Michael Haden, agriculture instructor and FFA advisor at North Polk High School, recently was named the South Central District Outstanding Young Member. Haden was nominated for this honor by fellow instructors and advisors in Iowa’s South Central FFA District.

"Michael is deserving of this award because he is willing to put in the extra effort to help students and FFA members succeed," said Jamie Waddingham, agriculture instructor and FFA advisor at Collins-Maxwell. His and Haden’s FFA chapters compete in the same North Subdistrict FFA and South Central District FFA activities throughout the year.

This fall will mark the beginning of Haden’s third year at North Polk. He came to the district after serving one year as the agriculture instructor and FFA advisor at Nodaway Valley High School in Greenfield. Since coming to North Polk, Haden has increased the number of students enrolled in agriculture classes and the number of students involved in FFA. With the district being so close to the Des Moines area, Haden said there are a lot of urban students in his classes, which is not typical for many agriculture programs across the state.

To help introduce students to agriculture and FFA, all eighth-graders at North Polk are required to take a six-week long exploratory FFA curriculum. Through the lessons, Haden strives to teach the students that agriculture is not just about farming - there is much more involved.

"I try to open their eyes to that," Haden said.

Throughout the year, North Polk FFA members take part in a number of activities that offer leadership and travel opportunities. Included are contests that test members’ knowledge on various topics within the agriculture spectrum - livestock judging, soil judging, meats evaluation and many more. They also participate in the Avenue of Breeds display at the Iowa State Fair, which displays various breeds of livestock fairgoers may not otherwise see at the fair.

Haden uses the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) to instruct the students in his classes. He said the course offers many lab-based lessons that provide students with plenty of hands-on learning opportunities. All FFA members are required to take at least one agriculture class each school year in order to be a member of the chapter.

"Michael has great enthusiasm for agriculture and the FFA. He is always thinking about the best strategies to help students learn and for FFA members to gain life skills," Waddingham said.

Haden has a degree in agricultural business from Iowa State University and a master’s in agricultural education. He decided to get his master’s because of his passion for working with students and helping them succeed.

"I value the interaction with students and knowing that what I’m doing will impact people in the agriculture industry," Haden said.

Looking ahead to the coming years, Haden wants to continue increasing agriculture class enrollment and FFA membership at North Polk. He would also like to get the chapter more involved in community education opportunities to introduce people to agriculture.