FFA is dedicated to including everyone in their programs, and this pair of Oklahoma students are a shining example of what students can accomplish when they work together.
Matt Sitton and Wren Cavins, both 16, were the second place winners in Division IV Environmental Systems and Natural Resources with their aquaponics agriscience project.
Matt Sitton has Down Syndrome and is an active FFA member who participated in Creed Speaking and shows sheep, among other activities.
“FFA offered him opportunities beyond what most other organizations would ever do,” said Matt’s mother Shelly Sitton. “It’s finding ways to niche in our special needs individuals and people like Wren who take that opportunity and make things possible for them.”
The agriscience project began with the goal to learn more about aquaponics — symbiotically growing plants and raising fish — in preparation for using a larger setup in their chapter’s greenhouse.
“I knew that Matt had wanted to do [an agriscience project],” Cavins said, “and my ag teachers came to our officer team last year and said ‘we have this really great opportunity’ and I shot my hand up in the air before he even finished his sentence, because Matt and I have been friends for awhile. I jumped at the opportunity to get to work with him.”
Matt fed the fish every day for the trial period and Cavins tested the water. The project was rewarding for both of them.
“Yes, I enjoyed working on it,” Matt said. “And I love fish and I enjoy hanging out with Wren Cavins. I love her a lot.”
Shelly appreciates what the project has done for her son.
“I don’t even know how you’d put it into words the joy that I have with what he’s been able to do,” Shelly Sitton said. “And what he has done is he’s learned at his level through this project and I think that’s what’s been really wonderful is that teaming them up, there were things he could do and things he could learn, that fit what he needed to grow in.”
She said Matt was not the only one who was helped.
“I think that opportunity to do teamwork is beneficial for both of them because when you’re working with somebody with special needs it’s not just the special needs kid who grows,” Shelly said. “It’s the student who works with them. And the personal growth in both cases is just phenomenal.”
Much of the credit for this success story goes to Stillwater, Oklahoma agricultural education instructors Robby Branscum, Tanner Nipper and Bailey Kliewer.
We’re so blessed to have the ag teachers we have,” Cavins said. “They have been nothing but 100 percent supportive and giving us every opportunity to learn and grow through the project.”
Matt is grateful as well.
“I want to thank my ag teachers and my chapter and my family,” he said.
“It’s more than we could have ever asked for,” said Cavins.