From one extreme to another, Valerie Preston’s weekend was hardly typical of a high school student. It was atypical for most at least.
But for the Moore County High School senior, spending all day Saturday working in a formal wear store where primped little girls shop to buy pageant dresses and then spending most of Sunday stacking row after row of wood at her family’s farm seemed like business as usual.
“You go from being a cleaned up, well-kept formal salesman to getting dirty and doing what little boys would do,” said Preston, with an unapologetic smile on her face.
Just out of a Monday morning class at Motlow College, where she’s studying as part of the school’s Dual Enrollment Program with Moore County, Preston hardly looks like she’s ready to go back to stacking wood with her sister Emily, a task she said she helped her father and younger sibling do on Sunday.
And though she hardly looks like a tomboy, it doesn’t take long to figure out that Valerie Preston feels quite comfortable on the farm. As president of Moore County’s Future Farmers of America (FFA), that’s only fitting.
While admitting that making the A-B honor roll was important — and bringing home a ‘C’ was unacceptable — Preston said it’s not her grades that she’s most proud of. It’s her work in the FFA, where she’s steadily climbed the ranks through the school’s local chapter and is prepared to earn her State Degree, one of the highest honors for an FFA member still in high school.
“When I was a freshman, I earned my Greenhand Degree. As a sophomore I earned the Star Chapter Degree,” Preston said, adding that during her junior year she began working on her portfolio for the State FFA Degree.
The stair-step program, similar to that in Scouts or in the systematic earning of different colored belts in martial arts, is a chore to say the least, with each Degree dependent upon and building on the other.
As Preston talks about the lengthy program, she beams.
“The State Degree takes a lot. You have to send that in to the state chapter,” she said. “You receive degrees for what you work for. I will receive my State Degree in the spring around the last of March. Two years after you graduate (high school) you can receive your American Degree, which is the highest degree you can earn”
There’s little doubt that’s on her to-do list, which also includes heading to UT-Martin for college next year. Through the Dual Enrollment Program at Motlow, she hopes to have all of her college English classes, and possibly a speech class, out of the way.
It’s also possible she can take a test and earn three more college credit hours through the Ag program.
“You can take a test at the end of the year, where you can get 3 hours credit in Forrest, Agri-Science, Wildlife Management and things like that. That’s offered to the junior and seniors,” said Preston.
That will come in handy at UT-Martin, where she plans to study agricultural education. Preston said she wants to either be an Ag teacher or an extension agent. Both seem like a good fit for the personable youngster who said it was first her love of animals and then her connection through 4-H that’s led her on her current path.
“Whenever you’re in kindergarten or elementary school, the teacher asks what you want to be when you grow up. I always wanted to be a vet because I wanted to be around animals,” Preston recalled. “Whenever I got to fourth grade, I got into 4-H and that’s where I was around the extension agents and learned that I really liked that.
“Then when I got to high school and joined FFA, I learned that I was comfortable with that. I always grew up being taught how to do things. When I got to high school, like with (FFA) safety day, we have the fourth graders come in, and you teach them. That’s when I realized that I like to give that knowledge back, that I enjoyed that.”
Preston is looking forward to the FFA National Convention, which will be held in Louisville, Ky., from Oct. 29 through Nov. 2 this year. In years past the convention was held in Indiana. During the event, FFA members get the chance to attend workshops and take tours of farm-related businesses.
She’s used to that as well. Her parents, Bobby and Tanya Preston, raise boer goats, a high-yield meat producing animal. The Prestons were recently certified as Master Meat Producers. Valerie has been showing goats since the fourth grade.
While her job at Pearls and Pinstripes in Tullahoma — where she’s worked since before she got her drivers license — and her chores on the family farm keep her busy, Preston said she plays softball as often as possible too. She’s played since she was little and she’s now on a women’s slow-pitch team.
“I told my mom just the other day that I have to be one of the busiest people I know,” she said. “But if I wasn’t that busy, I wouldn’t know what to do. It just becomes routine. You wake up, you feed, you go to school … try to fit softball in. It’s just a routine that you get into.”
By ROBERT HOLMAN, MCN Editor/Publisher