Bear River High School graduate takes home top national FFA award
A Bear River High School graduate took home a top honor at the national Future Farmer’s of America convention held Oct. 28-31 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Emma Jones, who graduated from the school last spring and currently attends Colorado State University, was named the national champion in the conference’s prepared speaking competition, in which students deliver six- to eight-minute speeches about agriculture-related topics.
Jones, 18, became the first Californian in 21 years to be named the national champion in prepared speaking, beating out three other finalists to claim a plaque recognizing her achievement and $1,000.
“It was unreal,” Jones said of winning.
Jones has always had an interest in agriculture, and that interest was peaked when she walked into Steve Paasch’s classroom as a freshman at Bear River.
Paasch is one of two teachers to head the school’s agriculture program, in which students take agricultural classes, participate in FFA leadership and career development events and competitions and also undertake a hands-on agriculture project outside of the classroom.
Upon hearing about the different activities offered through the program, “I was hooked,” Jones said.
She participated in the program throughout her entire high school career. Jones qualified for the FFA national competition in prepared speaking after winning the category at the state level last spring. Prior to that, she advanced through chapter, regional and sectional competitions.
At the national conference, she delivered her speech, which focused on issues of food safety and liability among the agriculture industry and consumers, in front of about 1,000 people.
After completing their speeches, all four finalists answered five minutes of questions on their speeches from the judges, who were looking to test how well the students could discuss their topics unrehearsed.
Jones said she approached the question and answer session as though she was a teacher who had just delivered a lecture and was answering follow-up questions from her students.
“They ended up asking questions I was comfortable with, and I ended up knowing exactly what I was talking about,” Jones said.
That comfort was primarily the result of preparation. In the months leading up to the competition, Jones spent significant time perfecting her speech, working with Paasch to make sure her tone was just right and fine-tuning her hand gestures.
Though winning the prepared speaking competition is an individual honor, Jones said the first thing she did when the judges called her name was locate the Bear River FFA chapter sitting in the audience.
She said the support of that chapter, including the encouragement of Paasch and Tim Reid, who also teaches the agriculture program at Bear River, was crucial to her success. She takes pride in the chapter, which has netted eight national championships in FFA team and individual events.
“It’s a pretty fantastic thing to be a part of,” Jones said.
And it’s something that has had big impact on her, even now that she’s moved on from Bear River.
She’s currently studying agricultural education at Colorado State, and hopes to eventually get her teaching credential so she can become the advisor of a high school agriculture program, teaching classes and coaching students through FFA competitions. She’d jump at the opportunity to teach agriculture at Bear River.
“The amount of camaraderie and friendship and family that is there is something I will always cherish, and I think makes a bigger impact on most people’s lives than others would think,” Jones said.
When she reflects back on her high school years, she thinks of Paasch, competing in team FFA events with her fellow agriculture students and spending countless hours in a classroom working on agriculture-related projects.
“I would not have traded it for the world,” Jones said of the experience.
To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4230.
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