When sophomores Spencer Brass, Amber Maxwell and Savannah Musser were students at Weightman Middle School, they were all involved in the school’s National FFA Organization program.
But they weren’t sure what would happen after middle school, since Wesley Chapel High didn’t have an agricultural program.
“We were like, how are we going to go into high school and not have this?” said Maxwell, 15. So the students pushed their former agriculture teacher and adviser Halyee Monk to help them out.
With Wesley Chapel High School principal Carin Nettles as a driving force, the school got its agriculture program, and students like Brass, Maxwell and Musser were able to continue their work.
“She definitely was the one who pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed to be able to get this program. Without the support of the principal, it’s impossible,” said Brass, 16.
The students were happy to get to attend a high school that was right next door to their middle school, instead of having to travel to Zephyrhills or Pasco high schools to pursue their interests, said Musser, 16. All three said they would have transferred to different high schools if necessary, but were glad it didn’t come to that.
While Wesley Chapel High’s agricultural program is still in its infancy, it is growing, said teacher Erin McCann Farquhar. It has two courses now and will add another next year.
Despite its short history, the school’s FAA chapter already is beginning to make a name for itself, Brass said.
“I think a lot of people underestimated us,” said Brass, who, along with Helena Polansky, won an award last April for their egg carton herb garden in the ornamental horticulture demonstration category.
“We all have so much determination. We are so new we are trying to get our name out there,” Musser said.
The Wesley Chapel team of Polansky, Stephanie Reschke, Renee Carpenter and Shawn Devisfruto had the highest score in the state in the preliminary round of the dairy judging competition.
“Our school is actually home to three of the top 10 individual scorers,” Brass said. “There’s no other school that has more than one. We have three.”
Reschke tied for first place, while Polansky was No. 4 and Devisfruto was No. 8.
“Helena Polansky, she coached the entire thing,” Brass said.
Reschke gave kudos to Polansky for helping prepare the team.
“Helena, our leader, has helped us quite a bit with the written test she gives us and the study guides on the information,” said Reschke, who enjoys being in FFA.
The school’s dairy judging team placed fourth in the state last year. Results were not yet available for this year’s competition that was on Feb. 15.
Wesley Chapel students have shown animals at the state fair and will show animals at the Pasco County Fair, as well.
Musser, Brass and Polansky are showing steer at the Pasco County Fair. Others in the program who are showing steer are Justin Taylor, Nick Wrage and Carpenter.
Maxwell and Devisfruto are showing pigs.
“These are market animals,” Musser said. “We put our money into them, then we’re going to take them and auction them off and hopefully have a really good profit.”
Before joining FFA, Maxwell said she had some misconceptions about the organization.
“I thought it was all like people who just wanted to be farmers,” she said.
Musser believed it was all about agriculture, too. “I never thought of the public speaking aspect of it, until I got involved,” she said. “When you get involved, you really learn a lot.”
The lessons go far beyond tending to animals or growing crops, Brass said. It provides excellent opportunities to take leadership roles.
“This is a youth-led organization. We run all of the meetings. You learn a lot of life skills,” Brass said.
Musser agreed. “It teaches you how to talk to people, how to approach things.”
While all three students are involved in the program because of their interest in animals, Musser and Maxwell said they don’t plan careers involving animals.
“I want to be a neonatal nurse,” Musser said.
“I want to do physical therapy,” Maxwell said.
Heissler, Reschke and Brass, on the other hand, do expect their careers to involve animals.
Heissler is debating between equine veterinary or zoology. Reschke is debating between a veterinary career or training dogs for people with special needs.
Brass wants to continue his involvement with FFA.
“After high school, I want to go on to serve as a state and national FFA officer,” he said. “I want to go to UF (the University of Florida) and become a vet and have a large and small animal practice.”
Published Feb. 19, 2014