School projects — even those of the extracurricular nature — don’t typically take five years to complete.
But then again, winning a national competition for your project isn’t a typical kind of accomplishment.
Yelm High School senior Sheridan Lantz, the president of Yelm’s FFA chapter, won first place in the nation for National Proficiency in Agriculture Processing at the FFA National Convention and Expo on Nov. 1 in Louisville, Ky.
“We did think she could be the winner. We’ve had several national finalists over the years here (at Yelm), but this is the first time we’ve had a winner,” said FFA advisor Matt Mounts, a biology and career technical education teacher at Yelm. “We knew that Sheridan knew what she was talking about going in and that she had a good shot at impressing the judges.”
Lantz headlined a successful trip to Nationals for her entire FFA team, which happens to be the largest FFA organization in Washington state.
“When I found out I was a national finalist, it was mind-blowing because of the uniqueness of my project,” Lantz said. “I strived to do my best and just did all I could do. I came out feeling great after my official interview because I answered all their questions and felt like I explained the project.”
Her project, a Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE), revolved around working for her family’s business, Dawn’s Custom Carding, a “cottage” or small textile business located in Roy, that processes raw wool along with alpaca, llama and mohair.
Lantz worked on the project from the time she joined FFA in eighth grade, but refrained from submitting it each year because once a student competes at the state level and wins, they are not allowed to compete in that specific area again.
“We submitted the project in-state and district-wide because my advisor and I wanted to know what we could do to improve it. If I was going to be a state winner we held back on that to have more input and so it could be the best application we could have,” Lantz said. “Mrs. Lewis had great timing and said we should let it go to state this year; she said, ‘This should be your year.’”
The school’s agricultural sales team, of Jacob Guirell, Becca Foote, Hannah McLaughlin and Jared Braswell, placed second in the nation. Guirell placed sixth and Foote ninth in individual sales.
Calli Hyder placed fifth out of 46 competitors in the Prepared Speech category and the entire Yelm FFA chapter represented Washington in the Hall of States presentation.
“I think we were all extremely pleased because all of our groups went back there and put their best foot forward, and reached their maximum potential of where we had hoped they could reach this year,” Mounts said of he and the seven other FFA advisors. “We’ve been back there enough now to know what it takes for the kids to win and be in the top of the nation. The groups were prepared for this and knew what to expect, so it was a matter of whether they could perform.”
Hyder, a junior at Yelm in her second year as a member of FFA, decided to take part in one of FFA’s Career Development Event (CDE) by entering the Prepared Speech category at the sub-district competition level, about this time last year.
“You have to have a topic that relates to agricultural issues, and since I’ve never been an ag junkie, I researched some controversial agricultural issues and decided on Xenotransplantation. At sub-districts I took third place, and then districts I took third. At state was when it really hit us that I had more potential to go farther than just districts,” Hyder said.
“Leading up to the state competition we spent six hours after school per week researching, because after your speech the judges can spend five minutes asking questions on your topic. They judge you on stage presence, questions, and I got it down to a ‘T.’ I took first place at state, and my advisor and I were just amazed at what we had just done.”
FFA offers more than 40 CDEs in which students can participate that are geared toward developing a student’s interest in an agricultural career area or just toward 21st century skills. Aside from the agriculture industry side of things, there are CDEs in sales, marketing and interviews.
“So many kids in FFA aren’t going to be farmers, but they use the skills they learn here,” Mounts said. “Here at Yelm High we’ve done some research and the graduating seniors that we have that are FFA members average over $4,000 in scholarships more than non-members. They have the skills to be impressive in their interviews and they’ve been very active in their community.”
Hyder joined FFA on a whim last year as a sophomore and ended up getting much more out of her experience than she anticipated.
“I definitely fell in love with FFA,” she said. “At the end of last year I started getting involved in more than just CDEs. I ran for office and am treasurer this year.”
It’s those kinds of stories that Lantz, who knows firsthand the potential growth of a student through FFA, likes to hear.
“I got involved with FFA in eighth grade because the organization is very diverse. Whatever your passion, if you put your mind to it, there’s some SAE that will provide you with the right 21st century skills that will help you along the way,” said Lantz, who was selected for the 10-day, all-expense paid International Experience to Costa Rica trip in June for her first-place finish.
“As a senior and president of our chapter, I want to spread the word about FFA and getting involved so people could have more opportunities.”