Driver’s Ed

Posted in Blog, Farming on Wednesday, May 01, 2024

High School students in Connell are taking to the streets with an important message: pay attention to agricultural production.

Driver’s Ed

It’s a gorgeous March morning in Connell, Washington. The sun still lays low on the horizon, sending long, orange-hued rays through the windows of the tractors lined up at Rob Davis’ house on the outskirts of town.

Cars drive by on State Route 260 just past the end of the driveway. Some pull into the school parking lot just down the road. Police cars sit at the intersection, casually watching morning traffic.

There are definitely cars in this town. So why are so many high school students driving tractors to school today?

At precisely 9:15, a few dozen high school students burst out of the shop behind the Davis’ house and begin climbing into the assembled tractors, followed by one of their FFA advisers, Charlie Dansie.

“This is the best day of the year,” he says with a smile. “Drive Your Tractor to School Day is one of my favorite parts of living in Connell.”

The event began seven years ago, about the same time Dansie arrived in Connell. He moved here in part to work with Heidi Shattuck, another ag teacher at Connell High School who is a legend in ag education. In 2019 she was inducted into the Mid-Columbia Agriculture Hall of Fame for her contributions in the classroom. When Dansie arrived in town, he thought that encouraging students to drive tractors to school, creating a parade of red and green machines, would serve as a helpful way to remind the community of just how important farming is — which would in turn result in more enrollment in the ag education programs at Connell High School.

“It’s just a fun event, a real celebration,” says Shattuck. “A lot of people think that since we’re a farming community, everyone knows about agriculture. But more and more families are further removed from the farms. It’s really important to bring awareness about where our food comes from.”

This year, as always, the festivities begin with a safety briefing. Though some of these students have been driving tractors since before they could walk, they are reminded about speed limits, when to yield, and how much space to leave between each tractor. They nod along dutifully, but they’re eager to be on with it.

Each year since its inception, the line of tractors has paraded down Clark Street and past the high school, led by the school’s FFA officers. This year officers Hardy Shattuck, Anna Geddes, Adrian Kniveton, Aram Borba, and Brandy Ferguson climb onto a trailer at the front of the column and cheerfully call their fellow students to begin lining up.

“I mean, it’s such a huge thing for our community,” Kniveton says as the tractors roll by. “Especially the little kids, they’re so excited to see us driving past. I think it helps show that our community really loves our farmers.”

The giant machines pull out, one by one, onto the street and toward the school, where students have been let out of their first-period classes to line the street and wave. It’s not only high school students: Connell Elementary teachers lead their classes of 7- and 8-year-olds out onto the lawn to cheer for the tractors driving by. Their little eyes go wide, and huge smiles light up their faces. Inside the tractor cabs, 14- and 15-year-olds smile and wave back.

Of course everyone is smiling. It’s the best day of the year.

As Seen in Our Magazine