Peotone Teen Finds Passion in FFA

SuburbanTeen

Mark Jones II never expected to be seeking an agricultural career when he joined FFA at Peotone High School. Now he’s on a course to be an ag teacher. (Photo courtesy of Peotone FFA)

By PHYLLIS COULTER

FarmWeek

If you told Mark Jones II four years ago that he would be excited about FFA, he probably would have laughed at you.

In eighth grade, the suburban youth was much more interested in video games than agriculture. In choosing his high school classes, he shied away from taking an ag class.

“I’m not a farmer. I have never driven a tractor. I would fail,” was his initial reaction to the idea.

Before FFA, the closest he felt to agriculture and food was making pizzas with his aunt at Casey’s.

Despite his misgivings, he took the ag class. And he didn’t fail. In fact, he excelled in FFA competitions, served as the Section 10 vice president for two years and is now a teacher’s aide at Peotone High School working on his third FFA record book.

Jones is so inspired by his ag teachers, husband-and-wife team Abby and Dakota Cowger, the high school senior said he is planning on becoming an ag teacher himself. Jones plans to start at Joliet Junior College and transfer to Illinois State University.

He wants to connect with, and inspire, other students as his teachers inspired him and bring diversity and innovation.

“I haven’t had a teacher who looks like myself,” Jones told FarmWeek. The high school senior said he wants other eighth-graders, who may have never considered an agricultural career, to be able to explore the possibilities.

Dakota Cowger, who was a student at the high school before becoming a teacher in Will County, said most of his students today are suburban kids. Only four or five of the northeastern Illinois school’s 187 FFA students “are true farm kids”, he said.

Earlier this month, six of his students traveled to Kankakee Community College to interview for their State FFA degrees. Each of these members met the qualifications including FFA leadership, supervised ag experiences (SAE), public speaking and community service.

“We are so excited to announce all six were recommended for their State Degree along with one being named a Section Star,” Cowger said. “That’s the most our program has ever had.”

Section Star Emma Bialko is one of the top 25 in the state for Ag Placement in 2024, Cowger said.

While FFA members and supporters across the country celebrate National FFA Week Feb. 17-24, Peotone FFA members are active throughout the year with community service projects including food drives and the “Wreaths Across Peotone” project inspired by the Wreaths Across America at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood to honor veterans. More than 75 Peotone FFA 75 members helped make and place 100 wreaths in December, Cowger said.

Students are getting ready for their annual fundraiser auction Feb. 25 to raise money to support the program, said Cowger, who is also a farmer.

Members take a short breath before delving into preparation for the 2024 Will County Ag Expo, March 12-14 at the Weitendorf Agricultural Education Center at Joliet Junior College, with their Will County Farm Bureau partners.

This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.

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