FFA is in Cali Rooney’s blood. Generations throughout Rooney’s family have found solidarity in the blue corduroy jacket worn by FFA members. She served Montana FFA as State Secretary in 2011-2012, and after, Rooney became a finalist in the race to become a National FFA Officer.
Even though Rooney couldn’t wear the blue jacket anymore, that didn’t mean her service to the organization was over. She attended Montana State University majoring in agriculture education and she stayed involved in collegiate FFA along the way. Her goal was to someday be an ag education teacher and FFA advisor herself.
After graduating with her degree, Rooney married and settled into life on her family’s ranch in Golden Valley County, located in south-central Montana. Rooney’s lifelong goal was never far from her mind and as luck would have it, two years after returning to the family operation, the little town of Rapelje, Mont., 17 miles to the east, was in need of an ag teacher.
Rooney’s presentation to the school board was met with a unanimous vote of support. It seemed everyone – the school board, community and students – everyone was ready to see FFA at Rapelje High School again and Rooney was just the gal to get it going.
“I was worried about the kids being spread too thin, but it is really a testament to FFA because as an organization, it is really appealing to students,” Rooney stated.
Rapelje High School is unique due to many factors. With only 60 kids K-12, students are involved in a plethora of extra-curricular activities. Adding FFA to the docket may have seemed daunting, but Rooney was pleasantly surprised to see the excitement shared by students when they heard ag education and FFA were coming back to the school after a more then 40-year hiatus.
“Our students are involved in a lot of different things and they do them well. My goal with this program is to make it fit with the kids and the community,” said Rooney.
Securing initial funding was another huge aspect that needed to be addressed before the ag education program could officially get rolling. Rapelje did receive some start-up funds from the Montana Office of Public Instruction and they were able to split some Perkins Funds with the other Career and Technical Education courses offered at the school.
In addition, Rooney applied for, and was awarded, a grant from Northwest Farm Credit Services to help offset costs associated with developing a community minded program of activities for the chapter. Rooney’s main goal is to develop a chapter that is vested in community service. She hopes to see this new chapter grow alongside the community of Rapelje.
Starting an ag education program and FFA chapter from essentially square one does not seem to intimidate the young teacher. Rooney, who student taught in Gardiner, plans to teach about traditional agriculture and leadership in her classes, noting that FFA and the lessons learned in the ag classroom will just be one more tool Rapelje junior high and high school students can add to their tool boxes.