Blue Jackets and Bibles

From 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., and from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., every 53 minutes of every school day, Mark Berry calls on a student. The class circles around the center of the room and the students bow their head and say a prayer. And, then they talk about agriculture.

This occurrence is hard to imagine in today’s world where faith in school is a touchy topic – but at Saxony Lutheran High School it is not only encouraged but expected.

Saxony Lutheran FFA Chapter is the first chapter in the state to be chartered at a private school – an accomplishment that took years to achieve. An “Ag Club” was initially started to generate interest and excitement for students involved in the agriculture industry. This club was officially transformed into an active FFA Chapter on December 4, 2015 when 21 high school students signed the chapter charter.

Andrew and Nathan Aufdenburg were two of the charter members and were the first State FFA Degree Recipients from the chapter.

“It means a lot to me to be a charter member because I can look back and say that I helped lay the foundation for something successful,” said Andrew Aufdenburg. “It was tough starting out because we had no precedent to follow; we had to figure everything out for the first time.”

<Trials and tribulations have made the chapter unique – starting with finding the perfect advisor for such a unique chapter.

Mr. Mark Berry has retired from a factory job but went to school to become an agriculture instructor. He rejoined is initial occupation for the members.

“These kids are simply awesome – why would I not want to put off a real retirement when I can work with some awesome kids instructing them in an industry I love?” said Berry.

Berry has changed the way Saxony FFA members learn – he sees himself as an agriculture instructor more than an FFA advisor, he said. So much so that opens his personal shop up to students to work on agricultural mechanics skills while transforming the shared classroom into a hands-on learning haven, including crops, terrariums, a saddle and minor tools all for enhancing classroom instruction. Agriculture magazines and a FFA bulletin board accent the walls. Berry brings in his own animals and personal equipment for the students to learn with.  Seeing as it is a new chapter, a challenge they face is space. They lack a shop in a separate building, which is a necessary feature for a safe educational environment.

“Life is not about a participation award – it is about the skills you do or don’t have. I want my students to leave with skills,” said Berry. “College is not for everyone and we have to create classes for the rest of the students to have skills they can use for the rest of their lives.”

The expectations of a college preparatory school have influenced the FFA chapter greatly – members must take the extra step to be active in the FFA as it is seen purely as an extracurricular activity at Saxony, unlike the designed inner-curricular model the FFA has come to be known for.

“Because of the college-preparatory environment, class attendance is very important” said Judy Fuchs, school counselor at Saxony Lutheran High School. “We want our students to be present for their dual credit classes so FFA is seen as an extracurricular activity at school.”

President Frank Bonney has learned this means extra effort must be put in by the members to achieve the awards and accolades the FFA offers, but sees the initiative only makes them stronger.

“We have to work really hard and as a team in order to be successful,” said Bonney. “Our faith makes us better FFA members and our school environment drives us to put in the extra effort to become a stronger chapter.”

Stronger they have become. With all the Glory to God, the chapter boasts three Area 15 Officers, six State FFA Degree Recipients, seven Proficiency Winners and one Missouri Agribusiness Academy attendee and a winner of the Missouri Beef Cattleman’s Association Public Speaking Contest in just three years of competition. They have won several Career Development Events in the Southeast District and have competed at the Missouri FFA Convention several times. This fall, they hope to receive the first two American FFA Degrees for the chapter.

“If we can expect to put a seed in the ground and let it grow, you have to have faith” said Berry.

And in this classroom, once can guarantee to always find faith, a prayer, a blue jacket and a Bible.