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New animal science class helps prepare future farmers

Thornapple Kellogg — In the new animal science class at Thornapple Kellogg High School, small groups of students examined photos of livestock, matching descriptive terms with the pictures. 

Fun fact – the term “cow” refers to mature female cattle, or one who has given birth. A female cow who hasn’t given birth to offspring is called a heifer, they learned. 

Students identified breeds, names for when an animal is a baby or young and mature. The lesson was in line with learning objectives of the class for  10th through 12th graders including classifying and describing animals using accurate terminology. 

“I want my students to gain more familiarity with the livestock industry, identify different species and breeds and how to manage farms with those species,” said teacher Alyssa Hamlin, who is also the advisor for the newly revived Future Farmers of America, or FFA, chapter. In her first year of teaching, Hamlin also teaches agricultural biology.

Sophomore Annabelle Pennington said she felt pretty confident with the terms written on pieces of paper that they put on the ox photo but wasn’t as sure about the ones they chose for the sheep. She said she enjoys how hands-on the class is. It’s not just worksheets and packets of busy work.

Students have also learned about animal body types and how to look for signs of discomfort and disease in animals.

“We’re all getting to work in groups and put our minds together to learn more about livestock animals,” Annabelle said.

From left, FFA members Abigail LaJoy, Erika Wolowicz, Annabelle Pennington and Case Shellenbarger tour a dairy plant while attending the 9th annual FFA conference in Indianapolis in November 2023 (courtesy)

Agriculture is in Everything

While lambs, calves, bulls and oxen were the words of the day, students are taking the class as a way to grow their knowledge about animals, farming and what goes into a related career. Thornapple Kellogg High School revived its agricultural science program in September 2022, after a 57-year hiatus, and chartered a new chapter of FFA, a national youth organization aimed at preparing members for leadership and careers in science, business and education. 

FFA students are required to be enrolled in an ag science class as part of their membership. In animal science, they also work on FFA leadership projects and compete in contests.

The future farmers have gotten off to a great start. Last year, a group of freshmen made it to a FFA district championship in Calhoun County, the first group to do so since 1966. 

Also, earlier this fall, Hamlin accompanied four FFA students in attending the 96th annual national FFA conference and expo in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

Annabelle, one of TK’s FFA chapter’s founding members and current president, and junior Case Shellenbarger, their vice president attended the convention.

“We met a lot of people from different chapters, visited a dairy along the drive to see their innovative technology and attended other events planned like the rodeo,” Case said. 

Chapter President Annabelle said she benefitted from observing mock meeting contests at the national convention and learning about future college and job opportunities. 

Animal science teacher Alyssa Hamlin, standing, looks over the work of her students, clockwise, Erika Wolowicz, Lillian DeLine and Emily Haveman during class

“We watched higher level teams and learned how our chapter meetings are supposed to run,” she said. “Colleges came out and we learned about a lot of programs we didn’t even know were a thing.” 

Both FFA student leaders agreed that attending the conference forced them to get out of their comfort zones to meet new people.

“(Being a part of FFA) has helped me a lot with my public speaking and working together with other people,” Case said. 

As the TK FFA chapter continues to get off the ground in their second year, Annabelle said she hopes to see members get more involved and learn more about the possibilities of jobs in agriculture. 

“FFA is not just animals. You can do engineering and software development, learn new farming techniques and plant biology,” Annabelle said. “Everything is a part of FFA and it helps us run our world better.”

Read more from Thornapple Kellogg: 
After 57-year hiatus, agricultural science program revived
They sure do clean up nice

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”

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