January started off with loads of training. We started with facilitation and workshop development, where we created activities we want to do with students this year and the messages we want to share through those activities.
My teammates’ messages are anywhere from dreaming big to balancing things in life. I developed a workshop around the theme of adding value to others in our lives.
We took about a week to develop and practice our workshops, with the help of past national officers and national staff and then we went on a visit to Franklin Community High School to spend the day with students practicing our workshops.
We spent the next week learning how to develop speeches that we will be giving throughout our year. I traveled with my teammates, Ryan and Jess, to North Montgomery School in Indiana to practice our speeches in front of students and receive their feedback.
With planned workshops and speeches, we headed down to Miami for Experience Week. This week was full of school visits, presentations, agriculture tours and many, many memories.
The first school we visited was Felix Varela, which had a farm on campus. Not only do they have goats, horses and chickens, but they also have a rescue dog program, where they rescue dogs from the shelter, train them, take turns fostering them and help them get adopted.
We learned this wasn’t uncommon for schools to do something like this because of the high levels of animal abuse in Miami.
I found it fascinating that these students see a problem and don’t just talk about how to fix it — they are doing something to fix it every single day. Incredible.
The next school we visited was Coral Reef, which also had a farm on campus. This farm had sheep, Silkie breed chickens and a garden.
The students at this school were so excited to show us around and tell us all about how they take care of their animals.
Something that I wasn’t expecting was meeting students who live in the middle of Miami telling me how to take care of sheep or chickens and doing so with utmost respect.
The next school we visited was Redlands Middle School, which opened their hearts to us and showed us how much growth students have gone through academically and mentally within the last few years.
At Turner Technical Arts High School, we spent time with such insightful, fun and respectful students. I instantly became close to Victoria, who grew up in Venezuela and moved to Florida when she was just a young girl.
She told me her whole life story, including the fact that she didn’t grow up with a lot of money and lives in a small apartment with her mom and siblings, but being at the farm at the school and taking care of her steer is where she feels the most herself.
Victoria was raised in a family that didn’t necessarily agree with livestock production, but that doesn’t stop Victoria.
One thing she said that resonated with me was, “It hurts to see my new best friend being sold off, but I know that is their purpose. Some people will understand that and others won’t. It’s not my job to convince everyone to agree with me and what I do, but it is my job to advocate for my passion with respect.”
Victoria is a prime example of the power of agriculture education and a great reminder for me why I care so much about this organization.
We visited Kennedy Middle School, Okeechobee High School and Osceola Middle School.
At the last school we visited, I sat with Sunny and Caesar, two middle school students that have a little trouble reading and writing. I went to sit with them thinking I could help them, but they helped me.
Sunny and Caesar are two of the happiest kids I’ve ever met. They don’t let their obstacles define them, but rather be happy they are alive to even have those obstacles.
Spending the week in Florida taught me a lot, but the biggest lesson I learned was this: We can’t choose the life we live, but we can choose how we live it.
I look forward to learning more lessons and meeting many more incredible students just like the ones I met during my time in Florida.
Gracie Murphy of Macomb, Illinois, is the National FFA eastern region vice president. She is a freshman in agricultural systems and education at Southern Illinois University.