FFA chapter No. 1 in nation

Signal Knob wins outstanding middle school chapter award

By Josette Keelor

Hannah Orndorff said she still gets chills thinking about standing with fellow classmate Nathan McDonald at the National Future Farmers of America Convention & Expo in Louisville, Ky., to accept an award for best middle school chapter for Signal Knob Middle School in Strasburg.

The award for Outstanding Middle School at the 86th National FFA Convention & Expo, Oct. 28-Nov. 2, recognized Signal Knob as being the best of the top five three-star chapters in the division, which Hannah said also included three Florida chapters and one in Chatham, Va.

Signal Knob’s win comes after the school won best chapter in Virginia out of all middle and high schools in the commonwealth last June, said Signal Knob FFA adviser and agriculture teacher Jaclyn Roller.

Roller said she believes the Strasburg chapter won because of its great emphasis on community service and environmental projects, in addition to its agricultural roots.

Members have volunteered at the Greenfield Assisted Living in Strasburg, studied with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation on a workshop with macro-invertebrates and to determine pollution levels of the Shenandoah River, and they have been part of the Adopt-a-Stream project with Hometown Strasburg for which they cleared debris from the town run. But that’s only the beginning.

Roller said her goal in leading the group is to help students develop life skills, and a press release on the National FFA Organization’s website credits Signal Knob’s three-day retreat to Yogi Bear Park in Luray with helping the group hone skills like self-organization, time management, communication, teamwork and anti-bullying.

Last weekend, the chapter hosted a breakfast in honor of Veteran’s Day, the planning of which Roller said also gave the chapter a leg up on competition at the national convention.

“We’ve worked so hard … and I think it really does show and it proves that hard work does pay off,” she said.

The chapter boasts 174 members, but still Roller said many on the outside think FFA is all about farming and only for farmers.

“There’s so much more to it,” she said.

Nathan and Hannah, both freshmen at Strasburg High School, attended the convention with 11 eighth grade chapter officers, as well as Amelia Guthrie and Tiffany Heishman, who were competing in the National Agriscience Fair. Amelia and Tiffany earned silver ratings.

But in the end, showing the chapter in the best light came down to Hannah and Nathan, both 14.

It took them at least a month to prepare and practice the PowerPoint presentation for judges. Throughout the week, they also participated in workshops and gave interviews leading up to their presentation.

It was the school’s first time presenting at the convention, which included applicants from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Nathan said.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “We went into the room feeling confident.”

Though Hannah told it differently.

“Being up on stage with 53,000 people [watching] is quite overwhelming,” she said. “It was a little nerve-wracking.”

But shaking hands with other chapter officers and national members back stage was like meeting royalty, she said. “It still has not sunk in that we are number one in the nation.”

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com>