The bustling room filled with blue corduroy jackets was a change of pace for West Hills College on January 29. Future Farmer of America (FFA) students were competing in the Tulare-Kings Sectional Speaking Competition for the first time in person in almost two years. The students, advisors, and judges were lively and excited to be able to see faces and hear voices once again.
The competition saw a larger crowd, compared to most years, with 46 total participants. While some students have not returned to their extroverted tendencies or expressed interest in extracurricular activities since the initial shutdown, many have embraced the return and are actively working to improve their speaking and networking skills.
Adam Goltz, Director of Grower Relations at Suntreat Packing, served as a judge for the extemporaneous speaking competition. As a former FFA member and current professional in the agriculture industry, Goltz chooses to judge these competitions, because he sees value in teaching the next generation skills in communication and professional development.
“It’s something that I think is an important trait and quality to have in any career in life. You’ve got to be able to talk to people and communicate,” Goltz said.
Judges for the sectional contest are often members of the community that are experienced in the agriculture industry and are looking to give back to the FFA organization. This allows students to hear feedback from the industry they are likely to work in, as well as network with members of their community and create meaningful connections with useful contacts.
The advisors for these speaking teams expressed their appreciation for the in-person competition and the effort of the students involved. Golden West High School teachers, Jessica Theisman and Francisco Escamilla had several students take first place in their competitions. The teachers explained that they were surprised and impressed with how prepared and dedicated their students were for their competitions.
“They realize that no matter how they place in the contest, just getting here and the commitment to do so, they learn those leadership skills and they learn how to be a public speaker,” Theisman said.
These students have gone out of their way to improve their skills and develop their understanding of public speaking and leadership. A feat many high school students would not pursue at their age.
“A lot of our students are definitely excited. One of our students was telling me yesterday at our after-school practice some of the things they’re wanting to improve for the next year, already,” Escamilla said.
These FFA students see more value in competing than simple class credit. Hanford FFA students, Daren Deftereos and Jessalynn Soto saw the competition as an opportunity to expand their knowledge and comfortability with the agriculture industry. Deftereos, a freshman, competed in the FFA Creed speaking competition, while Soto, a sophomore, competed in the Impromptu competition.
“You always go into it a little nervous, but you have to have confidence. Because if you don’t have confidence, you’re not going anywhere,” Deftereos said.
The two students joined the competition with the intention of doing well in their performance while attaining new skills and appreciation for the agriculture industry.
“I decided to do this competition because I just wanted to step out of my comfort zone and I just really wanted to improve my speaking skills because it’s really useful in the future,” Soto said.
VTEC FFA students, Kirsten Franks and Cheyanne Long used the competition as a way to challenge themselves and push their limits. Franks, a senior, competed in the Extemporaneous speaking competition while Long, a sophomore, competed in Impromptu.
“I knew that the extemp was going to be a little harder because I’ve already written speeches before and memorized them and presented them. So, I wanted to push myself a little more,” Franks said.
For many high school students, speaking in front of a crowd is near impossible. As students are growing and learning new skills, pushing themselves to new heights is often a difficult task. FFA students tend to welcome this challenge.
“Just being at competitions and contests in general, you spend more time with your chapter and more time with officers and get to know everybody more, as well as other chapters and other officers and it’s just, in general, great to be around,” Long said.
The Tulare-Kings Sectional Speaking Competition provided students a long-awaited chance to practice their public speaking and networking abilities while socializing and creating long-lasting memories.
The winners of each competition were: Sky Hunter from Hanford FFA for Creed, Mia Gillum from Hanford FFA for Job Interview, Kirsten Franks from VTEC FFA for Extemporaneous, Sophia Benitez from Golden West for Prepared, and Gavyn Groppetti from Golden West FFA for Impromptu.