Graham Middle School growing its FFA program


ST. PARIS – The Graham Local Schools Board of Education held its monthly meeting on November 15 to discuss student projects, announce upcoming district events and celebrate behind-the-scenes efforts of staff and students alike.

Kicking off the evening with District Reports, Middle School Principal Nick Guidera explained that due to statistical proof that middle school students attend more and achieve more when they are involved in extracurricular activities, GMS has focused on incorporating more student organizations to foster growth in the student body.

One of those programs is Future Farmers of America (FFA). Since its start at GMS less than 5 years ago, the FFA program has grown to one of the most robust and well-attended middle school programs in the state, boasting 50 members currently.

Guidera introduced Ali Peterson, instructor of agriculture and business at Ohio Hi-Point as well as GMS’s FFA chapter advisor, and two of her students, FFA Vice President Myles Brown and FFA Secretary Payton Maurice, to give a brief presentation detailing current projects, many of which are geared towards Graham Elementary students.

For example, back in May, FFA members grew approximately 120 marigolds from seed and assisted elementary classes in making planters for Mother’s Day gifts. Also, the students have purchased a mobile tower garden that can be transported to Pre-K classrooms and used as a learning tool.

FFA also donated two handmade blankets to a church and an animal shelter, as well as homegrown lettuce to a local shelter. Upcoming, the students will host a holiday food drive.

Additionally, in October, FFA put together a Book Walk in the GMS Land Lab for preschool students. After posting pages from a children’s book throughout the Land Lab and reading the story with the preschoolers, FFA members assisted the students in making “leaf men” in the GMS Greenhouse to supplement the book.

Peterson’s program recently earned the Living to Serve Grant for $1,200 from the National FFA. The group plans to continue investing these funds in younger students, teaching them to advocate for agriculture by increasing their knowledge of health, physical activity, how to grow their own food and community outreach.

“We’re super excited about this because it gets our middle school students into the classroom working with the younger generation and also gets them excited about exploring careers,” Peterson said.

To comply with this semester-long grant, Peterson and her students must meet several requirements as they target serving GES’s Pre-K program: they must submit a news article about their project, as well as put together and distribute an educational flyer for the community. Students are also working on 15-minute lesson plans to engage preschoolers in agriculture and healthy lifestyle learning.

FFA will also hold an open house to allow the community to view their tower garden, raising education and awareness of this new and innovative growth method. Pending future funds from additional grants, FFA also hopes to send home a miniature garden kit with each preschooler, so that the children can put their newfound knowledge into action.

As Peterson, Brown and Maurice concluded, Board Vice President Karyl Strader applauded the FFA members’ efforts, noting that the middle schoolers are role models for younger students in promoting literacy, nature and health.

“Even in our community, there are a lot of kids who aren’t spending enough time outdoors. You guys gave thoughtful consideration to things you could do that would be really impactful,” Strader said.

Guidera also chimed in to recognize similar efforts at GMS, noting that the science department’s chickens are thriving, and though this year’s bee colony did not survive, the school hopes to reintroduce a new bee hive in the coming year.

The meeting then progressed to the Board Recognition, and member Dr. Robert Welker spoke up to celebrate Graham Elementary’s Veterans Day program.

Moreover, Superintendent Brad Silvus mentioned that the school appreciated Newson Missionary Church’s donation of backpacks and school supplies, which will benefit many families.

Next, Treasurer Kristie Purtee ran through the financial consent items. The school has received funds from the American Rescue Plan for the Homeless in the amount of $5,310.13. The district plans to further research ways they can utilize these monies to better the Graham community.

Financial report

Each November, Purtee must present to the board a five-year fiscal forecast of the district’s budgetary requirements. As she presented it to her colleagues, she announced that though the district is still deficit spending this year, it is predicted to turn a positive balance at the end of 2026.

However, Purtee noted that because of House Bill 110, the Fair School Funding Model, the district can now incorporate the funds for student wellness and success (which includes costs such as nurses, guidance counselors, family liaisons and support staff) into the general fund, rather than keep those costs separated.

Purtee then reported that 63.5% of the district’s revenue comes from the State of Ohio. Conversely, the largest expenditures come from wages and benefits at 81% of the total revenue.

Lastly, Purtee explained that her projections were only estimates at best. With the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds set to run out in 2024, all Ohio schools are similarly figuring out how to balance the budget and plan ahead.

“We’re going to plan, but we also have to react,” Silvus said. “We’re in the same boat with every other district in Ohio.”

Purtee wrapped up her presentation with positive observations: the district has concluded negotiations with both unions and will end the fiscal year at its goal with 60 true cash days (meaning that should an emergency force the school to shut down, there would be enough safety funds to cover all bills; a single cash day equates to roughly between $50,000 and $55,000).

“We have really adapted as a team. There’s a lot to celebrate with collaboration with both unions,” Purtee said. “We have planned for it, we have the direction, and we know where we need to be.”

Purtee hopes to have more concrete numbers in May of 2022, when she is better informed of the new general fund formula.

Other recognitions

With that, Silvus gave his superintendent’s notes. He recognized Tristan Bogan, Graham girls soccer coach, who was awarded Soccer Coach of the Year of the Dayton North Area, the All-District Coach of the Year and recently coached in the All-Star game. Silvus also mentioned that to celebrate the success of the fall sports teams, Athletic Director Jay Lewis will be recognizing various teams’ accomplishments during winter sporting events, such as between basketball games or during halftime.

Substitute teachers

The board then progressed into a discussion on substitute teacher pay, as the district is in dire need of substitute teachers, custodians and other supplemental positions. Silvus and Purtee proposed raising the daily sub wages from $95 to $110, in order to make Graham more competitive with area schools. Increasing the wage in this way will put Graham above the area average, making the vacant positions both appealing and rewarding to possible subs. Purtee stated that this increase of hours and wages has already been factored into the five-year forecast, pending the board’s approval.

Guidera chimed in to emphasize the district’s need for subs; typically, the middle school uses all available subs daily. For teaching positions, 2-3 subs are needed per day, in addition to 1-2 transportation subs daily and 2-3 custodial subs daily only at the middle school (not considering the elementary or high schools).

Though internal employees cover open positions as needed during the day, this adds burden to already-overworked teachers and staff.

Strader added that if the board approves raising the wage, the district will advertise the change on all social media platforms, at sporting events and on the website. She highlighted the benefits of substitute work, including a flexible schedule and noted that subbing is a viable option for recent Graham graduates, stay-at-home mothers and even current college students.

The board will likely vote to make a change in the pay at its December meeting.

Student board

Student Board Member Brady Olson then gave a report of happenings at GLS from a student’s perspective.

Olson mentioned various activities of GHS’s National Honor Society. On October 31, the group led a trick-or-treat event by the St. Paris Public Library. Then, on November 13, NHS members came together to rake leaves for St. Paris residents.

Olson also noted that GMS recently hosted a choir concert for all GLS choral groups. This event was the first time that students could sing on stage in over a year and a half.

“It was great to get on the stage and sing again,” Olson said. “I think the community really needed this concert, and it’s nice to have music back in the community.”

To conclude the meeting, board member Steve Setty agreed to serve another three-year term as the board’s representative to Ohio Hi-Point. He will provide consistent updates, either quarterly or monthly, to his fellow board members.
Pay raise possible for substitutes

By Katie Milligan

Contributing writer

Reach Katie at [email protected].

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