MONTAGUE – It is an award few schools ever win, but Montague FFA is this year’s recipient of the state’s Outstanding Middle/Secondary Program Award from the Michigan Association of Agriscience Educators (MAAE).
One of the things that makes Montague Area Public Schools (MAPS), FFA program so strong is the number of teachers participating in the program. The district has three: Kate Feurstein, John Smit and Carson Letot.
FFA is a national youth organization that promotes agricultural education. By having three teachers participating in the program, the school district can offer more than your typical program, such as classes at the middle school level.
The three teachers said MAPS isn’t the only school district to offer FFA to its middle school students, but it isn’t a common thing for districts in Michigan to have.
“We are one of the few programs in the state that has a presence in the middle school, so I think that added to the application,” said Feurstein.
Feurstein, who filled out the application for the award, said she almost didn’t tell the other two advisors and was planning on applying in secret.
“I was like, if we don’t win, they don’t need to know about this,” said Feurstein.
Filling out the paperwork for the award is very time consuming, and Montague’s application was 16-pages long. Feurstein said she wasn’t sure she was going to finish it in time.
On the day the application was due, Feurstein told Letot and Smit she was applying and asked Letot to proofread it.
A 16-page application might sound lengthy, but Letot said it wasn’t enough to encompass all of the stuff the FFA teachers and students are doing at the district. It could have been 20-pages or more, and Feurstein had to just put down what Letot calls their “greatest hits album” for their program.
The application was submitted on a Friday, and on the following Monday the school district received word that they were this year’s recipient.
“What is cool is it goes on to the regional level and the national level. The state deemed that our application is so good it could go [on] to the regional [level],” said Letot.
Michigan belongs to region four which includes Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio and Missouri.
When asked how it feels to win, Letot said, “For me personally, finally some recognition, and finally an award to reward [sic] to honor the work we put in. There are times in the wintertime where we put in upwards of 60 hours a week. To finally have that awarded and justified, that we put in that work and get something from it.”
Feurstein said Montague has always had a good FFA program, and for the last 12 years it has received gold awards for the work they do at the district. She said by winning the Outstanding Middle/Secondary Program Award shows that a panel of her peers recognizes just how excellent the FFA program is at the district.
“To me, the award means more, because it is a panel of our peers, which is our board of directors, it is other FFA advisors and ag teachers that make up the board of directors,” said Feuerstein.
“To know our peers, recognize the hard work we do is a great feeling for me,”
From Smit’s point of view the award just proves that they are doing what’s best for the students.
“From my standpoint, [it] just means we are offering excellent opportunities for students at the high school, and we are on the right track. For me it isn’t the recognition piece, just knowing we are doing the right thing, offering excellent opportunities and personal growth and leadership,” said Smit.
Each instructor brings something different and unique to the FFA program. Feurstein grew up on a dairy farm in her youth, she showed cows and fed cattle as her first job. Initially, she thought she wanted to be a veterinarian, but while attending Michigan State University she got involved in the agricultural marketing association, and learned she could become a teacher in something she has always been passionate about – agricultural education.
Smit also had a farming background, although he said he differed from Feuerstein’s experience. The farm he said was more of a hobby farm, and before applying to the teaching job at Montague wasn’t aware of what FFA was.
“I have a pretty extensive background in environmental ethics and genetics. I was less aware of FFA when applying, [and] saw a posting for agro science which piqued my interest,” said Smit
Letot didn’t grow up on a farm but helped to restart the FFA chapter at his high school with some friends. They had been involved with FFA in middle school.
He attended MSU to study turfgrass science but found he liked teaching science more than doing it, which led him to his current position.
Now that the school district has won the award, they have to wait at least a year before they can apply for it again, and if they are recognized nationally then they will have to wait for five.
In addition to having their achievements recognized by the MAAE; Feurstein, Letot and Smit will be given a cash stipend. But for how much, and what it will be used for, the three teachers are still unsure.