FFA Strengthens College- and Career-Ready Students

By Jodi Tillman
State supervisor for the Florida Department of Education, liaison to the Division of Public Schools for Career and Technical Education

I would find it hard to believe that there is a teacher anywhere in the country who has not heard of the need to increase rigor in the classroom. Additionally, it is well known that almost 80 percent of today’s fastest-growing jobs require some sort of postsecondary education and/or industry certification. It is common knowledge that all students need to complete an academically rigorous high school curriculum in order to be college and career ready. Sadly, it is also well known that only about half of high school graduates today are academically prepared for college-level courses and that many of those students will require at least some remedial work in reading, writing, and/or mathematics upon entering college.

I was a high school agriscience teacher and FFA advisor for 20 years. I now work for the florida department of education as the public schools liaison for career and technical education. As a classroom teacher and in my current position, I have found that the overwhelming majority of teachers strive to make their classrooms academically rigorous. What I have gleaned from working with hundreds of teachers across the state is that the same group of teachers can’t agree on what it means to be academically rigorous! I am sure all will agree it is difficult to know if we are accomplishing something when we aren’t even sure what we are trying to accomplish.

What we all do know is that there is a need to prepare students to be college and career ready. We must ensure that students take the necessary coursework in high school that will enable them to enroll in postsecondary institutions (even though at 16 they might not think they ever will). Additionally, business and industry experts tell us that they are looking for employees who possess a strong academic foundation coupled with applicable career skills. These skills include critical thinking and problem solving, the ability to work together, adaptability, entrepreneurship, effective communication and leadership. It is for these reasons we must all strive to provide rigorous coursework to our students.

It should be glaringly obvious that career and technical education (CTE) programs are where students can learn and apply both academic and career skills; especially if the program capitalizes on a student’s opportunity to join and participate in a career and technical student organization (CTSOs). In essence, the cte classroom becomes the lab for the academic classes, allowing students the ability to apply the theories, formulas and strategies learned in their academic classes to real world applications in their cte classes. Conversely, academic teachers who work closely with cte teachers are afforded the opportunity to answer the student that asks “why do i need to know this?”

FFA offers a natural extension of the agriscience classroom and a perfect venue for students to apply academic skills. The leadership and communication skills that ffa members use in serving as an officer or committee chair, participating in ffa meetings or in developing and managing their respective supervised agricultural experiences project (SAEs) are all opportunities that allow ffa members to hone identified career and academic skills.

Another opportunity for FFA members to apply academic rigor is thorough participation in career development events (CDEs). CDEs provide an outstanding venue for ffa members to bring together their academic skills with the application of agricultural knowledge in a relevant applied manner. CDEs are extremely challenging and most are steeped in academic foundations.

Additionally, CDEs are an excellent opportunity to get academic teachers “on board.” Share CDE content and sample contests at a faculty meeting or even host mock contests to showcase the challenging content to your academic counterparts. I found they were often amazed at the amount of their subject matter that is integrated into cdes and at the academic content that my students needed to know to be competitive. Once they knew, oftentimes, they would volunteer to assist or even coach a team.

The bottom line is that as teachers, we must all do what we can to prepare our students to be college and career ready. How awesome that as agricultural educators one way to accomplish the task of providing a rigorous environment for applied academics is available right at our fingertips FFA!