Monday, November 26, 2018

Still here!

Too busy to blog...

Apologies for the long silence! This time of year tends to be very busy, and I haven't had time to post any updates. So I'm using this beautiful snow day to catch you all up. Now, where to start...

FFA National Convention

5 agriscience students and both advisors traveled to Indianapolis October 24-27 for the 92nd annual FFA National Convention. The theme was "Just One", highlighting the effect that a single individual can have on the world. Students attended seminars on leadership, career planning, educational options, and skills development, networked with students from around the US, browsed the enormous Expo and spoke with vendors and college representatives, and shopped at the Convention Mall. They were also fortunate to score free tickets to the private Garth Brooks concert! I was pleased to see the students' horizons expand and their desire to participate in leadership and service develop. 

 We arrived at Convention! Left to right, Lily Walker, NaMe' Greymountain, Bridgett Jones, Brooklyn Joslyn and Caitlynn Sanders

 Brooklyn Joslyn is a 2018 graduate of the Agrisciences program. She earned her FFA State Degree in 2018, and is currently a college student working toward her American Degree, the most prestigious FFA degree! She found her path to her career at National Convention last year: She plans to complete her undergraduate and veterinary education, and join the Army Veterinary Corps where she will have the opportunity to travel with the Army paying off much of her student debt. She is already looking forward to supporting our chapters as an FFA Alumni member!

Security was tight and caused some delays in getting in on Thursday. Blue jackets as far as the eye could see! Nearly 69,000 students attended this National Convention!
 Props to the FFA members: Instead of complaining bout the wait, they introduced themselves to one another, played games, sang and shared photos. These students really are a reason to be optimistic about the future!

Waiting for the official Michigan state photo. Since everybody was all put together, we decided to take our own official photo.

And of course, we can only be serious for so long!

Best find in the FFA Mall: In case you can't read it, it shows the FFA logo and says,
"Chaos Coordinator".
Yes, I bought it.

Lucas Oil Stadium, waiting for the Garth brooks Concert to begin. This place is HUGE!

Looking down toward the stage. Garth Brooks put on a great show, and thousands of students let him know it!

Meanwhile, back in the classroom, Luna kept getting bigger and bigger! Definitely pregnant and likely due the first week of November. Repeated checks suggested that she was likely carrying 3 kittens.

Veterinary Science at Gull Meadow Farms

A few days after returning from National Convention, the Veterinary Science class spent the day at one of our community partners, Gull Meadow Farms, performing fall hoof and veterinary care for the animals of the farmyard petting zoo. Students were responsible for organizing themselves, moving and restraining animals, trimming hooves, vaccinating, deworming and applying external parasite control for goats, sheep, alpacas, cattle, and miniature horses. Animal Technology students will return to Gull Meadow in spring.

 Aviona and friends working with one of the Boer goats

 Luke trims the hind hooves of a goat.

Peyton holds a pygmy fainting goat for a vaccination.

Makaila and Brianna trimming goat hooves.

Kora prepares vaccinations and deworming doses

 James holds a sheep in a sitting position as Jaylee, Sammi and Aviona trim hooves

Aviona and Brianna trimming hooves

 Peyton with one of the alpacas (the one who spits! brave girl!)

Julia with an alpaca. Best way to warm up hands!

Students worked hard and completed care of all the animals before we had to leave to return to school. Ashleigh, our contact at Gull Meadow, fed us their amazing donuts and cider! A good day's work!

Michigan FFA Fall Conference and Teacher Professional Development

Just a short week later, we took a group of students to Lansing for the overnight Fall Conference. Lots of great information and resources for teaching students, and FFA members received training in running their local chapters effectively. Since students and teachers were in separate sessions, I did not get any good photos of the students at this event. I will try to do better next year!

In the meantime, Bean has taken up residence on my desk in the Ag Building office, and is not impressed to hear that I'm going to be gone again.

Apparently my daughter's cat Buttercup feels the same way. She seemed unimpressed by my reassurances that it was only one night this time!

MiCareerQuest Southwest

Less than a week later, the agriscience department participated with the rest of KRESA's EFE programs to help 8th graders from across southwest Michigan begin to consider careers, and to understand how their high school courses could help them explore and prepare for interesting careers. Agriscience students demonstrated canine CPR, led a seed matching game, and helped students identify animal equipment and veterinary instruments. This event is extremely high energy and has evolved into an effective way for future high school students to check out some exciting careers!

The day of MiCareerQuest (which takes place at the Kalamazoo county Expo Center at the fairgrounds), Luna went into labor. Surprisingly, she had her first kitten as I watched! She went on to queen (give birth to) a litter of 3 little orange cuties!

Although she appears to be a young mother, Luna figured things out very quickly and was calm and attentive to her newborns!

Still damp, the kitten searches for his first meal. Fortunately Luna has plenty of milk!

There's really nothing like snuggles from Mom!

Meanwhile, in the classroom...

Veterinary Science 

Vet Sci students are completing their work with anatomy and physiology. In addition to their online study, they have built models of neurons and the nervous system, dissected sheep hearts and cow eyes, examined fresh deer lung specimens, and soon will be working with reproductive system specimens and dissecting kidneys. In addition, they are preparing for their first skills competition, which takes place on December 7 at KVCC. They will take a general knowledge test and demonstrate 2 veterinary skills; the top 10 placing students are eligible to compete at the State Leadership Conference in April! All of this activity is occurring while students also continue to provide care and socialization to the foster cats, and perform their original research projects. 

Students also spent a day visiting Michigan State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, where they met with pre-veterinary advisors. These advisors help students understand how to meet the requirements needed to apply to veterinary school after completing their undergraduate requirements. 

Wildlife and Natural Resources

WNR students completed their unit on climate change and alternative energy, and have moved into learning about plants. They learned basic structure, function and arrangements of leaves, then walked around Vicksburg collecting a specified list of leaves. They then made rubbings of 17 different leaf types and categorized and identified each. This project was followed by a look at tree diseases; students learned some basics, then divided into groups and presented information about specific tree diseases. They were then asked to apply this knowledge in a real-world situation and solve a problem. They will be moving into a unit on native and invasive plants this week, first using game play to understand the harms from invasive plants, then learning to identify invasive plants common to southwest Michigan. 


Horticulture students have been working on plant structure and function, and have completed study of roots, stems, and leaves thus far. This week will be devoted to flowers and plant reproduction, and next week we will explore seeds. Each of these topics are covered by discussions and lab activities; this week students will be examining leaf sections under a microscope and dissecting flowers. They also completed the leaf categorization and identification exercise, using leaves from the plants that they are growing in the greenhouse. They continue raising some great-looking plants! I am seeing some cucumber blossoms, and even peas! We have beans climbing up twine, hanging baskets, and even some tree starts. And this week the last of the chickens will be leaving the greenhouse! (They do produce some great fertilizer, though!)

Independent Study student Michael separates seeds from two varieties of pine tree for a project

Animal Technology

Animal Tech students have completed their unit on poultry and are working on cats. They are learning to identify breeds, normal anatomy, history of cats, cat care, handling and behavior. In addition to working with the cat foster program in the classroom, which provides wonderful opportunities to learn care, behavior and handling, students produce a cat care pamphlet and adoption guide, help develop screening questions for potential adopters, and build cat skeletons from various pasta noodles. Once this "cat"egory is complete, we will be moo-ving into dairy cattle. This unit will include a field trip to a local dairy farm, and multiple activities involving dairy foods: We make butter, taste milk samples, identify cheeses, and taste-test ice cream, among others. 

Pasta and hot glue. Messy, but a great way to learn skeletal anatomy!

My favorite student quote: "Do you know how hard it is to make a cat from scratch?!"

Up and coming:

We were looking forward to a visit from the FFA State Officer team today, but are glad that they're safely home on this snowy day! Hoping to re-schedule! We did have a record number of students complete the requirements for their FFA Greenhand Degree and put their green handprints on the wall in the classroom. They will receive their certificates and pins at our spring Banquet.

Instructors continue to meet with community partners to formulate improved opportunities for real-world student learning and career readiness. Scott Paquin is a regular greenhouse and horticulture consultant; I will be meeting with Master Gardener Sue Ellen Laine later this week in hopes of both tapping her expertise and organizing a community service opportunity for students to plant and tend flowerbeds in the village; John Kern at Paper City Development continues to provide open-minded opportunities for students to contribute to the Mill restoration project; and the Agri-Sciences Advisory Committee, comprised of members representing industry, education, students, and parents, will meet on December 3. In addition, a core group has committed to re-organizing our FFA Alumni chapter, which provides expertise, support and resources to our Vicksburg and KRESA South FFA chapters. We would also like to gratefully acknowledge recent donations from Culver's Scoops of Thanks Day and from Paper City Development. Their generous support has allowed several students to attend major educational conferences and leadership trainings that would have otherwise been cost prohibitive.

FFA members are currently preparing for Leadership Contests in such areas as public speaking, demonstration, ag issues forum and job skills. They will compete at Districts in February--we wish them luck! We are also encouraging students in horticulture and WNR to consider preparing for FFA spring skills contests. These students compete in such events as Forestry, Greenhouse crop production, Soil Science, agricultural communications, environmental skills, land conservation, nursery and landscape, tractor driving, etc. Please encourage any students you know to take part! We have already had students compete in the broiler (chicken raising) contest and the Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources Education contest; congratulations to them on their hard work and learning!

Veterinary Science students will be competing at the HOSA Veterinary Science skills contest in December, and are currently filling out their surveys so that they can be matched to an internship in a veterinary clinic or other placement for second semester (starting at the end of January). We are incredibly privileged to have so many fine clinical partners who allow our students to observe and work with them as they explore what it is really like to be veterinary professionals.

We leave you with another glimpse of Luna and her kittens. They opened their eyes last week, and are beginning to be quite active! They will be named and examined this week by the students, and will be growing up before we know it!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Challenging the students, growing everything!

The past week has been busy (as they all seem to be!) with lots of new and interesting stuff! We have touched base with some new community partners: our local Kalamazoo County Farm Bureau board,  a local Master Gardener, and a representative from Zoetis! We continue to also receive support from Scott Paquin in the area of greenhouse management, and both opportunities and a nice donation from Paper City Development! In addition, Culver's, the local fast food chain, donated the proceeds of their "Scoops of Thanks" promotion from the area to our FFA chapters. This funding is allowing students with limited financial means to attend events like FFA National Convention, Fall Conference and various other leadership training options. For some students, this will be their first trip out of our local area! We are also hoping for some community support as Blain's Farm and Fleet in Portage (in the old Menard's building) does a hat sale fundraiser for FFA on November 3-4 from 10 am to 6 pm. For $1.00 they will sew a special patch onto your new Carhartt hat and make a donation to our local FFA chapter! We sure couldn't do what we do without so much support from our community! Thanks, everybody!

Speaking of support, we are working to re-invigorate our FFA Alumni chapter. We would like to have an active alumni chapter in support of both the Vicksburg and KRESA/countywide FFA chapters. You don't have to have been an FFA member to join the alumni chapter, just be willing to support the mission of FFA to provide opportunities for Premier Leadership, Personal Growth, and Career Success for all students. Members support their chapters by being mentors, skills coaches, events judges, and fundraisers. So even if you never wore the blue jacket (or can't zip yours anymore), please contact me at for more information and to be notified of meetings!
Animal Science and Animal Technology students wrapped up their poultry unit by dissecting chickens last week. they were pretty fascinated by being able to see all of the anatomic structures and their relationships to one another, and most commented that it looked a lot different than the diagrams! 

Veterinary Science students completed their unit on the musculskeletal system, and worked with bones from cattle, deer, hogs and other animals. they move on to cardiovascular anatomy and physiology this week. They have also been hard at work socializing the 2 newest kittens, Tuxedo and Winky. The remaining cats are doing well; we hope to have them spayed and neutered soon so they can be placed in their forever homes!
Winky's getting playful!

Francis is quite the handful! He gets stuck atop the cages, falls into the trash can, pounces on anything and anybody he can find, annoys the other cats endlessly, and tries Momma's patience!
What a difference a week makes! Duckling has grown a lot! He can see out of his tote now, and has moved to larger quarters in the greenhouse.

Duckling a week ago.

Play this with the sound on: Duckling imprinted on humans, so he wants to be with people all the time. Listen to what happens when the humans "disappear!"

Bean has decided that she deserves to be treated as the queen of the known universe! She is so sweet and cuddly!

Luna keeps her eye out for unruly students. She appears to be quite pregnant!

Wildlife and Natural Resources class spent the week investigating Climate Change, and evaluating data supporting various claims. After some general information and discussion, they looked at various graphs, interpreted them, and decided how relevant and reliable they were. The following day, students were presented spreadsheets with data about lake freeze and thaw for 3 lakes, including Gull Lake near here. They used Excel to graph the data points, find a trendline, and calculate its slope and how closely it fit the data points. They then analyzed their graphs for meaning, relevance and reliability and used the results to support or refute climate change arguments. After a quick introduction to renewable energy, they set to work designing and making scale drawings of eco-friendly houses, which they will present to the class and comment on at the end of this week.

Horticulture continues to be active both in and out of the greenhouse. Students' plants are growing very well, and some have opted to re-plant or plant something new, while others have focused upon investigating the best ways to transplant their seedlings. In addition, the old landscaping in front (south) of the greenhouse has been removed, and beneath the landscape fabric students encountered a mix of rocks and construction sand that had compacted to a near-concrete density. They took the initiative to obtain soil samples, and are in the process of loosening the existing soil and mixing it with more organic material to produce a soil capable of supporting plant life. We have finished our unit on soil, and are looking at classification of plants, and their structure.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week, I will be at FFA National Convention, along with 6 students and 67,000 other FFA members! Looking forward to a great time! The theme is "Just One", focusing upon the difference that just one person can make in the world. Check out the Convention website