North Laurel High School's FFA team was named the National Environmental and Natural Resource Champion at the 91st National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana in last month. According to Dustin Estridge, FFA advisor at North, this victory makes the school one of only two Kentucky schools to ever win a National Team FFA Event.
"It felt very prestigious to win because FFA's something we take a lot of pride in. To accomplish that at a state level, that's something really special to us," said Kaite Fortney, junior student and member of North's FFA team. The group comprised of three other individuals: Lenox Brinks, Tyler Purvis and Alainey Robinson, all seniors.
"These four kids are really into this," said Estrdige. "All four of them are at the top of their class and come after school to practice. These kids are the best of the best of the school. They recognize the importance of self-improvement."
The competition saw students checking water quality, identifying soil, and writing a prompt over ecology, among other tasks.
"It's really basically a problem solving competition," said Estridge. "It's standard to what the pros would do, and it's tough."
The team agreed that the hardest part of the competition was the presentation. Each year, teams are tasked with creating a presentation on a chosen topic. That topic is different each year and may not be directly related to agriculture.
"They gave us a prompt that was mostly economics and foreign trade," said Purvis. "So we had to work our way through that instead of talking about the environment."
"You can't just go in and bullcrap the competition," added Brinks. "So it really helps when you trust your team." Estridge explained that the subjects in the competition were varied because the FFA has become broader since its inception.
"FFA is not really about farming. It's really about student leadership," he said. Many of Estridge's students he's advised aren't pursuers of agriculture. Of the North Laurel Team, Purvis plans to study biomedical and biochemical engineering, Brinks wants to major in political science and minor in environmental science, Fortney decided to study biotechnology and Robinson plans take environmental courses.
"We're not just hicks and farmers. Everybody thinks that," said Robinson.
"FFA is more than what is affiliated with agriculture," added Fortney. "They offer the speaking skills and leadership skills that you can obtain in other clubs."
The FFA has also helped the students forge life-long friendships.
"They've been together for four years and they work together," said Estridge. "If you can learn to work with different people, you can accomplish great things." The team accredited their victory not only to their camaraderie, but also to Estridge's guidance.
"Mr. Estridge is awesome," said Purvis. "He's always been there to guide us no matter what it was. We can come to him even with our life problems."
"We wouldn't be in FFA or where we are as people because he's helped us grow," added Robinson.
"They're like my kids, I spend a lot of time with them," said Estridge. "When they graduate, it's tough because it's like your kid leaving the house. What's awesome is I get the satisfaction of seeing what they do after high school."
The 91st National FFA Convention ended with an award ceremony featuring a speech from President Trump. Brinks was ranked the second highest individual of all participants and each member of the North team received a National Gold Rating and $1,000 each. All participants were treated to a concert by Garth Brooks.