By Deb Buehler
To principal and former classroom teacher Harold Eckler, building a successful FFA program begins in the classroom.
“You need to be an effective teacher first,” Eckler explained. “Meet the expectations for classroom teachers set by your administrators.” From there, ag teachers need to build a program over time that impacts students while reaching out into the community.
“I remember approaching my principal and asking how the ag department could help our school meet AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress),” said Cory Epler, former ag teacher and current graduate research assistant at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. “As a result, we got involved in a literacy strategy that enabled us to showcase FFA to our administrators. We wanted to be part of the solutions rather than part of the problem.”
Whenever possible, Epler included administrators on the selection committee for new chapter officers. He pursued school board members, the principal or vice principal, or someone from the central office. Epler’s students always went to the school board at the start of the school year to make an FFA presentation. “We asked for 10 minutes to showcase the talents of our students,” Epler explained.
Because Epler and his teaching colleagues were not located in the main high school building, they made a concerted effort to invite administrators when cool things were happening in their classes. “We wanted administrators in our classrooms,” he said. “We were a four- teacher team and prided ourselves on being excellent classroom teachers. We wanted our administrators to know us as educators first, then as FFA advisors.”
Rigor and Relevance
Dr. Brad Bryant is the Career & Technical (CTE) Director for Pittsylvania County Schools in Chatham, Va. Several years ago, he was charged with updating and revising the district’s middle school FFA career development events (CDE). In the new CDE guide publication, associated state learning standards for middle grades are aligned with the middle school FFA CDEs.
“Most school administrators were amazed at how agriscience and FFA covered so many of the state’s Standards of Learning,” Bryant said. “As a school division administrator, I’ve added the state standards to the course syllabi for all CTE classes (agriculture, business, technology education, marketing, health sciences, family and consumer sciences, trades and industrial). This shows any administrator and parents how the state standards are taught during career and technical education classes.”
According to Bryant, because there is so much emphasis on state mandated curriculum, testing and test scores, demonstrating how ag and FFA relate to learning the state standards helps principals and other administrators recognize the value of FFA.
National FFA Week
National FFA Week, Feb. 19-26, is a great time to draw attention to the accomplishments of students in ag classes and FFA chapters. Here are some strategies suggested by educational leaders:
- Be visible with your students; showcase the entire program, not just FFA.
- Host a new student night for eighth graders and their parents – chapter members can give brief presentations about happenings, competitions, and CDEs. Try having a brief meeting with parents so you can explain your teaching practices, how you work toward impacting test scores, and how the agriculture program will benefit their student.
- Host a PTA meeting; parents visit student-staffed stations and answer agriculture and FFA questions at each station. Parents with the highest scores receive a bird feeder or other student-made project.
- Prepare photos, picture captions, and article materials for local newspapers about student SAE’s, leadership activities, fairs and service projects.
- Host a staff luncheon or community breakfast where chapter members prepare and serve the meal and provide brief presentations about FFA successes.
- Host elementary students for an ag day at the high school. Students and their teachers will have an opportunity to see the agriculture program in action.
Any event has to be a high-quality, well-planned student-led events. Showcase what students have learned in the classroom, as well as FFA successes.