PROUD FAMILY: (l to r) Howard and Janice Blankenship, Eli Blankenship – American FFA Degree recipient, and Sheila and Danny Blankenship.

by Karen Sherrell
The American FFA Degree is awarded to less than one percent of FFA members, and is one of the organization’s highest honors.
In 2016, the degree was awarded to Izard County Consolidated graduate, Eli Blankenship of Bandmill.
The 2016 American FFA Degree Ceremony was held in Indianapolis, IN on October 22, during the Eighth General Session of the 89th National FFA Convention Expo. Blankenship joined 34 other degree recipients from Arkansas, and 3,790 from throughout the United States, chosen from a national roll of 629,367 FFA members.
The degree is earned by members who have demonstrated the highest level of commitment to FFA and have made significant accomplishments in their agricultural experiences. All of which describe Eli, through years of hard work and commitment.
This degree has also earned him the title of being the first FFA member at Izard County Consolidated Schools to receive the American FFA Degree since Wayne Neal has been the Agri Teacher and FFA Advisor for the past 14 years. “I have had three other FFA members receive national recognition by earning a National FFA Scholarship,” said Neal, adding, “Eli has not only earned this National Degree, but also the pride, respect and honor of his peers, friends and family, as well as the leaders and mentors before him that inspired him to earn this degree.”
And proud his family is. Accompanying Eli to the ceremony in October were his parents, Danny and Sheila Blankenship, and grandparents, Howard and Janice Blankenship.
Highschool graduates may apply for the American FFA Degree one year after their graduation. Eli graduated in 2014, and is currently in his second year at Arkansas Tech in Russellville.
During his first year in highschool, Eli earned his FFA Greenhand Degree, followed by the Chapter degree the next year, and then his State degree. “Eli raised cattle, chickens, and goats and rabbits,” said his mother Sheila. “He also had a community project he had to do.” Eli’s primary agricultural project was cattle, he was on the ICC Show Team, and he served as an FFA Chapter officer.
FFA members utilize the Agricultural Experience Tracker, AET, which is an online record keeping system for agriculture students to record their time worked or money earned with their projects or Supervised Agricultural Experiences, SAE’s. “They also keep records of their FFA activities, officer work, and time in community service, along with other accomplishments and awards,” said Neal. “Utilizing this system is vital for FFA members to earn the degrees, scholarships and awards that they deserve.”
FFA members must apply for the American FFA Degree one year after they graduate, and Eli’s older brother Isaac, a recent graduate of Arkansas Tech in Russellville, encouraged him to apply. “He had all the steps to do it,” said Sheila, “And he worked hard to earn state recognition.”
To earn the American FFA Degree, members must have received the State FFA Degree, and have been an active member for the past three years, with a record of satisfactory participation in activities on the Chapter and State levels. They must have completed the equivalent of at least three years of systematic secondary school instruction in an agricultural education program, and have one full year of enrollment in a postsecondary agricultural program. They must have maintained an operation and records to substantiate an outstanding supervised agricultural experience program, through which they have exhibited comprehensive planning, managerial and financial expertise. They must have earned at least $10,000 and productively invested $7,500, or earned and invested $2,000 and worked 2,250 hours in excess of scheduled class time. In addition to having a record of outstanding leadership abilities and community involvement, they must have achieved a scholastic record of a C or better, and participated in at least 50 hours of community service within at least three different activities.
No easy feat, and that’s why only one percent of the National FFA membership receive the American FFA Degree. Recipients are also awarded the gold American FFA Degree Key, a symbol of the highest achievement of the National FFA organization, and earned by one hard-working young man, Eli Blankenship.

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