“She is the student who always goes above and beyond,” said teacher Linda Rucks about the subject of this week’s Inspiring Okeechobee story, eighth grader Jenna Larson. “Jenna is an exceptional young lady. She is inquisitive, loves to learn, and challenges me as her teacher to learn new things. She will succeed at anything she decides to do with her life.” Jenna was nominated by the principal of her school, Rock Solid Christian Academy (RSCA), to be this week’s inspiring person, proving that inspiration has no age limit. Principal Latishia Aldridge said, “Jenna is a role model to all the students in our school, a driven student. She participates in numerous FFA and 4-H clubs and events in the community. She has helped with worship music in chapel and is part of church music programs too.”
Although she’s only 13, you would never know it if you were not face to face with her. If I had been interviewing her on the telephone, I would have sworn she was an adult, because she is extremely well spoken, has a very large vocabulary and knows what she is talking about. “When people think of me, they think of music and dairy,” said Jenna. Music is a big part of her life. She plays guitar and sings. As a matter of fact, she sang the national anthem twice at the State Fair and twice in Okeechobee, and she enjoys helping with music in church and school.
Jenna is very active in both FFA and 4-H, although this is her first year in FFA. This summer, she will be going to the state convention to compete in prepared and extemporaneous speaking. In extemporaneous speaking, they are given a topic and 30 minutes later, they are expected to give a speech on that topic. “Obviously, with prepared speaking, you come with a prepared speech,” she said. Speech comes naturally to Jenna. She has been winning contests for years. She has won the Tropicana Speech Contest twice, Soil and Water once, Farm Bureau Speech twice and The National Holstein Speech Contest once. She said she thinks dairy judging has helped a lot with extemporaneous speaking because she has to give oral reasons, which is almost the same thing.
She is also doing a group science fair project with a friend from another school. The theme of the project is whether animal-based proteins or vegetable-based proteins will create higher meat yields in catfish. It’s a very detailed project, she explained.
She has been a member of 4-H since she was 5. “I’m a dairy girl,” she said. “I’ve always loved going to the dairy barn to see the cows.” Two years ago, she went to a national convention and was the first person from Florida to win the Jeopardy Contest. “It’s you, and only you. You have your buzzer, and you just buzz it when you know the answer,” she said. “Funny thing is, I got into a tie, and we had five tiebreaker rounds! We kept answering questions either exactly the same or completely the opposite but both totally wrong, until finally, I won.”
Jenna also enjoys dairy judging. She won first place middle school FFA judging for the state of Florida last year. Her mom, Colleen, is proud of the way Jenna has been taking other children under her wing and teaching and encouraging them. “She tries to get more kids involved,” she said. “She has always been very competitive and is busy getting herself ready, but she takes the time to try to encourage and teach others. As a mom, seeing her reach out to help bring up the next group has been very rewarding.” Last year, Jenna won Supreme Champion in dairy, and this year, her younger brother won. “I felt almost like I was passing the torch,” she said.
Jenna has big plans for the future. She has always wanted to do something in the field of agriculture, she said. For a while, she considered genomics, which she thinks is pretty cool. They have embryo transfers, and she finds that incredibly fascinating, she said, but she thinks what she would really like to do is open a creamery here in Okeechobee and run her own dairy farm with her favorite breed of cow, which is the Brown Swiss and her brother’s favorite, the Ayrshire. Jenna’s creamery would eventually have both cheese and ice cream, but she would start with cheese.
First, she said she would need to learn to make the cheese. She would like to learn this by interning at Dakin Dairy in Myakka City. “Their creamery is amazing,” she said. “They have every cheese you could imagine.” Jenna would like to get her dairy going and then possibly get a storefront after they start making the cheese, but she said some places distribute directly to the stores and sell that way, so that’s an option. She is thinking of possibly going to college in Cobleskill, N.Y. They have a great dairy program there, she said, that’s a two-year program. She would like to follow that with either Cow Poly or South Dakota State University, which offers a dairy packaging degree, or her last choice would be the University of Florida.
For someone so young, Jenna has some very well thought out plans and goals, and she still seems to be a happy, well-adjusted young woman.