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 Perspectives​​: Turning Struggles into Opportunities

 

Growing up in northeast Nebraska in the late 1990s, I wasn’t much of a “blue jacket” kind of girl. In fact, I was more of a “clover kid.” 4-H was all I knew, and, going to a school without an agricultural education program or FFA chapter, my knowledge of the agricultural program and FFA organization was minimal, at best. Little did I know that my future profession would lead me to form friendly relationships with those in blue and gold!

I am an eighth year teacher at Norris School District, just south of Lincoln, Nebraska. During my tenure, I have really gotten to know the agricultural education program at a much more personal level. Throughout an average year, the Norris agricultural education program will serve approximately 600 students in grades 6-12, with nearly 100 members in the Norris FFA Chapter. Throw in a Model of Innovation Award, two national proficiency award winners, and a National Star in Agriscience recipient, and I can safely say that I have learned a lot through agricultural education and FFA. I can also safely say that time spent as an FFA advisor is not always fun and games. Challenges definitely come with the job. How can you overcome the obstacles? An even better question: How can you maximize your efforts to incorporate FFA and student leadership in your classroom?

1. Provide Opportunities for All Students

At Norris, I teach two sections of “Introduction to Environmental and Agriculture Science.” Comprised mostly of freshmen students, this class covers a variety of agricultural and leadership topics, ranging from the distillation of ethanol to parliamentary procedure. In this course, all students are given the opportunity to “try out” FFA to see if it’s the right fit. Through district leadership workshops, the statewide agriscience CDE and numerous chapter activities, all freshmen agricultural education students are given numerous leadership opportunities where they can “Step Up and Stand Out” to see if FFA is right for them. Students end up making up their own minds to join FFA, thus forming long-lasting leadership commitments between new FFA members and the Norris FFA Chapter.

The National Quality Program Standards provide excellent goals for encouraging 100 percent of all agricultural students to become members of the National FFA Organization. Although the Norris agricultural education program has not yet reached that pinnacle, I hope that the leadership foundation built within my courses will provide all students with that little extra push needed to become successful members of the National FFA Organization.

2. Mix in the Fun

It’s easy to become lost in the hustle and bustle of FFA. From fruit sales to proficiency award applications, FFA can become quite stressful for a student. However, to recruit new and retain current FFA members, it is important to incorporate fun into all activities! 

The Norris FFA Chapter is divided into eight different committees, or teams. These teams compete for activity points throughout the year. Which team sells the most fruit? Which team collects the most canned food for the Million Can Challenge? Which team has the most FFA members compete in a district or state competition? These team challenges provide motivation to participate in FFA activities, while adding an aspect of excitement at the same time. At the end of each semester, the winning team is awarded with a pizza party and movie passes—small but worthy rewards for the great effort put into the chapter.

In addition to committee assignments, regular recreational activities for FFA members provide opportunities to build healthy relationships and lifestyles. Norris FFA members hold a fall bonfire and hayrack ride, ice skate at the local ice hockey rink in January, and swim at the Island Oasis Water Park in the summer. Through these activities, members are able to see a different side of their FFA advisor and fellow members, creating opportunities to build relationships and grow personally. Throughout these activities, members’ commitment to the National FFA Organization continues to strengthen.

3. A Member-written POA

At the beginning of the school year, Norris FFA officers and members sit down to create the year’s Program of Activities (POA). Here, successes and failures of past activities are shared, with members aligning current chapter goals with possible activities. This self-evaluation process allows the chapter to create an action plan for the upcoming year.

A POA is only as strong as the member input utilized in creating it. The National Quality Program Standards encourages members to participate in all planning stages of the POA. Here, much of the responsibility is given to FFA members, with advisors serving as facilitators of the process. With the FFA plan of action being put into the hands of its members, stronger leadership foundations are built among members.

Throughout my experiences as an FFA advisor, my knowledge pertaining to this organization has grown exponentially. With new students, different activities, and continuous opportunities for program growth and development, I look forward to the challenges that come before me. In providing opportunities for all students, mixing in the fun, and encouraging member involvement in POA planning, my challenges will turn from struggles to opportunities. I am proud to serve my students and the National FFA Organization as an FFA advisor!