Boonville FFA Ag Issues team captures first in state

Chris Bowie

The Boonville FFA Ag Issues Forum Team accomplished something Aug. 11 only one other Boonville team was able to accomplish in 2012: a state championship.

The team spent more than 100 hours on research and putting together a video about the 2019 Missouri River flood and its effects on agriculture and the family farm.

They were led by Boonville FFA adviser and Boonville Agriculture Education Instructor Deanna Thies. The daughter of an ag instructor in the Glasgow School District, Thies has taught in the Boonville R-I School District for 17 years. She also taught one year in the Chillicothe School District.

While coordinating the FFA Ag Issues Forum Team in Boonville for the past 12 years, Thies also coached the 2014 team that won a state title and finished 16th nationally.

The all sophomore FFA Ag Issues Forum Team, representing the Boonville R-I School District, included Maggie Davenport, Lilli Hendrix, Sydney Joy, Payton Luscombe and Aidan Meyer.

With 26,000 FFA members in the state of Missouri, Thies said for these students to win state is an enormous accomplishment.

“This is my 18th year of teaching and to have won two state contests is a very, very tough accomplishment,”Thies said. “The first team to win state I never really expected. I thought I would teach 30 years and never get the chance to win with a group of students at a state competition. It’s a very tough competition across the board no matter which category you are in, especially for this year.”

Winning a state title shows the dedication of those students and gives them the recognition for the time and effort they put in, she said.

Prior to school shutting down in March, Thies said the Fab Five had done a total of seven different community forums for civic organizations and more were planned before being shut down due to COVID-19.

A team can consist of three to seven students and is offered first to students in ag communications class and then opened up to sophomores out of the Ag Science 2 class. The students then choose an issue that impacts the local community related to agriculture, Thies said.

“They are required to research both sides of the issue equally,” she said. “They, then develop a presentation and also a portfolio of documented materials highlighting the issue, the background of the issue, how the issue came to be and then stances on both sides of the issues.”

Once the presentation is developed, a large part of the scoring process is community forums so the students go around and present to different civic groups and different organizations within the community to educate them on the topic.

The team can never use the same topic twice so each year is a brand new issue they select and research.

Adding in the coronavirus, everything then had to be done remotely, Thies said.

“I submitted a video of them this year presenting,”she said. “Usually, they are presenting in person and after their presentation they get asked questions up to eight minutes regarding their topic.”

The presentation can be a maximum of 15 minutes.

It wasn’t just the Fab Five team doing all the work. The ag communications class does the initial research on the portfolio because part of the ag issues forum is supposed to be bringing together a large group of people and a large group of students.

The students write the entire presentation, Thies said.

So how does a team of sophomores come up with a topic of flood in the Missouri River?

Thies said it was easy since Boonville is located right there on the Missouri River.

“There were a lot of businesses impacted along with agriculture farm land and levees that broke in both the Cooper County and Howard County bottoms,” Thies said. “There is also a lot of debate right now from both sides about how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages it from the farmers side and what [they] need to do in order to manage it. We focused a lot on the Missouri River manual and the different aspects of it. We talked about our presentation to debate both sides of the issue.”

The Missouri FFA also has a rule when it comes to contests, Thies said. In Missouri, if you ever go to state in a contest, you can never do that contest again. Every single year it has to be a new group of kids and a new topic, Thies said.

Missouri FFA has six different districts. Boonville won at the district level by beating Rich Hill to move on to the state level.

A total of 16 teams in a normal year would have competed at the state level from all the districts, Thies said. However, only seven teams submitted videos because of the nature of the ag issues forum, she said.

“Of all the leadership development events we do, it’s probably one of the most intensive because of the community forums, the development of the portfolio and the presentation,” Thies said. “Students can choose to compete in a variety of different areas such as livestock and floraculture.”

Although the finalization of the project comes in January, the team began its presentations to the community in mid-February all the way through March. The team was not able to do three or four presenations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As for the Fab Five, they were a fun group with a unique mix of kids, Thies said. Although the ag program includes Boonville, Bunceton and Prairie Home, the team this year was all from Boonville. Three of the students were graduates of Blackwater Middle School while the remaining two graduates were from the Boonville R-I School District.

“They got along great,” Thies said. “They pushed each other. The way they were set up, Aidan was the only male on the team so he was the moderator and took a completely different stance. Payton and Lilli were on the pro side so their characters were representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Fish and Wildlife Service. You don’t wear your official dress so they can wear costumes. It’s kind of a play/debate presentation.”

As for Davenport and Joy, they took on the con side, where their characters consisted of representatives for the Missouri Levee and Drainage District and a local farmer or somebody involved in agriculture.

“We presented points on each side and gave perspective of those points on each side,” Thies said. “I enjoyed being able to give the kids the opportunity for recognition. Ifacilitate them to give them a chance to be successful. The recognition is for them. I just get the pride of knowing that Ihelped them accomplish something. That’s what it is for me. It’s part of what I do.”