COLUMBUS — Cody Schaad’s knees were nearly up to his shoulders as he pumped the pedals on a tractor.
Although he was operating a toy that was clearly built for someone much more compact than the Lakeview High School sophomore, Schaad was moving quickly along the gym floor.
His shorter counterpart, seventh-grader Grant Dietrich, looked more comfortable in a similar-sized pedal tractor, but nearly crashed into the wooden bleachers.
A few students took their turns racing on the tractors Tuesday afternoon during one of several activities planned at Lakeview for National FFA Week.
Close to 70 students at Lakeview are involved in the FFA program. Some of those members said FFA, which stands for Future Farmers of America, isn’t just about farm life anymore. In fact, it hasn’t been for a while.
Students learn about more than agriculture. They also focus on business skills, science and leadership. FFA officers from Lakeview visited elementary schools Tuesday to talk to younger students about the organization.
“We tried to show them that agriculture is part of everyday life. Even if you think you aren’t using agriculture, you probably are,” said sophomore Madison Schwarz, who serves as a junior officer along with Schaad.
Schaad grew up on a farm and was encouraged to join FFA by his older brother. He was most interested in taking part in competitions and going to conventions through the organization. His involvement has also helped him start thinking about a career path, and it isn’t one solely based on growing crops.
“I think agriculture is a broad topic. There are a lot of things you can go into. I kind of want to go into ag mechanics or engineering,” he said.
Lakeview students use a shop at the school to learn about mechanics and welding. There is also a greenhouse that allows them to test their green thumbs and gain knowledge about horticulture.
“We have agribusiness classes, too, so that teaches you about money management,” Schaad said.
Catherine Ripp is the FFA advisor at Lakeview. She said being part of the student-led organization can help high schoolers plan for the future.
“I want them to gain real-life experience, to figure out what they want to do for a job outside of high school, learn key communication skills, key leadership skills and hands-on experience through competitions and coursework,” Ripp said.
FFA students at Lakeview take part in a variety of competitions throughout the year, including the upcoming Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic Judging Contest set for Saturday in Kearney and district contests next week at Central Community College-Columbus, where 50 of them will compete in a variety of events.
There are several fundraisers, as well.
In the winter, they sell poinsettias grown in the school’s greenhouse. They sold 650 plants last year.
Educating others about FFA and the opportunities in agriculture is a goal for the group. One way members do that is by holding a Kindergarten Farm Fun Day, when more than 500 kindergarten students from the area visit a farm while FFA members give tours and answer questions. The group also hosts a children’s barnyard during the Platte County Fair each summer.
A full schedule of events is planned at the school for National FFA Week, including a tradition where some students ditch their regular transportation for something a little different.
“Friday is Drive Your Tractor to School Day. There will be a lot of tractors here on Friday,” Schwarz said.