Switzerland County FFA chapter honored as nation’s best in chapter development

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The sound system on the stage at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis broadcast out toward the more than 50,000 FFA members and guests at last week’s National Convention; so as Switzerland County FFA members Carrie Truax and Jamie Phipps stood on the stage, they were having a little trouble hearing.

“The sound system went out, so we couldn’t hear very much,” Jamie Phipps said.

“As soon as I heard the announcer say ‘Sw…’ I started screaming,” Carrie Truax laughed.

The duo was standing on the stage of Conseco Fieldhouse representing their chapter as one of the 10 best chapters in the entire nation in the area of chapter development.

That scream that Carrie Truax let out was to celebrate the fact that the Switzerland County FFA chapter had just been named the number one chapter in the nation in chapter development.

Switzerland County FFA – the nation’s best.

“We just didn’t know what to do,” Jamie Phipps said. “After they announced us, we had our picture taken and then went back stage and did some interviews. We didn’t get back to our chapter for about an hour.”

“Things were really crazy,” Carrie Truax said.

The road to this moment – the first time in history that the Switzerland County FFA chapter has been honored as the top chapter in the country – was a long one.

Everything began back in March, when the local chapter submitted its National Award Form to the National FFA Organization. From those forms, chapters are designated as One Star Chapters; Two Star Chapters; and Three Star Chapters – with Three Star Chapters being the “cream of the crop” of FFA chapters nationally.

The National Award Form allows each chapter to address their work in three categories: chapter development; student development, and community development. The Award Form outlines what the chapter is doing to promote each of these three areas in their local schools and communities.

According to Carrie Truax, judges take the applications of all Three Star chapters in the country, and choose the top 10 chapters in each of the three categories.

Switzerland County was chosen in the area of chapter development.

“We were notified that we were in the top 10 in early August,” Carrie Truax said. “Jamie and I had both helped fill out the national award form, so we knew the material. Mr. Curlin chose us to develop and make the presentation.”

Being a top 10 chapter meant that the local FFA would have to make a 10-minute presentation to a panel of judges at the National Convention. Work began immediately on developing that presentation – but again there were obstacles to overcome.

“We had to submit 30 pictures from our program in September,” Jamie Phipps said. “But the day they were due was when the wind storm hit and we didn’t have any power and we weren’t in school. We had to call and explain what the problem was. They understood, so we got past that.”

The duo then began putting together a power point presentation to go along with their presentation to the committee, and rehearsed the presentation over and over again until they had it just right.

“We were kind of nervous,” Carrie Truax said of going in to the presentation room. “But once we got in the room, it was game time.”

The presentation took place in a conference room in the new Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis last Wednesday afternoon. The girls said that they practiced all morning in their hotel room, and then headed to Lucas Oil Stadium around noon on Wednesday to “size up their competition.”

“We practiced the entire presentation without our note cards and without the power point,” Jamie Phipps said. “We knew we wouldn’t use our note cards, but we also wanted to be ready in case something went wrong with the computer because we only had 10 minutes to set things up. If something did go wrong, we wanted to be ready to go on without it.”

The 10-minute interview was in front of a panel of four judges, and once the presentation was complete, the girls answered questions posed by the judges.

“Each of the judges asked us a question about our project,” Carrie Truax said. “

They asked us what obstacles we had to overcome in developing our project; how we would do things differently if we did the project again; and which project was our favorite and why.”

The Switzerland County FFA chapter development presentation was centered on three areas that the chapter works in: the Mothers Day project where they work with elementary students and provide flowers for their mothers; an exchange program with Brazilian students who came to Switzerland County to learn about agriculture here; and the chapter’s work with the Switzerland County Lions Club and other things related to the Swiss Wine Festival.

So how did the presentation go?

“We didn’t mess up to the point where the judges knew,” Jamie Phipps smiled. “We were the only ones who knew, so I guess we covered well.”

“When we walked into the interview room, I knew we were going to do really well,” Carrie Truax said. “When we came out, I knew that we did really well. I thought we did well enough to win it.”

Following Wednesday’s presentation, everyone had to wait until Thursday afternoon, when the presenters from the top 10 chapters in each of the three development areas. Everyone in the fieldhouse was told about each of the chapter’s work; and then the top chapter in the nation in each area was announced.

“We were next to last when we went out there, so it seemed like it took forever to get to us,” Jamie Phipps said. “Then after they were finished, they talked about the last chapter and made the announcement.”

And the celebration began.

Walking off of the stage, Jamie Phipps and Carrie Truax were immediately greeted by a representative of the National FFA Convention, who shuttled the girls off to do a television interview with “FFA Today”; then to an audio interview for the National FFA website; and then to an interview with “Innovations” – a national FFA magazine.

“There will be a two-page spread about our chapter in the March issue next year,” Carrie Truax said.

After going through all of the media obligations, the girls then made their way back to their seats on the floor of the fieldhouse to collect their belongings and then go off to find the other members of their chapter and advisor Greg Curlin.

“I think Mr. Curlin was still in shock,” Carrie Truax laughed. “He kept saying ‘I can’t believe it’.”

Other chapter members who were at the National Convention were very excited, and everyone had quite a celebration during dinner on Thursday night.

On Friday morning the chapter members went to the career show and found the representatives at the Toyota booth. Toyota had sponsored the chapter’s national award; and it was fitting that the chapter said thank you.

Jamie Phipps and Carrie Truax also met the President of the National Association of Agriculture Educators, and spent the rest of the convention receiving congratulations from FFA members from all over the country.

“I think that’s when it really hit us,” Jamie Phipps said. “We were walking back to our hotel room afterwards and the Wisconsin State Officers stopped us and congratulated us. I think that was the first time that it really hit us.”

Now back in Switzerland County, the members of the chapter received a hero’s welcome, being led into Vevay with a police escort. At school on Monday, members received congratulatory remarks from staff and students; and there is also a discussion that the girls will make their award-winning presentation for the Switzerland County School Board. A celebration is also being planned at the Mark Archer farm this Saturday evening.

“It’s a really special feeling to know that we’re the top chapter in the entire nation,” Carrie Truax said. “It’s overwhelming to think about, but we all worked very hard to make this happen.”

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Also honored at last week’s FFA National Convention was Kaleesa Archer.

The former President of the Switzerland County FFA chapter and a 2008 graduate of Switzerland County High School, Kaleesa Archer earned her American Degree, which was presented at the National Convention.

The American Degree is the highest level that can be achieved by an FFA member.

In order to apply for the American Degree, an FFA member must have first obtained the Greenhand Degree; the Chapter FFA Degree; and the State FFA Degree. Only a small percentage of FFA members in the entire country earn the degree – with less than one-half of one percent of all FFA members reaching the standards of the degree each year.

The American Degree is the final step in the FFA Degree system, and encourages students to grow and achieve personally towards establishing themselves in an agricultural career.