Courtesy of Denny Wallace
Denny Wallace says FFA has always been in his blood.
“It’s all about leadership, citizenship and cooperation,” he said. “The thing about agriculture is you’re working with the soil, nature and animals. You’re getting to see what your responsibility and care can do in the real world.”
Wallace started in FFA as a student in 1967 and served as a state officer in his senior year of high school. He became an agriculture teacher in 1976 in Eatonville, and taught in Yelm until 2010.
Wallace became state FFA adviser in July, replacing his daughter, Rebecca Wallace. He is also program supervisor for agricultural sciences in career and technical education in the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Olympia.
FFA takes students, no matter their background or belief system, and teaches them to be successful in business and life, Wallace said.
“You get to see unmolded clay coming into the education system that has a lot of potential and you get to find out what they can actually do, just by giving them the self-confidence and training they need,” he said.
In the legislature this year, the Washington FFA Association, with the support of the AgForestry Leadership program participants, is seeking $500,000 in state funding annually. The money would fund the FFA association’s executive director position and establish a grant program to provide resources for low-income students.
The request would help provide a consistent source for the state association’s expenses. Right now the position is funded using state and national sources and donations, Wallace said.
FFA also hopes to incorporate agricultural subjects with the state Core Plus program, which offers training in the skilled trades, so students can receive academic credit.
“We have an uphill battle,” Wallace said. “There’s a lot of districts that think the only science is theoretical science taught out of a textbook. They don’t see how irrigation or soils or some of the things we teach in agriculture is science, and yet, for those in agriculture, you know that it’s all science. We’re teaching it in an applied manner.”
Wallace is also looking to “evolve” FFA’s programs to remain relevant to students’ needs.
“What skill set is relevant for today’s future, which ones do we need to cut, and what do we need to replace them with?” he asked. “You’ve got to stay relevant, you’ve got to be fresh and yet you want to respect where we came from. Teaching kids how to lead, how to work with others and how to be good citizens is at the root of all of this.”