It’s About the Kids
December 2, 2020
Written By Neal Fandek
Lesley Newsom, ag instructor and FFA advisor for Senath-Hornersville High School in Senath, Mo., keeps busy with lesson planning, teaching topics ranging from plant science to animal husbandry to biotechnology, and even welding and construction. And that’s not counting the fundraising, bus driving, early mornings, after-hours work and weekends she spends with her FFA students.
But of what is she most proud?
- Not the sleigh. Newsom and her students built a float for the annual Senath Christmas parade. The town mothers and fathers wanted a sleigh for Santa and approached her for help. “We didn’t have a clue how to make a sled,” she confesses. She and her students started with a frame that is now a full-fledged sleigh with six reindeer, packages and a Christmas tree covered in lights.
- Not the trap shooting. Newsom became certified in rifle and pistol instruction so that she could start a trap shooting program at her school. “Kids love shotguns!” she laughs. But she prefers they start with an air rifle. Newsom’s students begin the program with air-rifle handling skills, which prepares them for .22 rifles and then larger calibers. Shooting air rifles and .22-caliber rifles also encourages more girls to get involved, too, since there’s less of a kick when firing.
- Not the market animals. Newsom buys pigs, goats and lambs that her students lovingly tend to and take to FFA competitions. In 2010, the program had two market lambs – now they are up to 14 animals. “My students have to house, feed and train the animals,” Newsom says. “Which is nice because it gets the parents involved, too.”
- It’s the kids. Nobody sits on the sidelines on Newsom’s watch, not even kids who may lack certain skills. “I want to encourage the kids to try new experiences, find that thing that makes them want to strive to be better individuals,” she says. “Livestock showing is one of those things that allows them to grow and succeed.” Newsom credits local farmers, businesses and community members for their support and the parents who help with their kids’ projects and animals.
Parents like Christy McDaniel, whose son Lane has Asperger’s syndrome, a developmental disorder affecting his ability to effectively socialize and communicate. Newsom encouraged Lane to not just raise goats and take them to shows, but also speak clearly and answers judges’ questions.
When Lane started showing livestock, McDaniel says, he could not make eye contact with judges and found it difficult to stay focused. But Newsom encouraged him to keep at it.
“Lesley accepted him for who he was,” McDaniel adds. “She saw him as an individual, knew exactly when to push, when to back off … she made an effort to be in his life, to include him.”
Lane will soon graduate with a degree in civil engineering from State Technical College in Linn, Mo. He’s also an Eagle Scout, the top rank in Boy Scouts.
McDaniel said none of this would have been possible without Newsom.
“I get teary just thinking about it,” Newsom says. “I try not to get too emotional, but I like to think I helped with his jump to college because of the places we went and the things we did in FFA.”
“Lane is a direct reflection of what can be learned and accomplished when you raise animals and show them in the ring. It goes back to nobody sits on the bench. It’s been a blessing to watch, and his parents gave him a work ethic more people need.”
Jared Gurley, the school’s principal, echoes that sentiment about Newsom.
“I cannot say enough about the work ethic and time she puts in with her FFA program,” Gurley says. “She gives students opportunities that some would not get if it wasn’t for her program.”
For Newsom, it’s always been all about the kids.