DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA) – It’s a program you might not think about when you hear Decatur Public Schools, but it’s one where they want to give students every opportunity they can.
Many students involved in the Future Farmers of America have never even been on a farm. This specific program shows them there’s more to the agriculture world than just farming.
It’s a program you would expect to see in a rural community, but in DPS you might be surprised to learn about their AG academy and FFA program.
“For a lot of our kids, it’s eye-opening. They showed their own cattle last year, they won their class at the Illinois Beef Expo, and a lot of them are non-traditional livestock show participants. So, we do meet a lot of friends everywhere we go because we are an unusual program,” Zach Shields, the Executive Director, said.
That’s because the program is based in an urban school setting and is made up of 60% minority students. Many students who have never set foot on a farm before.
“The kids get out, they get to see a lot of things, they get to travel, and in many urban districts, kids don’t get those chances,” he said.
He said the FFA program has hundreds of kids involved. Even though it stands for Future Farmers of America, that’s not what it’s all about.
“It is not just about being a farmer, and our thing with agriculture is 2% of agriculture jobs are on farms, and the rest are you know that welding to Wall Street,” he said. “Where you can be a commodities trader or you can be a welder, anything in between.”
He said the program and facilities are a way to help students break out of their comfort zones and learn about career opportunities they may have never even heard of.
“Just providing opportunities that kids would not have without the program. It’s just a vehicle to get them out into the world and to empower them in a lot of different ways,” Sheilds said.
And giving them hands-on experience in Our Town Decatur.
“It’s really neat to see kids who have never interacted with living things see lambs born in the winter and they were here at 2 in the morning seeing the lambs this winter,” he said.
There are several additions coming for this program, including a new AG building. Shields said it will be used to host FFA events, let the kids get hands-on with livestock and much more.