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National FFA president visits North Harford agricultural education programs

Luke O’Leary read a story about farmers’ critical role in food production to second graders at North Harford Elementary School, held a bearded dragon lizard while visiting a natural resources classroom at North Harford High School and even put his hand inside the stomach of Gracie the dairy cow while visiting the NHHS barn.

“I’ve met a few cows like this, but I’ve never been the one to actually go in [the stomach]!” O’Leary said.

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Those were several of the many activities the national Future Farmers of America president had Tuesday morning as he spent several hours visiting with students at North Harford Elementary and North Harford High School. Some of high school students are members of the North Harford FFA chapter and part of the school’s Natural Resources and Agricultural Science magnet program.

O’Leary is the 2018-2019 president of the Indianapolis-based National FFA. There are about 670,000 members in FFA, with chapters throughout the United States. The organization is open to middle and high school students interested in agricultural education through classroom lessons, working in the field through Supervised Agricultural Experience, or SAE programs, and serving as student leaders, according to the FFA website.

“I’m super grateful I got to see the program here and what the students are doing,” O’Leary said.

O’Leary, 20, is taking a year off from college to serve as the national FFA president. His term started last October and runs through October 2019. He will return to school next January as a student at Cal Poly in his hometown of San Luis Obispo, Calif.

He and other national FFA leaders travel around the nation to visit local chapters. O’Leary made his first visit to Maryland Tuesday, as he is in Washington, D.C., this week for National Ag Week. Events will be held around the country this week to celebrate farmers and supporters of the agricultural industry, he said.

Started the day accompanied by representatives of Maryland’s FFA, O’Leary met with the North Harford High students. The full group then went across Route 165 to the elementary school for various ag education programs with the children.

O’Leary read a story to a second-grade class about farmers’ vital role in food production, and the North Harford students quizzed the students on it, plus they asked the children about their interest in farming. They also had children identify different types of produce and farming tools and taught them about how crops are grown.

“Thank you for taking your time to teach the future generations of our community,” North Harford Elementary principal Lisa Sundquist told O’Leary and the high school students as they departed.

Lynne Thomas, an NHHS senior, was among the high school students who was with O’Leary in the second grade classroom and helped lead the ag education lesson.

The 18-year-old Fallston resident is also the treasurer for the local FFA chapter and is in the animals strand of the high school magnet program. Her grandparents own a farm in Baldwin in Baltimore County, where they raise sheep and dairy cattle.

““It was great have him here,” Thomas said of O’Leary. “It’s such a wonderful opportunity to have him read to the children.”

The North Harford High students then took O’Leary through their magnet program classrooms — he got to meet teacher Laura O’Leary, who specializes in the natural resources strand, although the two are not related.

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“It was awesome just to see how much peer mentorship there is in the high school and how those high school students are able to be leaders and role models for the elementary school students,” he said.

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