Engaging Non-traditional Students in FFA

By DeLoss Jahnke

 

In FFA, there are many success stories, some of which paint an inspiring picture for recruiting and growing non-traditional membership bases.  Case in point: At Crowley High School in Crowley, Texas, FFA membership has leaped to more than 300 members, with many new students coming from diverse backgrounds.


Several years ago, Crowley FFA advisor Becky DeShazo noticed that her chapter didn’t reflect the school’s diversity.  As a result, she worked with other chapter advisors, who had the same problem, to develop a diversity conference held at the Texas State Fair.  Leadership F.A.I.R. (Finding Agriculture Rewarding and Interesting) informs non-traditional students of the many opportunities within their FFA chapter.  Crowley FFA officers have led some of the workshops.


“Once you have a little diversity, you can get students to recruit and involve their peers,” DeShazo says.  “The FFA chapter has to do more than just go to livestock shows or just do career development events.  It must do a variety of activities that appeal to students. They have to see that FFA can be a path to a successful life.”


These feelings are shared by Jose Bernal, who has spent 30 years teaching at AMPHI High School in Tuscon, Ariz.  “Students today have far too many ways in which to spend their time--the FFA is just one of their many choices,” Bernal says.  “Therefore, we must make sure that our student targets see us both as genuine and especially motivating.”


The key to recruiting non-traditional members is simple, according to Bernal.  “All targeted students must feel included, and work must be done to ensure that all students perceive such inclusion in all facets of FFA.”


FFA advisor Mike Haynes, whose Manning, S.C., FFA chapter is the state’s largest, also has a simple recruitment model.  “Good students recruit good students. In addition we try to set an environment where members are excited about FFA. We have monthly meetings, cookouts, overnight campouts and various field trips to motivate members to excel. We recently organized an FFA chorus to allow FFA members to show their talent.”

 

Haynes involves his students in various activities throughout the year, which fosters a high member retention rate.  “Our annual programs of activities address all FFA members, whether they have an exploratory, placement, or ownership supervised agricultural experience program,” he says.  “Furthermore, in order to promote the diversity of FFA, we discuss the New Farmers of America (NFA) and FFA. We celebrate FFA week in February, and we recognize the NFA during the month of April.” 

 

During National FFA Week, Bernal’s students have activities that promote FFA throughout both the student body and the staff.  Members provide and serve cherry pies to the school staff, and they schedule agricultural-related events to increase student awareness.  “I never assume that FFA is so great, that our students will automatically join,” Bernal says.  I work hard at motivating, selling, cajoling, and simply asking my students to be part of our total program.”


DeShazo believes that developing a non-traditional member base is vital to the future of FFA.  “If programs do not appeal to the new “consumer” then they will become inconsequential in the school environment.  And, the industry of agriculture will suffer because diversity is needed there, too.  And to me, perhaps more importantly, a segment of young men and women miss out on the rich opportunities agriculture and the FFA holds for them. “​