Coahulla Creek High FFA members tour the state Capitol, meet the governor

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Jul. 29—Some Coahulla Creek High School FFA members were able to meet Gov. Brian Kemp, tour the Capitol and observe the process of legislation during FFA Day at the Capitol earlier this year.

"I got to shake (the governor's) hand, (which) my mom thought was pretty cool, and we got to watch the (General Assembly) discuss legislation," said Hannah Whaley, a member of Coahulla Creek's class of 2022. "I got to go to the Capitol in sixth grade, but we didn't go through it nearly as thoroughly, and it was cool to walk where they walk, and go where they go," including the "room behind the Senate where they meet to game-plan."

"Throughout history, they went (to that room) to talk in small groups so (others) couldn't hear them," said Whaley, a member of FFA all four years of high school. That felt "monumental."

Republican Chuck Payne of Dalton, who represents state Senate District 54, which includes Whitfield and Murray counties, "set up the VIP access tour for us, and not many other schools got to do that," said Madison Lowery, president of Coahulla Creek's FFA chapter and a member of the class of 2023. "We would not have had that one-of-a-kind experience without him."

Payne also got the Coahulla Creek contingent in to meet the governor and take a photo with him, said Coahulla Creek agriculture teacher and FFA adviser Taylor Ogle: "He said it was important for us to do."

Her students also "got to hold the gavel — I did, too — and they liked that," Ogle said with a smile. "You have so much power when you have the gavel."

The "history there is so preserved," said Lowery. "They still have the original desks, chairs and microphones, and the carpet is a replica of the original carpet."

They marveled at the "staircase straight up" leading to a women's bathroom at the end of the third floor, Whaley said. For so long, "women weren't allowed in the legislature," so when they were admitted, construction had to shoehorn in a women's bathroom.

History is "my favorite thing to study — I like getting into the politics and learning about it — and we got to bring that experience back to our chapter," said Lowery. "They could feel it inside themselves the way we felt it when we were there."

Only 24 of Georgia's 372 FFA chapters were chosen to visit the Capitol. Corrin Street, a Coahulla Creek graduate and FFA member now enrolled at Georgia Tech, joined Lowery, Ogle and Whaley in Atlanta.

Lowery and Whaley are on the verge of receiving their state FFA degrees, and plan to pursue American degrees — the American FFA Degree is the highest achievable degree in the national FFA organization, and fewer than 1% of all high school students receive this designation — so they were logical picks to take to Atlanta, Ogle said. This is "definitely the next generation of leaders, so this was a good opportunity for them to see behind the scenes and understand politics better."

Whaley is dedicated to horses — especially her prized quarter horse, Blaze, whom she utilizes primarily for jumping — so she thought FFA "would be good to get into," and she quickly discovered all the "opportunities in it," she said. "If not for horses, (though), I probably wouldn't have known about FFA."

Lowery is more interested in the leadership elements of FFA, but her agriculture roots run similarly deep as Whaley's, as she was "born and raised on cattle farms," she said. "I love working with animals, I thought (FFA) would be a good spot to fit in, and I've been an officer since freshman year."

She wants to be an agriculture teacher and expose students to FFA at younger ages in Whitfield County.

"I love getting kids to explore FFA and agriculture," Lowery said. "When they see it at a young age, they do get interested."

Even beyond plants and animals, "there's woodworking, maintenance and electrical wiring in agriculture," she said. "We have something for everybody they can like and enjoy."

FFA is "so broad — it introduces you to a lot of topics — and it's a national organization," Ogle said. "Wherever you move after high school and college, it opens all kinds of doors for you."

FFA is "more than just farms; it's leadership," Lowery said. "I was never a person to get up in front of people — I was maybe even a little socially awkward when I was younger — but now I can give a speech in front of 50 people, no problem."

"You just have to talk to people (in FFA)," she said. "We make connections with people, (which is how) I've been able to work on the last dairy farm in Whitfield County, (as well as) a chicken farm."

Whaley will study animal science at Berry College on her likely path to becoming a veterinarian, she said.

"I'll be at their equine barn, and their program is so hands-on."

After graduating from Coahulla Creek, Lowery hopes to enroll at Tifton's Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, where she attended a week-long environmental studies course last summer that sparked a newfound interest in plants, she said.

"My dream has always been to go there, so I'm creating a path to get there, now."

"The country was founded on agriculture, and everything goes back to agriculture," she added. "The economy can't function without farmers."