I learned very early in my career that establishing connections is very important to the success of a program. I have always worked very closely with parents, administrators, community members, alumni and those in the industry of agriculture. These connections provide different viewpoints and allow us to utilize various professional expertise to strengthen an agricultural education program. Having different viewpoints represented on your advisory committee is also essential because it gives the committee balance credibility. We conduct several advisory committee meetings a year to learn about industry trends, review program content and receive feedback about the three components of our program.
The FFA alumni affiliate is also very important and supportive to our program. Our alumni group raises funds for scholarships and travel. They serve as CDE coaches and provide materials and facilities for events. Public awareness of the Allentown FFA Chapter and the agricultural education program is a natural outgrowth of all of the alumni activities. The funds they raise have a great impact on our chapter, but the community-wide promotion and awareness that they provide is just as valuable.
Our chapter has also made connections with community organizations such as the local Fire Company, Elks Lodge, Lions Club, community service organizations, nursing homes and animal shelters, to name just a few. Students develop rapport with organization leaders and members as they volunteer their time. These connections open doors for our students and provide them with job opportunities, SAE options and many other rewards.
I have built great relationships through connections with local businesses for our program, as well. Businesses can assist your program financially, provide students with SAE employment and be a strong advocate for your program within the community.
Communications and Community
Administrative and community support has been one of the key components of the success of our program and its longevity. Marketing and promoting our program is one of our top priorities, since our community has and is still rapidly changing. We utilize the FFA component of our program to the fullest extent to market the agricultural education program and the FFA chapter. Our chapter reporter sends articles to three local newspapers and the school district's community newsletter. The chapter officers write articles highlighting chapter and individual accomplishments for a special 8-page FFA Week supplement to the local newspaper. They work closely with the newspaper to prepare this supplement, including acquiring local business donations for it (which, in turn, also helps market our program.) Each aspect of the FFA Week news supplement creates awareness about who we are and what the students achieve through participation in the agriculture program and FFA.
The chapter also hosts an annual sponsor breakfast to show appreciation for sponsor support throughout the year. Many prestigious individuals attend this annual event, including state senators and assemblymen, university deans and state education officials. The students conduct the day’s activities, showcasing their abilities for all in attendance.
Involvement in community projects is also a great marketing tool to promote our program. Students wear FFA shirts or Official Dress when volunteering to bring visibility to the program. The chapter members record over 1,000 hours of volunteer work annually.
Our program is heavily involved with programs and activities within the elementary school. Programs such as eighth grade orientation, “Agricultural Day,” “Bullying Hurts” and the PALS program highlight FFA members’ and officers’ leadership abilities and promote the program to a younger audience.
In light of today’s economic situation, schools need to justify the dollars that are spent on education. I can think of no better way to showcase your school district’s successes than through the marketing of your agriculture program and FFA chapter. If you build your marketing plan through connections and communication, then the community will become your greatest advocate.