The nation’s largest student organization has for decades in Ohio depended on rare local school district policies — or the whims of teachers and principals — about granting excused absence permission when its teen members wanted to take part in off-campus educational activities.
But now, thanks in part to a Butler County legislator, a bill in the Ohio House is gaining momentum to change that.
There are more than 1 million National FFA Organization (FFA) high school student members across the nation and many of them were first part of local school 4-H chapters during their middle school years.
Strongly popular in largely rural Ohio school districts, students have always had to individually ask permission from teachers or school principals to have their off-campus field trips and other activities during school hours noted as excused absences.
Policies can vary widely among the state’s 613 public school districts — and even from building to building — about how to handle such requests but proposed House Bill 135, co-sponsored by Representative Thomas Hall, R-Madison Twp., would bring a first-ever uniformity statewide.
“This legislation will require school districts to provide students excused absences for their participation in 4H or FFA activities and allow them to make up any work they missed during the excused absence,” according to a bill summary from Hall’s office.
Hall told the Journal-News the bill he is pushing, which was proposed by Rodney Creech (R-West Alexandria) of Preble County, is long overdue, especially in Ohio where agriculture and its many related agri-businesses comprise the largest industry sector in the state.
Nearly one in seven jobs in the state come from agriculture and food production.
“4-H and FFA are our future,” said Hall.
The lawmaker said one of his cousins attending school in another county was not granted an excused absence when they requested it from school.
“They were shocked.”
Agriculture and agribusiness are a major part of the economies of 75% to 80% of the state is involved in school 4H and FFA programs, said Hall.
“This is so important. We care about the future and we care about kids and we care about what they should be able to do. And allowing them (students) to participate in the activities outside of school is so vital and important for their growth and for the future.”
The bill, which is now in a House committee and is expected to get a first hearing in the coming weeks, he said.
Local, mostly rural Butler County school districts have some of the largest number of student participants in 4-H and FFA programs, which are coordinated through Butler Tech satellite programs and teachers located in junior and senior high schools.
Among local districts with some of the most participants include Talawanda, Ross, Madison, Edgewood and Monroe school systems but larger, more suburban and city districts such as Lakota, Fairfield, Hamilton and Middletown also see sizable student membership each school year.
Classes, activities, agri-business field-trips, local, county and state competitions are all designed to help these students find their way to career and personal success post-high school, whether that be college or work place employment.
Teaching the next generation of agribusiness workers
While some general public impressions about the school programs might be stuck in 4-H and FFA’s farming and livestock focus of the 20th Century, there is now so much more being taught to students in recent decades with all topics and skills reflecting the booming growth in Ohio and America’s agriculture and food production industries.
Training America’s future farmers is still among the top priorities, but 4-H and FFA students are now learning the latest in math and science, computer science and its many applications for agri-business, industry sales and marketing, life skills training, animal and wildlife production and management among many other skills.
But one constant from the groups’ 20th Century roots remains: Building capable, confident teens into successful adults.
Anna Moeller, a senior at Talawanda High School, pauses during a sunny, after-school afternoon from tending to her family’s goats and horses on their Hanover Twp. property and looks back on how her early 4-H experiences — and later FFA — helped shape her into a National Honors Society winner and a consistent first-place finisher in the annual Butler County Fair.
“I’ve been in 4-H since I was eight years old … and I’ve been incredibly active in FFA and those organizations has been some of my greatest passions,” said Moeller, who will start freshman classes in the fall at Wilmington College where she plans to study agriculture education.
She welcomes the proposed student excused absence bill and its codification into law to transform what is now an informal, case-by-case request process when requesting time off for FFA activities.
“I’ve missed at least 30 days of school this year because of FFA activities … with lots of different competitions or leadership events. At the end of this week, I’ll be going to Columbus to compete in a horse judging competition,” she said.
Earlier this school year she traveled to Massachusetts for FFA competition and Indianapolis. With her teachers’ permission, she was allowed to make up the missed school days through remote learning and homework.
House Bill 135 would have made her life easier and less complicated when it came to asking for approval for such off-campus FFA activities.
“I would really appreciate it,” she said of the bill. “There are many students like myself who are just in love with these organizations (4-H and FFA) … and it would mean the world to them to be excused from school a couple of days a year or however many they may need just because these organizations are so important.”
“School, of course, is about learning in the classroom, but there is so much to be learning to be done outside of school at different organizations. This bill would help to make that possible,” said Moeller.
Ross High School also has one of the area’s more active 4-H and FAA programs through Butler Tech programs.
Ross senior Delaney Fackey has been involved with both organizations for 12 years and said the proposed law is “a great idea.”
“4H opened my eyes and made me believe in myself. In 2021 I won the Grand Champion Showman of Showmans (Butler County Fair) award for my sheep showing,” said Fackey, an honors student who is vice president of her school’s FFA chapter.
She describes Creech and Hall’s proposed law as “a really great bill.”
Ross, Fackey said, is good about granting excused absences for students to learn off campus and believes such opportunities should be protected by law.
Students are “gaining experience, confidence and the communication skills they need.”
“There are so many career development events for students.”
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