Be honest. Have you ever looked at the FFA National Quality Program Standards and thought to yourself, “How on earth could I ever get all that done?”
It’s a fairly common reaction. But luckily for you, an alumni affiliate is just a phone call away.
“The question I get from ag teachers about alumni affiliates is, ‘Is it a lot of extra work?’ – and the answer is no,” says Clyde Johnson, an agriculture teacher at Laurens-Marathon High School in Iowa and the Iowa state alumni president. “Teachers just can’t do everything, and they can’t have all the skills needed. But they can call on experts from their community. An alumni affiliate puts the support right there in front of you, and when it’s already there, you’re much more likely to use it. Alumni can identify people in the community to teach specific skills to your students, and they can bring more volunteers to help you with a variety of tasks. It just takes a teacher with the enthusiasm and support to get a group started.”
Often, starting an affiliate begins with finding the right person or people to help get a group going. Bob Barton is an excavation contractor by profession, but FFA alumni work is his passion. “I helped start an FFA alumni affiliate at Hermiston High School in Oregon in 2000, and the ag teacher at the time was my ag teacher – I was in his very first class,” Barton says. After a time away for college and jobs in corporate America, Barton moved back to Hermiston and bumped into his old teacher, who asked him to help with judging contests. Before long, the agriculture teachers decided an alumni affiliate group could be very helpful, and Bob agreed to try to get a group together.
“We were the largest alumni chapter in Oregon the night we started, and we have about 136 members now,” Barton says. “We offer every graduating senior who has been active in FFA and received his Chapter FFA Degree an FFA scholarship. We’ve helped grow the FFA chapter from 85 to about 200 students.” In addition to scholarships, the alumni group offers a pool of competition judges; meets with 8th grade students and parents to discuss FFA leadership, competition and scholarship opportunities; promotes FFA with 4-H members at the county fair; offers a buyer bump program at the county fair auction; provides help and lunch service at state agriculture contests; and runs fundraisers such as a live and silent auction, annual dinner, and annual trap shoot.
“We try to run our activities so we’re not another job for the teachers,” Barton notes. “We’re there to free the teachers’ time so they have time to give to their kids.”
Johnson taught for West Bend Mallard High School, which had the third-largest alumni affiliate in Iowa, for many years and saw firsthand how helpful an alumni affiliate can be to an agriculture teacher. With more than 100 lifetime members in the alumni affiliate and only 800 to 900 residents of the town, the alumni affiliate was a well-known group with deeply-rooted community support. When the school faced financial issues, Johnson left for another school, knowing that the alumni affiliate could sustain the program. The affiliate’s work to run the teacher-less program and advocate for agricultural education with the school board led the troubled school to hire a new teacher in order to continue the agricultural education and FFA program.
In the meantime, Johnson began work this year at Laurens-Marathon High School, a school 25 miles away with no alumni affiliate. “The first thing I knew I needed was a full-time advisory committee, and the other thing I wanted was an active alumni affiliate,” he says. With the Iowa alumni president as their agriculture teacher, the school is sure to have both quickly.
“FFA alumni do more than get funds for county auction money,” Johnson says. “The more alumni groups we have, the stronger advocates we have for ag education, both at the local school board level and at state and national congressional levels. If we had one FFA alumni for every FFA member, that’s half a million votes in the United States, and that carries weight.”
In Iowa, FFA alumni offer schools a competitive advantage. “With open enrollment in Iowa schools, it would be easy for kids in an area without a strong FFA program to enroll in a new school for that reason,” he says. “In a small, rural district, an FFA program with its competitions, scholarships, fundraisers, guest speakers, events and other programs offered by an alumni affiliate can be a real advantage.”
Johnson encourages all teachers to pursue affiliates and emphasizes the help available through FFA to start one. “If a young teacher knows he has alumni behind him, he knows he has people to ask for help,” he says. He lays out three basic steps for starting a new alumni affiliate:
- Complete a charter of application at ffa.org.
- Have 10 dues-paid members.
- Create a constitution and bylaws.
Teachers will find help for all of these steps at ffa.org, and they are welcome to contact the National FFA Alumni Association for assistance at 317-802-6060. (See related article for more information.)
Johnson suggests the best way to recruit alumni affiliates may be word of mouth. “The local people know who was active in FFA in high school. You can find a core group that way,” he says. “Then give them a purpose for being there. Tell them what you need, get them at advisory meetings, on the school board, in local politics. Maybe one of them can meet with the banker about scholarships. When alumni tell your story, those are the people with a vested interest in the community, and their advocacy for your program can go a long way.”
If that sounds like a lot of work, Johnson says to remember the payoff. “Sure, it’s more work for the teacher to start an alumni affiliate, but once it’s started, you can really depend on them. Alumni’s whole purpose is to offer support. The teacher still runs the program, but the alumni are there to help the teacher serve the kids in ways that he or she just couldn’t do alone.”