of trying to hold competitions the best we can through Zoom, through Google Meet.”
Having the national convention online this year was actually a boon for Everetts’ students, as they were all able to attend sessions.
This was the first time that could happen.
“It gave everybody the chance to participate, they didn’t have to pay anything and they didn’t have to miss four days of school,” Everetts said. “It does provide some unique opportunities in that way, it’s just not in the format we prefer.”
While it’s been challenging, people have risen to the occasion, Frey said.
That includes the students, who are handling it “as good as possible,” she said.
“I know our kids are just happy that they can be back to some semblance of normalcy, being at school,” she said. “They’re really looking forward to going back and doing things in person.”
One of these events will be a modified FFA Banquet, she said, which was approved for students and parents only. The tables will be set up for families and will be properly spaced apart.
In Edgerton, Manning said the students have handled the adversity well.
“Honestly, they’ve gone above and beyond,” she said. “Even though they’ve been challenged with the virtual learning, they take it and they run with it.”
It has helped expand their experiences, too.
Although Manning doesn’t usually take the students to food science contests, she did this year, as it was virtual.
“They did very well,” she said. “I was super proud of them because they took the bull by the horns, per se, and they studied for it and they did awesome in the contest aspect.”
Everetts said students are resilient, “more so than we often give them credit for.”
The past year, they have been able to find the silver lining in the situation before she could.
“I really struggle sometimes with ‘Gosh, how do I encourage kids to participate in things when we aren’t going to travel anywhere?’ because that’s a huge incentive,” she said. “But, really they have been like ‘Oh, it’s fine, we’ll just do this,’ or ‘Hey, we can do this’ or ‘This means that this many people can participate and that’s cool.’”