FFA members Hannah Frank and Matthias Bush share a PALS Powerpoint presentation on flowers with Jill Thalmann's first graders. PHOTOS BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
FFA members Hannah Frank and Matthias Bush share a PALS Powerpoint presentation on flowers with Jill Thalmann's first graders. PHOTOS BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Valerie Earley, Hannah Frank and Marissa Bornholdt are PALS with a purpose.

"We're trying to teach the kids the truth about where their food comes from," said Spring Valley-Wykoff FFA member Frank, "and how it's made."

Fellow FFA member Bornholdt concurred, "We want them to have a basic knowledge that not everything is handed to them or bought at the store...that before they can buy it, it has to come from a cow."

The trio of FFAers has been in charge this year of the Partners in Active Learning System (PALS) program that has been a part of Kingsland's FFA programming for the past four to five years, meeting first grade students in their classrooms and sharing information on how plants grow, cows give milk, how pigs and sheep are raised on farms and more, educating young children on the basic tenets of agriculture, literally beginning with the ground up.

Students who volunteer with the PALS program visited Kingsland first graders on Thursday, April 25, to teach about how flowers grow, and in Jill Thalmann's classroom, they started with a PowerPoint presentation and some scientific questions.

Frank asked the students, "What do you know about flowers?"

Students replied, "Roses are red," and "You can plant whatever flowers you want."

Frank then asked, "What makes them grow?"

Few volunteered, so FFAer Matthias Bush explained that they need soil, nutrients, water, sunlight, a lot of love and care, weeding and fertilizer.

The PowerPoint elaborated on sunflowers, that roses indeed are red - and many other colors, that soil and water are what helps a seed open and grow, and that tulips don't come from seeds - they come from bulbs. After the knowledge had been spread like seeds, it was time to get down and dirty with crushed Oreos, chocolate pudding and gummy worms...making "dirt cups" for a mid-afternoon snack.

The PALS volunteers have also shown the elementary students piglets, told about dairy and beef cows, picked apart a pizza - inquiring as to what food group and where each ingredient came from, and taught about pumpkins, turkeys and lambs during their once-monthly visit to the first grade.

"We usually teach about one thing, have a PowerPoint about it, do an activity and have a snack related to the subject," said Earley. "Today, it was flowers, so we showed a short PowerPoint, talked about four different flowers, showed what they need to grow, and planted flowers in milk cartons. They should have flowers to take home in a few weeks."

The "dirt cup" snacks went over well, too, as the students crushed their Oreos and made them into the dry soil at the bottom of a plastic cup, added the pudding as mud, then topped it off with the gummy worms for good measure. Each experience teaches the students "more about agriculture," according to Earley.

The leaders "definitely like the funny comments we get from the kids, and seeing them learning and getting them to learn."

"It's surprising what the kids actually know. I was shocked at what we didn't have to teach them," said Bornholdt.

Earley cited that showing students a picture of a cow's udder was an epic experience. "It was cool to help them understand where milk comes from...and some of the stories they come up with. Stuff like that is fun and funny, and we enjoy watching them learn."

Bornholdt added, "It gets us involved in the community and lets us volunteer our time. It's as much fun for them as it is for us."

Additionally, Earley and Bornholdt observed that the PALS program serves a purpose for the FFA chapter.

"It helps us build ties between the elementary and the high school, between the staff and students and the FFA," said Earley. "And it's a way for older members to get involved with younger members, because we have seventh graders helping us."

Frank agreed, "It unifies the chapter."

On a personal level, Bornholdt feels that "it helps us be more confident and lets us take on challenges for ourselves."

No matter what the dirt of the day, FFA PALS participants and elementary staff agree that it's a beneficial program that keeps the generations talking about whether there's brown cows giving chocolate milk, or if the black and white ones give polka-dotted vanilla milk, whether turkeys only come shrink-wrapped and frozen, or whether lambs' wool shrinks in the