MIDDLEPORT — Congratulations to the Environmental Science FFA team of Ashton Becker, Aidan Covert, Tagen Decker and Lorna Becker who came home to Royalton-Hartland High School as national winners from the 92nd National FFA Convention and Expo in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The team, who are taught by agriculture educator and FFA adviser Matthew Sweeney, finished 25th out of 45 teams across the country and were awarded a silver ranking for their efforts.
As individuals, Ashton received a gold ranking, Aidan and Tagen a silver ranking and Lorna a high bronze ranking — no small feat considering they had just several weeks to prepare for competition as opposed to the months the other teams had to get ready.
“The silver ranking is an excellent showing for New York state,” said Sweeney. “Ashton receiving a gold ranking means she placed in the top 50 of those competing. She was the 31st place in the entire competition. The team did extremely well considering how little time they had to prepare once they learned they had won at the state level. I am very happy how they performed.”
The National FFA Environmental and Natural Resources CDE (Career and Development Event) challenged the FFA members to develop critical thinking skills and effective decision-making skills, foster teamwork and promote communication while recognizing the value of ethical competition and individual achievement.
It allowed the students to apply their classroom knowledge to real-life situations. The team was tested on problem solving and decision-making skills in environmental and natural resources. They utilized their knowledge of soil profiles, water quality, waste management and the use of global positioning units.
The students had a lot of studying to do to prepare and Sweeney and the professors at Paul Smith’s College helped them as best they could, but a bulk of their preparing fell to them to complete.
“We were able to get some old tests to prepare with and we took them over and over until we improved our scores,” Aidan said.
Added Ashton, “We were at a disadvantage because of how little time we had to prepare for this contest. Some had been preparing for almost a year and some were taking conservation classes at their school or going to BOCES.”
Although Ashton, Tagen and Aidan are attending classes at Orleans/Niagara BOCES — they are taking Health Occupations Technician, Certified Personal Trainer and Welding respectively — none of what they learn there pertains to the competition.
“Because we didn’t have that background, I think it pushed us to do better because we knew we were coming in at a disadvantage,” Ashton said.
Lorna, who is the youngest on the team at age 14, says, “There were a lot of intimidating teams there. It was a little scary because they are all seniors. Mr. Sweeney told me that I am the first freshman to go to nationals. That is pretty cool.”
Tagen spoke of learning a lot from preparing and participating. “Personally I didn’t know 99% of the things we used during the completion before this. This entire thing allowed us to learn so much," he said. "When we were at the competition, every free moment we had, we were studying. That helped us a lot on the tests. It will also help us later in life if we want to pursue a career in this or just want to be educated on these topics.”
Added Aidan, “The whole competition was so much fun despite all the ups and downs as a team. We made a lot of new friends from all different states.”
According to Sweeney, on day two of the competition, the team was transported to a tree farm to identity different wildlife and be tested on different terms used in the environmental science industry. Aidan laughs at the memory.
“It was so cold that day, but we were all on a level playing field with the other teams and it turned out to be a lot of fun to share that experience,” Aidan said.
The team was surprised by how well they did at the competition. After all, they were competing with college students as well as other high school seniors.
“At the awards, we were shocked that we weren’t in the bronze category. It was a great surprise to get silver,” Tagen said.
“Once they got past silver in the individual category and they didn’t call me, I thought they had forgotten my name,” Ashton said.
“We were saying to her, you got gold! She didn’t believe it!” Tagen said.
The students are grateful for the experience and the people who helped them along the way.
“We would not have been able to go and compete if it weren’t for all the support we had,” Ashton said. “Our superintendent, board of education and the professors at Paul Smith’s College who helped to prepare us and figure out what we needed to study and, of course, Mr. Sweeney, who was very supportive and helped to make this all possible. We want to thank the sponsors we had, because it was very expensive to go. It was such a great opportunity for us.”
Sweeney hopes that people can appreciate how hard it was for his students to achieve success.
“I am a coach for athletics and our athletes receive a lot of recognition for what they achieve. I think our FFA students should receive the same sort of accolades for what they were able to do at this competition," he said. "Just as an athlete puts in that time to better themselves and succeed as a team, these students have done the same on a national level. I am really proud of them.”