Small schools aren’t an oddity in our rural communities. Schools with unique traditions and practices. Schools that value extra curricular activities — such as clubs and organizations — as part of the curriculum.
My alma mater is just that school. Jackson Heights High School is located in the middle of a Kansas hay field, five miles from the town of Holton. The cross country course runs through the hay field. The football field butts up against it.
It’s a small school with a lot of heart.
FFA Week is important in a lot of our schools, but Jackson Heights FFA had their moment in the spotlight when a video of their 2023 edition of Aggie Olympics went viral. This tradition has been the culmination of FFA Week since the late 1990s. The officers take charge of planning every year. Each new group comes up with unique games, each closely connected with farming and agriculture.
Each of the classes compete, as well as a faculty team. There are signs made, and there is good natured smack talk leading up to the day. In general, there is a lot of hype around this event. The high school is released from classes so that everyone can participate. There are not very many opportunities that students get to compete against faculty, and that’s one of the things that make this event so successful.
Everyone looks forward to it and really gets in to it.
Other activities during FFA Week include feeding the staff breakfast, drive your farm equipment to school, handing out mints in official dress to the elementary school students, a TV raffle, guess how many candies are in a jar, music during passing period, meal and a western movie (the school gets to eat lunch while watching a movie), a dance, and finally the Aggie Olympics. While traditions and specific events have changed over the years for FFA week, the core goals have stayed the same.
The games are kept track of so no games are repeated in four years. Thus, no student sees the same game more than once. Some of the favorite games at Aggie Olympics have been having the girls feed the boys who are on all fours acting like a baby calf drink milk from a baby bottle, the polar plunge done by filling a cattle tank with ice and water and having the participants find the golf balls in the bottom, a minute-long tire flip challenge, and climbing a barn rope.
These students have exemplified the philosophy of “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The officers start planning for FFA Week during their summer campout. These officers go above and beyond and put in a lot of hours, ensuring fun is had by all, while also sharing about agriculture in a very hands-on way.
In small town schools and communities, it’s easy to assume everybody knows about agriculture — that they know the difference between a cow and bull or that they know what the big machines moving around the roads are. But that is often not the case. These FFA officers provide an opportunity to get out of schoolwork (something most kids will jump on it a heartbeat), while also sharing about agriculture. They get to educate without lecturing. They get to show the funny and realistic things that happen on the farms all around the school on a daily basis.
Don’t underestimate the clubs in your schools. Show up to the meetings. Start an alumni chapter to support the members. Don’t let school boards shut them down due to lack of funding while making sure the sports teams are fully funded. These students need these clubs. It’s places where you can excel even if you’re not athletic. You can experience things that you never have gotten to due to family financial situations. You can excel no matter your last name. You can excel in anything your passionate about. Do not let your schools forget the importance of these organizations.
Kelsey Pagel is a Kansas farmer. She grew up on a cow/calf and row crop operation and married into another. Kelsey and her Forever (Matt) farm and ranch with his family where they are living their dream and loving most of the moments.