By Beth A. DeHoff
Finding ways to interest parents and community members in your efforts can be a difficult puzzle. Nearly every solution seems to center on one thing: Get people involved.
At Portland High School in Tennessee, Terry Shartzer uses a little glitz – or actually, a bunch of little lambs – to engage students, families and community. “For our new kids, we do a livestock management program and have 24 donated lambs in the greenhouse for six weeks. These lambs have never been touched, and most of the kids have never touched a farm animal before. By the end, they’re bracing that thing and showing it to a judge. It’s awesome to see the transformation.”
Also transformed is the interest of families and community. The school’s FFA chapter sponsors an annual Fall Hay Day, and one activity is a lamb project, where the kids show their lambs. “All the families come see them compete, and we’ve had good coverage of it in the community. It hooks everyone.” (A video about the program is on YouTube, called “Lambs at School.”)
If you’re short on lambs, don’t despair. Shartzer depends on a very active alumni chapter and the support of a number of businesses, as well. “I tell new teachers if you have to pick only one contest, the one you need to do is ag issues. Before you can go to state contest, you have to go out in the community and present in front of civic organizations. The relationships that develop from that are endless,” he says.
Shartzer also depends on FFA week (Feb. 19-26 this year) to help spread the word. The chapter works with the local newspaper, which publishes a two-page spread about FFA and the chapter’s activities, selling ads to support the space. On Friday of FFA week, the chapter has a “tractorcade,” when students drive their tractors in to school together with a police escort. “We line them up biggest to smallest, and we take a picture. It’s quite a sight!” Shartzer says.
Monte Avery teaches at Artesia High School in New Mexico, where parents stay busy in a parent group called the Pardners. “They put on the FFA banquet for us, sponsor a team roping fundraiser and have an amazing pie auction that makes almost $10,000. They gave away about $8,000 in scholarships to seniors last year.”
For parents not involved in the Pardners group, Avery holds other events to try to increase their involvement. “When we have our district parliamentary contest, I tell the kids to have their parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles all come. I try to help everyone know what’s going on and that they’re invited. Also, we have 16 production contests, so if we have a parent that’s really good at a contest skill, we let them train that team. We’ve diversified ourselves to death in ag ed, so we have to go find the experts, and that can be an excellent way to involve parents.” In addition, Avery arranges to give their presentations to community and business group – a great tool for practice and public relations!
Invite, present and involve. With some focused efforts aimed at parents and community groups, you will find a rapidly expanding circle of friends for your chapter’s efforts.
Steps to Involving Parents and Community
Avery and Shartzer offer a number of tips for teachers to increase parent and community involvement:
- Establish an advisory committee, making sure to include parents on the role.
- Participate in ag issues and other contests involving presentations, and take those presentations out to community groups.
- Get to know your community leaders and invite them to join your advisory committee.
- Get help from parents who are subject matter experts, and let them lead.