In agricultural education, there’s no question that a student’s SAE is an important part of his or her program. However, SAEs can be a time-consuming part of an agriculture educator’s workload. So how do you manage coordinating a top-notch SAE program with all of your other responsibilities?
“A teacher can’t do everything,” observes Frank Saldańa, national FFA alumni director. “When it comes to SAEs, they can rely on experts in the alumni community and the community at large. You may have a soil expert and a veterinarian in your alumni affiliate group who can help kids with projects. Your local farm equipment dealerships, greenhouses and other related businesses can provide employment experiences.”
An SAE program is a part of the National Quality Program Standards and a key to earning FFA awards and recognition. SAEs help students learn through doing, while exposing them to experiences that develop their skills, focus their research and explore career and entrepreneurial opportunities. These hands-on experiences must be teacher-supervised, but parents, alumni, businesses and community members all can help add expertise and enrich students’ experiences with SAEs.
Ron Frederick is a “retired” teacher who works with agricultural education students at Penn State University and runs the state’s FFA records contest. As a teacher, Ron says he would often use pets, conservation and wildlife projects to expand SAE opportunities to students. He would also turn to alumni to help students with projects or to “house” students’ projects at their farms or businesses. His daughter, Gretchen Dingham, teaches in Pennsylvania and often has turned to community venues such as the zoo and city gardens to provide employment and support for SAEs.
“There are several ways alumni can support SAEs,” agrees Jim East, president of the Georgia FFA Alumni Affiliates and a member of FFA’s national council of alumni affiliates. “We can act as a coach for an SAE project, such as coaching a livestock judging team, or we can sponsor a lab or let kids have an SAE on our farm, greenhouse, vet clinic or other locations,” Jim says. Alumni also act as chaperones, judge competitions and assist with fundraising.
“We pretty much do whatever the teacher wants us to do,” he says of alumni affiliates. “The ag sponsor and the teacher are responsible, and our job is to do whatever the teacher asks. We’re there to help, not to tell them how to do their job.”
Parents can be a huge help, as well. Cindy Ettestad is involved with two alumni affiliate groups in Oregon and is a past president of Oregon FFA Alumni Affiliates and a past national president; but she started as a parent of an FFA student. In Cindy’s local affiliate, the group gives loans to students trying to start an SAE project, and they also help directly. “One alumnus has ag mechanics experience, and when a student wants to restore a tractor, he’s right there with them,” she says, adding that alumni affiliates and parents can act as mentors and talk to students about their areas of expertise.
Teachers who, in the past, have felt like they couldn’t oversee SAEs for all their FFA chapter members may now find themselves expanding SAEs to all students with a little help from these sources. “You have to get to know the community and find the experts. Those are the people to invite to be part of your alumni affiliate, your advisory committee. Then they belong to your program, and those folks love to make SAE visits and share what they know,” says Ernie Gill, FFA local program success specialist, western region. “If you hold meetings regularly with alumni and an advisory committee, that’s when you can say, ‘Hey, Mr. Smith, Bobby lives only a mile from you; can you stop by and do an SAE visit sometime next week?’ They will gladly do it.”
It is Gill’s hope that every chapter will have an alumni affiliate group, which can be made up of anyone, not just alumni. If you don’t have one, contact your state program director of agricultural education, or contact the national FFA alumni office at www.alumni.ffa.org
Taking the time to cultivate relationships with alumni, parents and community experts can save teachers time over the long haul as well as enhance their SAE program. “You still have to spend some time and organize it all, but it takes the major, time-consuming work off your hands,” Gill says. “You are still in charge, but these people can sure help you out.”