In a growing society where we are learning to be more inclusive, the first place that often happens is in the classroom. No matter how the term disability may apply to a student — whether that includes a learning disability or a physical disability — there is room for everyone in the ag classroom.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “In 2017-18, the number of students ages 3-21 who received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was 7.0 million, or 14 percent of all public school students.” With so many students needing some form of help, it is important that school organizations have the resources to help every member. For example, the National AgrAbility Project helps FFA chapters enhance independence and promote success for people facing physical disability challenges.
Teachers and school districts can help every student reach their potential. For example, Aaron Etienne, a Union County FFA member from New Jersey, has reached his goals in FFA with the support of not only his family, but also his FFA family. At the age of 5, Aaron was non-verbal, autistic, and had trouble learning. However, his family stayed positive and did not let that stop him.
In high school, Aaron’s counselor introduced him to a horticulture class. That is where the magic started. Aaron fell in love with the class and listened as his ag teacher talked about FFA. He decided to join, hoping to find new friendships and to continue his passion. Little did he know that he would one day achieve a remarkable goal.
As time continued, Aaron started to set goals for himself — the first of which was to complete his Chapter Degree. After that, his FFA advisor encouraged him to continue down the path to receive his State Degree. Aaron said the more he continued down that path, the more he enjoyed his FFA journey.
“I went to the 360 conference,” he said. “I was nervous at first because I was new to it, but made a few friends in the process. Surprisingly, I won my very first FFA award, the Growing Leader Award. As time went on, I made a lot of good friends, attended two FFA events, and had a great time.”
After receiving his state degree, Aaron sought out to do what he thought was impossible — receive his American Degree. Aaron said, “In 2015, I got my Chapter Degree, followed by my State Degree in 2017, and in 2019, the unthinkable happened, I got my FFA America Degree.
“My journey was a great experience, even though it was not easy for a start. But as time went on, when I finally reached the end of my journey, it felt great, and being on that stage, I was like, ‘Wow, this is a big deal!’ And I can’t believe I made it this far.”
After receiving his American Degree, Aaron thanked his fellow FFA members and gave them great advice. “Never let anything bring you down, always follow your heart, let God guide you all the way, and always rise up.”
Aaron is a great example not only for students with learning challenges, but for us all — never give up on your dreams! Aaron said, “There are times when disabilities get in our way and always bring us fear. But always there’s a way to conquer fear, and I did just that when I went from getting my Chapter Degree, State Degree and finally my American Degree!”
Now Aaron looks forward to the next step on his journey — being part of the FFA Alumni and helping his chapter in any way he can.