Beyond Cows and Plows
Zip up your blue corduroy and dive in to FFA!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year — FFA jacket season! Though zipping up the blue corduroy is often a student’s first experience as an FFA member, it takes strategy at the chapter level to get them hooked on ag education and FFA.
Sullivan FFA Advisor Travis Kramme says timing is the key to retention.
“This is my 18th year teaching agriculture education, and one thing has been true year after year,” he explains. “The students in my Ag Science I classes who get involved in FFA activities are the same students who are in our program until graduation and become four-year active members in FFA. The Ag Science I students who don’t make it to any FFA activities during that first semester usually don’t come back as sophomores and find other programs and electives to be involved with.”
An important first step in capturing students’ interest is to debunk the myth that ag education is all about “cows and plows,” says Nathan Isakson, Ash Grove FFA Advisor.
Karson Calvin, a sophomore at Troy Buchanan High School and member of the Troy FFA Chapter, agrees that chapters should promote FFA as a multi-faceted organization.
“It’s not just production agriculture, and there’s a diverse range of activities that can fit everyone,” Calvin says.
Recognizing the importance of relationships and tradition also helps capture students’ interest and sense of belonging.
“In a normal year, we have a back-to-school meeting and ag department open house,” says Cord Jenkins, Rolla FFA Advisor. “This is a big event that our officers spend a great deal of time planning. We invite all of our first-year members and their parents to this meeting. It is structured so we have social time on the front and back end of the meeting.”
Jenkins says this helps make new members feel included as an integral part of the program. Calvin agrees that building relationships was one piece he remembered most from his first year in FFA.
“My favorite chapter activities last year were the LDEs and our Friendsgiving,” he says. “I was on our Conduct of Chapter Meetings team, and my favorite part about it was growing closer with my teammates. While training in the spring, we had some funny moments that stick out as I look back at last year. My other favorite activity was our Friendsgiving. It was a fun time as we were playing games, enjoying some good food and becoming closer as a chapter.”
Kramme, Isakson and Jenkins all say they call upon older students and FFA members to help build a sense of community through using student teacher aids, officer mentors or a buddy system.
Calvin adds that honing in on tradition and the advice of other students helps inspire members to get involved.