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Blue ribbon teacher takes over Haile FFA program

Program earns recognition at Manatee County Fair.

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  • | 10:26 a.m. January 18, 2017
  • East County
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Yes, Batpig won a first-place ribbon, but the Carlos E. Haile Middle School students at the Manatee County Fair were smiling for a different reason.

Haile’s Future Farmers of America program, which was on the verge of a collapse going into the 2016-17 school year, is now rock solid under the leadership of Jessica Jones, who took over in August.

It was the first county fair for Jones and her FFA members, and they were showing quite well. As of Jan. 14, their chapter’s heifer,  Lady, had brought home a blue and a red ribbon while its chapter pig, Batpig, won a first-place award. They also earned two ribbons for plants.

“I’m walking into this fair not being disappointed by anything,” Jones said. “Ribbons don’t matter so much to me. I’m most concerned about getting the kids this experience, and getting one year at the fair under my belt so that I can make it better next year.”

Of the 54 students involved in FFA at Haile, 25 were involved in competition at the fairgrounds. Jones said her goal in the future is to have 100% of her FFA members involved at the fair in some way.

Jones, who is 35, said the fair experience is important in her quest to groom successful farmers.

Haile FFA adviser Jessica Jones stands with seventh-graders  Mikaela Barton and Sarah DiPasquale with one of their cows at the Manatee County Fair.
Haile FFA adviser Jessica Jones stands with seventh-graders Mikaela Barton and Sarah DiPasquale with one of their cows at the Manatee County Fair.

“Our county is hugely into agriculture,” Jones said. “Farmers are a dying breed, so I’m really trying to encourage them to do it.”

Jones was a fourth-grade teacher at Manatee Charter School for two years when she saw the FFA adviser job open at Haile. She said it was a dream opportunity.

“If I didn’t take it, I knew I would regret it,” she said. “FFA adviser positions don’t come around that often. I have no intention of ever leaving.”

Before her arrival, Haile had juggled eight substitutes running the program, which saw its membership dwindle. When Jones was hired, membership numbers reversed form.

Seventh-grader Sarah DiPasquale said she has become much more involved in FFA.

“Since Jess became our teacher, we’ve been working a lot more with the animals,” DiPasquale said. “We bond with the animals more, too.”

DiPasquale’s father, Brett, said he has noticed changes in his daughter’s interest and excitement.

“Jess has been able to teach them a lot of good lessons about responsibility just by giving the kids more accountability with the animals,” Brett DiPasquale said. “We have to fight to get them to feed the dogs at home, but they’ll easily get up at 5 a.m. on Saturday mornings to go feed the cows. It’s pretty neat, and they love it.”

Next year, Jones plans on teaching a “Foundations” course for high school credit, the first time Haile has offered such a course. Additionally, she would love for the barn to have more stalls.

She also wants to include students with special needs in the FFA program.

“We’re really trying to build a bridge between those with disabilities and the FFA program,” Jones said. “Haile is the only middle school that has an autistic unit, and they come out once a week to spend time with the animals.”

Sixth-grader Declan Hudson never expected to like FFA. However, when her mother, Haile technology teacher Maureen Hudson, told her Jones was a wonderful instructor, she was encouraged to give it a shot.

“I really like spending time with the animals, so I’m happy I joined,” Declan Hudson said.

The Manatee County Fair runs through Jan. 22.


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