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Charles City FFA tackles challenges presented by pandemic


Charles City FFA tackles challenges presented by pandemic
Charles City FFA advisors Jim Lundberg and Bret Spurgin. (Press photo James Grob.)
By James Grob,

Jim Lundberg has been around a long time — and Bret Spurgin is no longer a spring chicken — but neither of the Charles City High School FFA advisors has ever had to deal with anything like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nor had any of their FFA students, of course, but both Spurgin and Lundberg said it was the students who stepped up to face the challenge head on.

“I hear on TV all the time, that our kids are falling so far behind,” Lundberg said. “Our kids are coming out of this much better than we are as adults.”

Spurgin said that the local FFA chapter was led by last year’s graduating seniors, Lauren Connell in particular, and the group focused on local food insecurity.

“We’ve always told the kids, when things like this happen, you can see it as a problem or an opportunity,” Spurgin said. “Our members really rolled with it as an opportunity to do different things. Students are pretty adaptable.”

FFA had already been working on the issue of food insecurity before the pandemic hit, participating in community garden projects and similar endeavors.

“During the pandemic, these kids have really served,” Lundberg said. “They’ve really stepped up and done some projects.”

Charles City FFA became involved with the Messiah’s Food Pantry, and FFA members have helped unload and distribute truckloads of food seven times since the pandemic first hit.

FFA members have also become involved in the local Master Gardener program, they worked with Comet Cafe at Thanksgiving and delivered meals to the community, they worked with Iowa Select and served over 150 meals on Christmas Eve and they even made cookies and delivered them to health care and other frontline workers at the hospital.

Lundberg said that every project was student-driven — “They came to us and said they wanted to do it.”

Spurgin said the service mentality is something that he sees being passed down from one class to another now in Charles City.

“Maybe this will be one of the good things that come out of this pandemic,” Lundberg said. “Maybe 20 years down the road we’ll see this generation that learned this now, still stepping up to help people, and we’ll all be better off.”

Both FFA advisors said that there were — and still are — plenty of educational challenges presented by the pandemic, but they’ve seen a lot of resilience in the students.

“Obviously, COVID caused us to slow some things down, but that’s OK. It helped us re-evaluate what we do,” Spurgin said. “We’re still building a strong FFA program, with younger classes looking to the example of the older classes and seeing how it all works.”

Lundberg said that online learning will always come up a little short, as there is no replacement for in-person learning, and he thinks social interaction is one of the most valuable things a student learns in school.

“The most important thing you learn in school is how to get along with others,” Lundberg said. “This is the one place in the community where people of all races, religions, social and economic status — this is the one place where they’re all gathered together.”

Lundberg said that he believes the students may be stronger citizens, however, having been through the pandemic.

“I think the kids are going to be fine coming out of this, though, I really do,” he said. “Many of them may be better for it. It’s us as adults who are struggling.”

FFA called off its traditional state and national conventions this year, and Lundberg said that he anticipates adjustments will be made in the future to the way FFA traditionally operates nationally, due to the pandemic.

“I think some things will change, in the future, as to how the FFA does business,” Lundberg said. “But I think that might be OK. Things need to change and evolve sometimes, and you hope it will change for the better.”

Although many things have been put on hold locally, that’s allowed the FFA to focus more on other projects, such as building a new STEM room and being more involved in the reconstruction at the Floyd County Fairgrounds.

“The FFA motto is learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live, living to serve,” Lundberg said. “I think we’ve always done a good job of really teaching the first three, and then there’s that ‘living to serve’ one. I think in the last couple of years, I’ve looked at that as a teacher and asked myself if I’ve done a good job of teaching the students to serve.”

The higher focus on service in the FFA has proved to be valuable during the pandemic, and Lundberg hopes it will influence the students’ lives well into the future.

“It’s so important today that we teach our young people to grow up to be volunteers in our community,” Lundberg said. “If we start teaching these kids now to give back, they’ll do that when they become adults.”