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Alvirne High School students headed to FFA Nationals

Courtesy photo From left, Alvirne High School Veterinary Science students Danielle Burge, Nicole Perrault, Catriona Chew and Lily Sullivan celebrate winning the 89th Granite State FFA Convention last month. In addition, each team member won additional awards in individual categories.

HUDSON — After winning the 89th Granite State FFA Convention at the Mount Washington Hotel and Resort in Bretton Woods last month, Alvirne High School Veterinary Science and Forestry students will be heading to Indianapolis in October to participate in the National Future Farmers of America Convention.

Alvirne’s Retail Florist team also had success in the state competition by taking second place.

According the New Hampshire FFA, the National FFA membership reached an all-time high of 669,989 members within 8,630 chapters. There are 13 chapters in New Hampshire.

Students have been preparing all year in their classes for the competition. Alvirne Forestry and Wildlife Management instructor Mike Gagnon said at the state level, his students must be able to identify trees from a list of about 40 specifies, they have to understand chainsaw parts, safety and function, they have to understand how to identify different insects and diseases, they have to be able to measure and interpret maps, they have to be able to use a compass and they must be able to identify about 50 pieces of equipment.

Gagnon said there is also a comprehensive team problem that students must work together to solve. For the national contest, Gagnon said it is similar to the state competition but on a much larger scale. Gagnon said the exams are longer and harder, and the list of trees is different because it accounts for the entire country. Students also have to learn new species because of this.

Of the Forestry and Wildlife Management Program itself, Gagnon said, “We have great resources here. We have 100 acres of woods and we have equipment, so we’ll learn about things like invasive species and then we take it outside and we apply what we learned because we have the ability to do that.”

“We learn about how to operate equipment and then we actually put it into practice when we get good enough. We go beyond just learning about the safety and operation and we use the tools to actually do a project,” he added.

Gagon said many of his students continue their studies in college before going into careers in wildlife management, forestry, conservation and other environmental areas.

Alvirne instructor Jen Beaudry said this is the sixth consecutive year the school’s team has won the New Hampshire competition. She attributes this to the uniqueness of the school’s program.

“We’re the only program that offers both large and small animal veterinary science for our students and we’re the only school that offers an operational dairy farm right on campus, which really helps with our curriculum,” Beaudry said.

In addition, they also have a small animal kennel that houses birds, rabbits, chinchillas, guinea pigs and other animals on campus.

Alvirne instructor Betsy Craig said most of the animals housed in the kennel are rescued. She said they don’t purchase animals.

Craig and Beaudry both noted the importance of having these animals available for students in the curriculum.

“These animals are used for the hands-on part of our curriculum, so handling and restraining, nutrition, health checks, vaccinations for our dairy herd, dehorning for the dairy herd,” Beaudry said. “Students have a chance to learn about the curriculum in the classroom and then apply it with our small animal kennel and our farm.”

The program, like Forestry and Wildlife Management, is a two-year program.

Year one students, taught by Beaudry, learn about safety, animal behavior, animal health and other basics.

Year two students, taught by Craig, learn about nutrition for small and large animals, the principles of vaccines, how to conduct laboratory tests and blood tests. They also will go deeper with the topics they learned in their previous year.

Many students continue with college, while potential career paths for the students include veterinary technicians, veterinary assistants, barn owners, dog groomers and zoologists.

Craig said their program is very beneficial to the students who will continue onto college.

“It helps their transition into college, it certainly gives them a big leg up. A lot of kids are totally foreign to what they’re starting in college and Alvirne kids are not,” Craig said.

Though it gives her students a leg up, Craig said it is not easy.

“It’s a rigorous program – it’s not an easy thing to get through. The students have to do really well, which is what they need, because they’ll never succeed if it’s easy. This is what they’re going to get when they get up to college,” Craig said.

According to Beaudry, students are also able to continue their learning skills by working during the summer as veterinary assistants.

Beaudry said, “We’ve heard back from local veterinarians that have had our students work for the summer as veterinary assistants. They give us feedback that the skills that students are learning here in their first year and after their second year really do give them an edge going right into the field because they’ve seen these things, they’ve run these tests in class.”

Beaudry said the program gives her students the necessary skills to succeed in college and or the necessary skills to go right into an entry-level job such as a veterinary assistant.

During the state competition last month, Veterinary Science students were required to take a written and math exam as well as demonstrate proper handling/restraining and clinical skills.

Students were also asked to identify equipment breeds of animals and parasite and microscopic slides. This year’s career development topic was “Antibiotic Stewardship.”

Alvirne students are able to participate in competitions hosted by FFA because it is the program’s career technical school organization.