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Stolen truck incident sparks learning opportunity

Streator FFA named national champions in Strengthening Agriculture

Streator FFA members each took a turn in the seat of the semi truck for the Becoming Semi Aware Project that earned the chapter national champion honors in the Strengthening Agriculture area.
Streator FFA members each took a turn in the seat of the semi truck for the Becoming Semi Aware Project that earned the chapter national champion honors in the Strengthening Agriculture area.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Streator FFA chapter turned a negative experience into a learning opportunity for their school which became a national award-winning project.

The Streator FFA Chapter was presented the national champion award in Strengthening Agriculture at the recent 93rd National FFA Convention and Expo.

The Becoming Semi Aware project was developed by the chapter after a semi truck was stolen from one of their FFA Alumni members.

“His facility was broken into and the guy found keys to his semi and took it for a joy ride,” said Riley Hintzsche, agricultural teacher and FFA adviser at Streator Township High School. “He drove the semi for three miles going through ditches, hitting mailboxes and crashing it into trees.”

The FFA adviser challenged his officer team to turn this event into a learning experience.

“In August 2018, we did the first semi project on campus where the kids learned about blind spots,” Hintzsche said.

Students sat in the driver seat of the semi and checked each mirror from that position.

“In the blind spots we parked different school vehicles and they had to tell us which ones they could or couldn’t see,” Hintzsche said. “The kids were shocked to realize what semi drivers see when you are driving next to them or behind them.”

Also during the project, the students walked a couple of blocks from 350 to 400 feet.

“We told them if a semi is traveling 65 mph and is fully loaded this is where it will come to a complete stop,” Hintzsche said. “The kids questioned if that would happen even if there are cars in front of the semi and we said yes.”

Last fall, 205 students, half were taking driver education classes and half were FFA members, completed the semi awareness program.

“We were going to do it again this fall, but we couldn’t because of COVID so we’re thinking about doing it next spring,” Hintzsche said.

Ideally, the goal for the project is to add more vehicles such as a planter and tractor or a combine.

“That will allow them to see why they should move over,” Hintzsche said. “And understand where the combine is and if he needs to get around a mailbox, you need to be alert for the right side of the combine, not just the left.”

Since the national convention was a virtual event this year, the chapter prepared a video about the semi project for the judging process. The members had about 14 days to complete the video after learning they were selected a national finalist.

Alexandra Austin and Jeniece White completed the video for the chapter that includes close to 100 members.

“I can’t tell you how many times I watched the video,” Hintzsche said. “Hats off to the girls. They did an awesome job.”

Streator FFA members were quite excited about the prestigious award.

“I believe this is the first time in our chapter’s history to win an award like this,” the FFA adviser said about the chapter founded in 1936. “And as an ag teacher this is my first time to be even selected for top 10.”

The students were pulled into the virtual convention live via Zoom during the announcement of the award.

“I don’t want it this way every year because nothing will replace the feeling of being on stage in front of 50,000 people with the lights shining on the back of your neck and chills running up your spine,” Hintzsche said. “I couldn’t contest to that until I was on stage with a member last year.”

It is really important to thank all the people who assisted with this project, Hintzsche said.

“You can’t get anywhere without thanking those individuals that have helped you a lot and we got a lot of help from alumni, our school and the students,” he said. “The number of people this impacts, not just from the award but from start to finish, all the resources and people who actually had their hand on it.”

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