Cultivating the leadership skills of young people is at the heart of the National FFA Organization’s National Quality Program Standards. Whether acquired through civic activities, FFA participation, or shows/contests, these skills take agriculture students one step further in achieving personal growth and career success.
100 percent FFA membership benefits all
Schools like Natrona County High School in Casper, Wyo., and Douglas High School in Minden, Nev., create an immediate FFA opportunity for students. When a student enrolls in an agricultural education class, he or she automatically becomes an FFA member. In both schools, FFA content is built into the agricultural education curriculum.
“I am a firm believer of what FFA does for students,” said Brock Burch, agriculture educator at Natrona County High School. “Every student needs to be taught leadership skills, needs experiential learning opportunities, and needs to be responsible for record books and speech writing. What we teach in our agricultural education classes is relevant and applicable in the real world.”
At Douglas High School, students begin learning about FFA as soon as school starts. They are immersed in activities and FFA opportunities because they are part of the course expectations.
“Each student is required to participate in four activities each semester,” explains Jared Hyatt. “There are 2–3 activities to choose from each month. Any FFA activity outside the classroom is a leadership opportunity.”
Starting early to gain FFA buy-in from students
“While FFA has really important content, it’s hard to get our urban students to buy in,” said Liz Kranyik, FFA sponsor at Bridgeport Regional Vocational Aquaculture School. “Because students must pass the vocational agriculture exit test, all teachers—not just those here in the vocational agriculture program, but those in their home high schools—work together to address student weaknesses and to provide the information students need to receive.”
Agriculture educators Burch and Hyatt both begin the school year with FFA focused content. For Burch, students in the 8th grade begin by learning parliamentary procedure, work on writing speeches and learn the Creed. Hyatt says the first few weeks of school include the history of FFA, and courses include an expectation for FFA activity participation.
Members stay connected
At Bridgeport, students from seven school districts come to school for agricultural education courses. As a result, students attend the school in half-day increments, and the FFA officers form two teams: a morning and an afternoon team. FFA meetings and activities are embedded in the school day because students cannot return to the school for after school projects or programs.
“One of the ways we bolster unity between the two officer teams is by connecting and integrating the activities,” explains Kranyik. “Students work together, get to know one another and stay connected by phone, email and text messaging.”
FFA officers at Natrona County High School are responsible for planning all the chapter activities. “This year’s team has committed to weekly meetings for planning, reflection and evaluation,” said Burch. “They post meeting agendas, previous meeting minutes and the activity schedules. It’s all in their hands.”
The Natrona County High School officers host at least one community service activity each month. The leadership team decides what to do and how it will get done. “In our program, we develop people so that they can act and think on their own. We want them to have good leadership skills,” says Burch.
Douglas High School is a tenth through twelfth grade building and boasts a junior officer team and a senior officer team. Both are actively engaged in the planning and implementation. The junior officers are very motivated and most will pursue an officer position when they are eligible.
“As their advisor, I find that I need to remind myself to step back and let the officers take the responsibility,” explains Kranyik. “If they fall short, they will learn from the experience and take responsibility for it. My role is to facilitate their leadership learning. I have to give them the skills they need and allow them to go with it – knowing when to set back and when to provide leadership.”
Support from and for the community
“Every Douglas student has a responsibility for on-going record keeping,” said Hyatt. “We have two parents who come in one afternoon a week specifically to support students who are working on degree applications. We have a lot of support from parents, the district and our state.”
Bridgeport Aquaculture has also committed to a community service activity each month. The “Stuff a Sock” program has bloomed into an FFA leadership tradition. Students look forward to this project throughout the school year by gathering sample shampoo and soaps during family vacations and from parents who travel. Each February new pairs of socks are stuffed with the toiletries and given to a local church. The church distributes the much-needed items to soup-kitchen visitors during the coldest month of the year.
Cultivating future leaders
“We have a premier leadership organization in FFA,” says Burch. “What students learn is applicable to real life. By attending competitions, developing and completing community service projects, writing speeches and participating programs, we are helping create leaders. The way we are going to get through these tough times is by creating the leaders we need for the future.”