Perspectives: Beyond the convention and expo

By Ben Rutherford, agriculture teacher, Blytheville High School, Arkansas

How do you convey the energy, the excitement, the passion that 52,000 National FFA Convention & Expo attendees exude? It’s a challenge to bring back what a handful of students experience and deliver it to the 100 who are left behind. Each year, as I look through the schedule of events, I consider how to position my attendees so they can bring home what they learn.

I actually stumbled on one of the best ways at the 2011 convention. While bobbing and weaving through the crowds in the expo, I discovered the Kids Against Hunger booth. After gathering information and learning that our home state ranks near the top for childhood hunger, I shared it with our officer team. Basically, they grabbed on and haven’t let go. After researching KAH’s satellite locations (the nearest one was four hours away) they decided they wanted to host their own food packaging event.

Keep in mind that our program is located in the Mississippi River Delta; we lost our major employer two decades ago, and our local economy is still working to recover to this day. Our FFA members saw the need for bringing hunger to the forefront of discussions in our community. With a servant-leader approach, our FFA members partnered with the student council to conduct the event. The main goal was to engage as many students as possible and make it a "BHS" thing.

We had tremendous support from the school. Facilities were provided, students given time away from class, and I was even provided with an all-day substitute. All told, we raised $1,800 and packaged 7,344 meals. About two-thirds went overseas with the rest staying here in the United States. Plans for our second annual event are already underway.

This was just one thing! As you plan your trip to the convention and expo this year, think about how you can bring it back to the students you left behind. Maybe conducting a food packaging event won’t work for your program, but I know there are a lot of other things you can take home. Whether you have the FFA members create a video documenting the trip to use as a marketing tool, get workshop scripts from presenters so they can recreate them at home, or get the contact info for the laser light show company so you can have one at the beginning of every class (wouldn’t that be cool?), be sure to extend the energy, the excitement and the passion beyond the trip to Indy.