With her blue-tinted hair pulled into a loose topknot and proudly wearing a school-mascot sweatshirt, FFA member Gabby Kendrick could be any teenager in any high school in any town in America.
Well, not quite.
That’s because, at this moment, Kendrick has traded LOLs and emojis for words like hydrogen, nuclear energy, biodiesel and greenhouse gas emissions. She sounds more like a master’s student than a teenager, but that’s to be expected. As one of 38 FFA members enrolled in the award-winning Whites Creek Alternative Energy Academy in Nashville, Tenn., Kendrick is not alone in her passion for energy conversion.
“These kids are awesome,” says Dr. Garry Gibson, Whites Creek FFA advisor. “We are a city school, so most of these kids don’t have a farm background. But they love the program. They would bleed blue tomorrow. They love FFA.”
The only program of its kind in the U.S., the Whites Creek FFA alternative energy program introduces high school students – most of whom have never considered agriculture – to the world of alternative energy. The four-year program prepares students for a future in this fast-growing, high-paying industry.
A Renewable Playland
The program began when Dr. Gibson, a graduate of The Ohio State University with a doctorate in agricultural education and more than 25 years of experience under his belt, started teaching at Whites Creek High School in 2014. Students in the program study several energy sources including solar and wind energy, ethanol and biodiesel production, geothermal, hydroelectric, nuclear and fossil fuels. Each student enrolls in four main classes: agriscience, introduction to alternative energy, greenhouse management and advanced alternative energy production.
Adding to the program’s uniqueness, students grow soybeans to produce their own biodiesel, which they use to power everything from cars and trucks to tractors and go-karts. The city of Nashville allows the program to use an 8-acre community garden plot near the school.
On 4 acres, students grow vegetables. In the last two years, the chapter has grown over 12,000 pounds of produce that is given to those in need in the community. The other 4 acres ar