By Beth A. DeHoff
For many FFA alumni, the Washington Leadership Conference (WLC) has been a watershed moment they remember for the rest of their lives. Whitney Danker, FFA education specialist in leadership delivery, shares “WLC broadens FFA members’ perspectives of what leadership really is.,”. It can be the catalyst for taking advantage of opportunities students never considered before.”
This year, Danker is among those charged with improving WLC even further. Every five years since the conference’s inception in 1969, FFA forms a task force to review WLC and determine how it can better meet the needs of students, advisors and chapters, she says. Danker has been involved in this effort, as has Katy Mumaw, education specialist for the enhancement team.
“A few things we hope to enhance in the new curriculum, which we will roll out this summer, is linking what students learn in D.C. to agriculture and real-life opportunities,” Mumaw explains. “We’ll also be adding a focus on diversity and what that means to society, to agriculture and to our modes of thinking.”
WLC’s 2012 curriculum is built on four pillars of leadership: self-awareness, diversity, advocacy and service. These four pillars of leadership also correlate to the four-stage model of personal development, the Me-We-Do-Serve model, Mumaw adds.
“The 2012 conference will emphasize diversity as the participants explore ‘we.’ We also will expand the focus of ‘do,’ which has focused on advocacy, but now we’ll have a stronger tie to agriculture. What are the advocacy needs in agriculture today?” Danker explains.
“WLC is unique in that it isn’t just a conference and it isn’t just a tour of Washington, D.C.,” Danker says. “Participants grow in all four pillars and develop their own ‘living to serve’ plan, with Washington D.C. as the ‘classroom.’”
The conference offers participants a week of learning and service opportunities. Repeated each week for seven weeks in the summer, WLC includes a morning of service each Saturday. In 2011, students and advisors served at D.C. locations as diverse as homeless shelters, animal shelters, community gardens and food banks, to name just a few. “WLC contributed $85,283 in service to the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area in the summer of 2011,” Danker reports. “The attendees’ seven weeks of service was equivalent to 3.28 full-time employees working an entire year.”
The coming year’s conference will expand the concept of service beyond the day of community service that is a staple of WLC. “Now their service plan will run across all four areas we’re teaching, and it’s more of a personal development plan – a plan for advocacy and civic engagement,” Danker says. “Students learn how to educate themselves about a cause, advocate for that cause and then serve that cause. They’ll gain a deeper perspective in how they view the world, advocacy and themselves. It will help them understand who they are and how they can be a leader.”
For more information on WLC and how you and your students can take advantage of it, visit WLC webpage on ffa.org.