By Kim Walter
About 50 middle school students gathered Tuesday afternoon at Admiral Richard E. Byrd Middle School to compete in a Massanutten Federation 2013 Small Animal Care Career Development event.
Students from Frederick County and Shenandoah County prepared for about two months for the competition, according to Kathy Ritenour, Future Farmers of America sponsor and agriculture teacher at the host middle school.
The students had to identify breeds of dogs, cats, fish, rabbits, birds and guinea pigs, as well as the equipment and feed associated with them. They also took a multiple choice test and completed a variety of problem solving questions, which involved math and reading.
"All of things they had to know today have to do with veterinarian career development," Ritenour said. "A lot of these kids are interested in that part of agriculture too, so."
Ritenour said the curriculum that the students had to study directly relates to a number of SOL tests, which adds to the benefit a child would get from participating in FFA.
"As teachers, we can just look up a lesson and find the SOL that it deals with, so it's great for us," she said. "But the kids also have to use math to solve some of the problems, and a lot of critical thinking."
For instance, students had to look at a dog food label and determine how much to feed a dog, depending on it's breed and weight.
The multiple choice portion of the afternoon was complicated, as questions could be about any small animal.
"At the state competition, they'll throw in a question about a frog or even a bee ... the kids really have to know their stuff," Ritenour said.
While participation in FFA remains somewhat popular in the two counties, Ritenour admits that it's much different than when she participated.
"Kids who do FFA pursue so many different things," she said. "Public speaking, marketing, business, environmental science ... it's neat to see where each student's interest is."
She added the variety of career options in agriculture entices students to join, even though most of them have no agriculture or farm background.
Brittany Bowman, 18, is a senior at Stonewall Jackson High School, and has also moved through the ranks in FFA. Starting in middle school, she is now the Massanutten Federation vice president. Wednesday, she attended the event to help out, and also reflected on her participation in the same competition several years ago.
"It was interesting when I did this, because it wasn't an area of agriculture that I was as familiar with, and I actually did have a farm background," she said. "This even in particular was a real eye opener."
Bowman said with more than 300 careers in agriculture, the industry has come a long way from just "cows and plows."
"One of the reasons I've always loved FFA is because I get to apply what I learn in my normal classes ... biology, math ... it makes you realize how many options are available," she said.
Jaclyn Roller, FFA sponsor at Signal Knob Middle School, said she's noticed that students take the competition -- which is the largest in the area for the middle school age group -- more seriously than in past years.
"They don't mind putting in the extra study hours during lunch and after school," she said. "On the way here today, it was really great because not only could I hear the kids quizzing each other, but they were excited to realize how the information relates to what they were learning in school."
In June, the state FFA convention will take place in Blacksburg. Ritenour said even though one school may win an event here at home, it could all change at the big competition.
"You never know when you're going to have that one kid who studies all weekend and just sneaks right in," she said, laughing. "It's all a matter of pride. These kids are here because they want to be, and they want to represent their school well."
Frederick County produced the top three schools and top five students at the end of the competition.
em>Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or email@example.com