MARICOPA — Agricultural science classes and FFA teach students real life skills they can use after graduating high school.

For about 10 years, there hadn’t been an ag science class at Maricopa High School, but it was brought back this year since there was enough interest and a teacher to fill the position.

Victoria Rackley, the new teacher and FFA adviser, said FFA doesn’t stand for Future Farmers of America anymore. They aren’t just preparing farmers; students also become lawyers, doctors and scientists. The organization wanted to include all career paths, so the name was changed to National FFA Organization.

Rackley graduated from the University of Arizona this May with a degree in agricultural education. She’s originally from the Queen Creek area and really enjoying Maricopa so far.

“I like how it is not really a small town but it feels like a small town still, so the community is really special,” Rackley said.

She was a part of the ag/sci program and FFA all four years of high school, so she decided to keep going with it as a career.

“I really have found a love for education and agriculture,” she said. “I think it’s an important subject for students to know and something that gets them away from the textbook, away from the computer and are able to connect industry and education together in order to come out with hands-on skills.”

Rackley also likes agriculture because it’s always evolving and changing and something students can learn “tangible life skills from.”

In the first quarter, the students are identifying what agriculture is, means and encompasses. They’ll get to learn about the scientific method as well.

The second quarter they learn more about science and research and how agriculture is applied to scientific processes. Students also learn about and work with natural resources such as texturizing soil and creating their own rivers and streams.

The third quarter and beyond, these students will delve into plant and animal science and hands-on activities with those subjects.

FFA is the leadership component where students participate in Supervised Agricultural Experiences, which helps them keep agriculture going outside the classroom.

They can do a placement project, where the student goes somewhere and does something for someone else to gain hours, or an entrepreneurship project with income and expenses. They can also do a project at home such as taking care of a pet.

These projects are broad and leave students a lot of room to try out different things related to agriculture.

Next year, ag/sci and FFA will move to the second high school. Everything they’ve set up at Maricopa High School is temporary. The district hopes to build permanent facilities to house animals at the new high school.

“I’m really excited to have students interact with animals and plants because during COVID they’re doing virtual school,” Rackley said. “I’m excited for them to get out there and actually apply skills they learned in their classrooms. Agri/science is special because we can take all of the subjects and take the terms they’re learning in their gen ed classes and apply it to my class.”

This year is also special. Rackley is currently teaching all the grades in one class, which is a total of 55 students split into two sections.

Normally, there would be ag/sci one through four with freshmen taking one and seniors taking four. It still hasn’t been worked out as to how that will function when they move to the new high school.

The students are working on building an animal pen, so they only have five goats they take care of twice a week. She hopes the students can eventually work with temporary animals such as chinchillas and rabbits that her students own and raise.

She also hopes to have the students talk with agriculturalists in the area and partner with those at the Ak-Chin Indian Community to understand how they operate and help the community.

“My favorite part about teaching agri/science is that ‘ah-ha’ moment that they have when they are working with animals or plants because it’s not something they get to do every day,” Rackley said.

In the spring, she wants to bring in chicks so the students can incubate the eggs, hatch the chicks and raise them at the school. Those they don’t keep they’ll sell to community members.

Since they don’t have a whole lot of land to grow produce in, she wants to work with smaller plants such as strawberries, herbs, berries and tomatoes.

“I remember the first time I was able to successfully grow something, I was super excited,” Rackley said.

So far the students haven’t been able to do much community work because they’re trying to get everything running. Rackley said the students really want to be involved in the trunk-or-treat and other school events that “incorporate the community as much as possible.” They also want to clean the campus and community.

A future idea Rackley has is a garden and/or a classroom store that sells eggs, produce and other items that’s more long term like other schools in the area have.

She said the hardest thing about teaching ag/sci is having her students get into the idea. Many of them only think of it as them becoming a farmer.

“I asked them on the first day ‘What is the first thing you think of when you think of agriculture?’ and they were like ‘Well, I’m going to be a farmer” and some of them who were just joining the class were like ‘Are you kidding me? I’m going to have to be a farmer and go on a tractor and milk cows?’” Rackley said.

She said that’s the opposite of what they’ll be doing, though they will be learning about it. It won’t strictly be about traditional farming practices.

Rackley said it’s hard to get her students to see the value of FFA and what they can get out of it. They’ve elected all seven officers who perform different tasks and meet every third Monday of the month to plan activities for their ag/sci class to do after school.

“I really like FFA in particular because it’s really a student-led organization,” Rackley said. “That’s when I can take a step back and say ‘this is what we need to do but you are going to plan it all.’”

Everything she learned in high school from ag/sci and FFA has been really valuable to her.

“What I really valued is how to socialize, how to talk to people, how to go up and talk in front of people, how to network,” Rackley said. “Those are really valuable things that I feel students are losing nowadays because we’re behind a computer screen all the time.”

Those who want to follow the MHS FFA activities can follow their page on Instagram @maricopaFFA.

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Kimlye Stager covers Maricopa and the surrounding area for PinalCentral, including city, education, business, crime and more. She can be reached at kstager@pinalcentral.com.

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