Abilene High School junior Austin Hendrickson has a saying he’s used for a few years about agriculture, and it’s a stereotype he’s working to get rid of as part of the Future Farmers of America chapter at AHS.

“I think a lot of people – and especially young people – think of ‘cows, sows, and plows’ when they think of ag,” said Hendrickson, who this year is serving as the vice president of the AHS chapter of the FFA and president of the Big Country District chapter of the FFA. “No one really thinks about the science behind it, and that’s the kind of stereotype we’re trying to get rid of when it comes to thinking about or talking about ag. There’s so much that goes into it, and it affects so much of what goes on in our everyday lives and society.”

On Feb. 23, Hendrickson manned a booth at AISD’s annual “Hello High School” event at the Abilene Convention Center, giving out information to eighth-grade students and helping them decide what classes they might be interested in taking when they begin their freshman year in high school in August 2023.

Many of those classes will be core classes. Still, many others will be electives like FFA or band or athletics or Texas Association of Future Educators (TAFE), or classes at The LIFT.

Hendrickson and many other AISD high school students, teachers, and coaches were on hand throughout the day to impart their wisdom and advice to the groups of students who were there from Clack, Craig, Madison, and Mann middle schools.

Hendrickson was an eighth grader when schools shut down in March 2020, but he was able to go through the first “Hello High School” event in February before schools were closed. After a virtual event in 2021, the in-person events have taken place in each of the last two years, giving students a chance to interact one-on-one with teachers and students.

“For those students to have this platform to help find the resources and help they need is so beneficial,” Hendrickson said. “We got a lot of questions at our booth about what FFA will be doing in the future, so they’re looking past high school and how it will help beyond those years.”

Hendrickson vividly remembers his own experience as an eighth-grade student in 2020 when he was able to talk to AHS FFA sponsor Cindy Easley about what to expect from the program.

“She was able to talk me through it and let me know what I should expect when I got to Abilene High, which was really nice,” Hendrickson said. “When I got to Abilene High, and it was what she had told me, I didn’t feel like I had been thrown into the deep end.”

And that’s the point of the program, which began under the leadership of Dr. Ketta Garduno and is now overseen by the district’s director of Career and Technical Education, Lucille Fullen. The benefits of giving those eighth-grade students even the slightest glimpse at what lies ahead for them when they reach their respective high school campuses can’t be measured.

“It’s an incredibly important program because it sets up an exciting opportunity for those students to kick-start their plan for high school,” Cooper principal Lyndsey Williamson said. “It’s done in a way that makes it very obvious to them why they’re there, and it’s all geared towards planning for what they want to do in high school.”

And it also gives them a good first look at the classes they’ll be taking as freshmen, as well as electives they’ll want to be involved in during their four years in high school.

“Having this experience at “Hello High School” definitely makes it a little bit easier when they get to their high school campus,” Williamson said. “Maybe at times in the past, kids were just picking classes without a solid idea of what they were getting into. This takes that out of the equation. It’s like a one-stop shop because they have the opportunity to learn about everything that’s offered at the high school level, and that certainly helps them to be more prepared when they get to high school.”