Virtual FFA club opens in Wabash County

By Joseph Slacian

With today’s technology, many things are readily available online.

One can shop, play games, visit with family members far away and more.

As of last fall, students at the Indiana Digital Learning School can belong to a virtual FFA chapter based in Wabash County.

The chapter, it is believed, is the second virtual FFA chapter in the nation.

The Indiana Digital Learning School is a fully accredited, public K-12 school in Indiana. Now in its third year, the 2019-20 school year is the first it has offered ag education.

“Part of ag education is FFA in most traditional schools,” ag instructor Amber Lewis told The Paper of Wabash County in an interview at her office in the Bowman Agri Corporation facility in rural LaFontaine. “When I was approached with teaching the ag classes, they also approached me about starting FFA for our students.

“Our students are all throughout Indiana, all 92 counties, and they attend all of their classes virtually online.”

The FFA is the premier youth organization preparing members for leadership and careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture.

“When I was approached about starting the FFA chapter, it was going to have to fit the needs of our students,” Lewis said. “Since our students attend all their classes on line, our meetings would have to be on line also, as well. But, before we could get to that point, we needed to be approved by the state to be an official FFA chapter.”

Once approval was received from the state, the national FFA organization also had to approve.
“We started the process back in September, just filling out the traditional application, submitting all of our paperwork to the state,” Lewis said. “Of course, the state was curious as to how we were going to pull it off. I had numerous conversations with the director of our state FFA board.

He was gracious enough to spend a lot of time, sitting down with us to make sure their FFA goals and expectations lined up with what we saw and where we were headed with ours.”

The chapter received its official approval in January. However, the group has been having meetings since October. The chapter also had some students who were able to attend the FFA National Convention in Indianapolis last fall, even though the group’s charter had not been formally approved.

“I had a great interest from students, and some of my members have prior FFA experience from their brick and mortar schools,” Lewis said. “I’ve got a great set of students coming in that can serve as mentors for those who are new to FFA and get everyone ready to roll.:

There are now 40 members in the chapter, ranging from seventh to 12th grades.

The online meetings are conducted just like regular FFA meetings.

“We go through the same procedure that they do in a brick and mortar school,” Lewis said. “We go through the officers’ duties, the opening and closing ceremonies. We talk about the same type of business that brick and mortar FFA does, like upcoming events, what we foresee planning, talking about our fundraiser events. We have FFA week coming up at the end of February, so we have different events planned every day for that.

“We just don’t get to sit like this.”

The chapter meets on line once per month. However, Lewis said she meets with her officers and committees more frequently, generally every other week if not more often.

“We’re getting into fundraising now that we’re official, so we have to work to get the logistics laid out for that,” she said.

Part of the fundraising is geared to allow members to attend various judging events.

“Because we don’t come out of a central school, we can’t all get on an activity bus and go together,” Lewis said. “Our kids are going to have additional travel expenses.”
Indiana Digital Learning School is based out of the Union School Corporation in Modoc, which is in the FFA’s ninth district.
“Our chapter would compete locally in the ninth district,” Lewis explained. “And so, with our kids, we’re going to have that challenge to overcome, once we get involved in competition, to get our kids all together because we are spread out around the state.

“We’ve been very fortunate that the members do have a lot of backing with their family and support behind their participation. That does play a big part in their ability to get out and participate in the competition.”

The chapter is kicking off its first fundraiser on Feb. 24 during FFA week.

“It’s a completely online fundraiser,” Lewis said. “It’s fully virtual, and students will get to share out with friends and family the link for our fundraiser page. We’re not selling any products. It’s strictly, ‘Hey, can you come and support us?’”

A sister school to the Indiana Digital Learning School in Arkansas is believed to be the first virtual FFA club in the United States.

“It helped our case when we went to our state board, because they were able to talk with the Arkansas and talk to their FFA state board about the process they went through with,” she said. “We are the first fully virtual school in Indiana to have an FFA chapter offered through their ag program.”

The local chapter also is now working with a school in Oklahoma looking to create a chapter.

“We’re just very excited,” Lewis said. “These kids are ready and geared up to get out there and be involved.”

Posted on 2020 Feb 18