By Hunter Nusz

National FFA Week is Feb. 17- 24. The once booming program at Laurel High School has turned back the clock and brought the program back to what it once was. Sarah Ruggiero, Sydney Simmons, and Matt Wood are all current FFA advisors in the Laurel School District, Ruggiero for Laurel Middle School and Simmons and Wood for the high school. 

“FFA teaches practical skills that are hands-on for the students learning about topics and agriculture, the goal of FFA is that they learn techniques and skills directly related to agriculture,” said Ruggiero. 

“It builds their leadership skills and public speaking and career readiness for when they get outside of high school, a lot of our contests focus on that,” said Simmons. 

Pictured (l-r) are Sydney Simmons, Laurel High School FFA advisor; Sarah Ruggiero, Laurel Middle School FFA advisor; Willis L. Kirk, former Laurel FFA advisor; and Matt Wood, Laurel High School FFA advisor. Photo by Hunter Nusz

The Laurel agriculture program goes back to 1933. In the past the advisor for the high school was Willis L. Kirk. Back when he was in charge, the program competed and won plenty of awards. Enough for a display case to be put in the school. The current advisors are now doing the same thing. 

“Obviously the national awards are a big achievement for us. Two years ago we had three teams make it to nationals, kind of a big deal coming from a relatively small school district. In the recent history FFA has not been very prominent here in Laurel, so to be recognized on that level was super rewarding and this past year we were recognized as the outstanding middle/secondary program in the state,” said Wood. 

“When we were going to nationals and state conventions we were taking record numbers of students that have never gone to state conventions, around 34 kids between middle and high school which is huge,” said Simmons. 

All three advisors talked about how their time in school helped shape them into the ag teachers that they are today, and to help the FFA program get back on its feet. 

“I started in 2015, as the middle school FFA advisor, and I started getting the kids excited about it. In high school my teacher was Will Warren, and I really loved his agriculture shop class and I wanted to be just like him, so I went and got a degree in ag, started teaching in Delaware and I wanted to build the program, so I got a lot of kids fired up at the middle school level about it and we have two high school teachers here that are well versed in ag and also passionate about it so they can keep it going,” said Ruggiero. 

“I had an awesome ag teacher in high school. I’m from Maryland originally, I wanted to run for Maryland FFA state office. I was one of six elected officials to serve Maryland FFA members and that ignited a spark in me that I wanted to eventually give back to FFA and also serve as a teacher,” Wood said.

“I went to school in Delaware and had three amazing ag teachers, I knew I wanted to teach but I didn’t know what I wanted to teach but once I got into high school and got into my first day of ag I knew that’s where I belonged,” said Simmons. 

Kirk, who had tons of success under his tenure as an FFA advisor, talked about how proud he is that the program is getting back on its feet. 

“I’m certainly glad to see it, it becomes part of you. I was in Maryland, and also a Maryland FFA state officer, then I came here to Laurel in 1967. There were 26 ag students in the ag program. By the end of my first year there were 70-80 students taking ag classes, it grows. I have some students that are ag teachers now and many in the community that are farmers now have come through this program and I’m proud to see that, to think maybe that you played one small part in helping them make those decisions,” said Kirk.