A wooly goodbye
Due to budget cuts across the district, Forest Grove High School's herd of Columbia sheep will be sold after July's Washington County Fair.
This fall, when students return to Forest Grove High School they'll notice a lot of things missing.
Classes in Japanese and German will be online only. The auto tech class will be gone. So, it seems, will be a flock of prize-winning Columbia sheep.
For almost 22 years, Forest Grove students have cared for the award-winning flock and taken home awards from state and national competitions. The students have fed, shorn, and cleaned the sheep, and even helped the ewes deliver lambs.
But with budget cuts across the district, the sheep are getting put out to pasture. Forest Grove High School Principal Karen Robinson said that selling the flock will save the district $25,000 a year in upkeep and feed costs.
With the sheep goes the job of Charlie Vandehey, who has served as the advisor of the high school's FFA chapter for eight years. Vandehey got pink slipped in June on the last day of school. He'll be leaving town shortly after the sheep are sold later this summer. And once the sheep and Vandehey are gone, the agricultural program at
Forest Grove High School will be dramatically different.
Instead of focusing education on practicum in the greenhouse and the barn, the program will be an after-school club, augmented by in-class instruction in metalworking, one of the few classes that was added back to the high school curriculum after the budget adoption.
At the Forest Grove School Board's June 20 meeting, Superintendent Yvonne Curtis said that FFA would be able to stick around because of the return of the school's metals program. Robinson said that with the new classroom component, the program will change.
"The program is going to have to look different," said Robinson.
Vandehey said it's not clear how the metals class will meet the educational standards required of an FFA chapter.
'Metals and welding is definitely part of agriculture,' said Vandehey adding that working with equipment is important to farming, but he questioned whether the return of metals could really suffice as a complete agriculture program.
FFA chapter member Tyler Baxter, 17, said he was sad to be losing the sheep, but that ultimately he's glad the high school would maintain their FFA charter. Belonging to FFA, which used to be called 'Future Farmers of America,' allows students more than just the opportunity to gain skills within the field of agriculture. Baxter said the program also helped them gain confidence and practice skills like leadership and public speaking.
Before the metals program returned, Baxter feared that, along with emptying out the sheep barn, he and the other students that participate in FFA would have to give up their chapter status.
'We thought we weren't even going to get to have an ag program,' said Baxter.
Tough times spurred doubt in ag program's future
On June 28, Baxer and four other FFA kids met with Vandehey at the sheep barn to discuss strategies to save their beloved program.
The mood in the room was solemn and frustrated. Administrators told them that their program had been cut and the members were unsure if their FFA chapter even had a future.
As Vandehey sat outside the circle of his advisees, Baxter led the meeting, utilizing the speaking and leadership skills that his participation in FFA had helped him build. While some kids talked about fundraisers and making phone calls to administrators, Kendell Hall, 17, pried one of the many awards off the wall, packing it up in a cardboard box with the many other documents and knick-knacks from the agricultural education program's old classroom. He nodded his head and listened quietly in the background as the other four students sat around a table, discussing the importance of vocational education and formulating a course of action.
Vandehey told Hall he didn't need to pack up the classroom just because the program had been axed.
'You guys are jumping the gun a bit,' Vandehey said.
'That's what they told us,' replied 17-year-old FFA chapter member Jessica Randall, relaying instructions from school administrators. 'They said 'it'd be best if you clear out before school is even over.''
The Forest Grove FFA chapter was founded in 1930 and has made a name for itself at the Washington County Fair and with an annual plant sale. The plant sale, which pays for itself, will remain, said Robinson, but it's uncertain at this point whether or not a horticulture or agriculture class will accompany it.
And this year's fair will be the last for the sheep. After the FFA kids show their Columbia's this week the sheep will be sold, before the flock gets a chance at the regional and statewide contests the kids had planned to attend.
Baxter said that he and the other kids had thought they would be able to at least finish off the fair season before the sheep were sold, but Director of Student Achievement John O'Neill had told him that it wouldn't be possible.
That leaves two fairs, Clark County and the state fair that the kids won't be able to participate in. Losing the sheep will mean FFA members will attend fewer events each year. It was the flock of prize Columbias that took the kids to the national convention of the Columbia Sheep Breeders Association of America in Minot, N.D. last year and to the National Columbia Sheep Show in Great Falls, Mont. in June. But the FFA curriculum will still help the kids raise animals at home, and they'll even have a chance at buying the sheep before they're up for public sale.
Program cuts spell transition for Vandehey
For Vandehey, the end of the flock is the end of his tenure at Forest Grove High School, where he graduated in 1996.
Vandehey accepted a position as an agriculture instructor in Glide, Ore., and will head south in the beginning of August. He's put his house on the market and will fulfill his last duties as the high school's FFA advisor at the county fair after which the new advisor takes over.
Vandehey said one of his greatest disappointments was to be leaving his home and his family, who had been in the area for generations.
'My great-grandfather helped build the church in Verboort,' he said, 'I still have all my family here.'
Baxter said the changes to the program are going to be a new transition for everyone.
'The kids are bummed about the sheep program,' said Baxter, 'It's a hard time and everyone is trying to look past it and see what we can do for the future.'