For many, FFA brings a sense of community and provides an opportunity for students to excel while pursuing their passion. Many schools are lucky to have a thriving FFA program, while other schools are just now getting started. Oftentimes, it takes a recognized void, motivation, and drive to start a new chapter. One FFA Chapter in Kansas is opening up new doors in the private school system.
Jay Harris, FFA Advisor at Thomas More Prep-Marion in Hays, Kansas, personally knows the struggles and rewards that go into starting an FFA program for a private school. Harris explains how it all got started: “There was a group of students that approached the school principal 3 years ago requesting that agricultural classes be offered at TMP-M. They were also wanting to see an FFA chapter started after the classes got started. I had applied at TMP-M for another position, but when Mr. Meitner saw my background in agriculture he asked if I would be interested in starting an agricultural curriculum and then an FFA chapter. I started teaching ag classes in the fall of 2016. While teaching a few classes, we started working on the requirements for the FFA chapter. I put together a group of students to help with the required paperwork. The students did an awesome job helping get everything completed.”
Harris and the students were able to get the program started and is currently in their second year. Although there were several challenges, the biggest hurtle can be funding a new FFA Chapter for private schools. Harris said, “The biggest difference is that a private school does not receive funding for the Career Technical Education (CTE) courses like a public school. Agriculture classes fall into the CTE area.”
With the lack of funding, Harris said they had to get creative in their fundraising and reach out to their community.
“We are funded by fundraisers mainly. We have also had some very generous donations from people that want to see Agriculture Education and FFA at TMP-M excel,” he said. “Our fundraisers include selling fruit, meat, cheese, candy, and cookie dough. We also have a raffle during National FFA Week. The community has been very supportive of our fundraising efforts.”
Without a supportive community, many of the goals of any FFA program would not be possible.
“Our goals include attending as many of the Career Development Events as possible,” Harris explains. “We also are doing some service projects on campus and in the community. We host a dinner at a home basketball game, work with students from Holy Family Elementary School in Hays during FFA week, host a community breakfast during FFA week, and continually strive to increase our number of members.”
As the only FFA Chapter at a private school in the state of Kansas, Harris encourages anyone interested in starting up a new chapter to go for it!
“I would tell them to go for it and get a chapter started. Our community has been very involved and interested in seeing our FFA chapter succeed,” he said. “It is also a way to keep the students enrolled that are leaving because of wanting to study agriculture.”
As the chapter’s first advisory, Harris is proud of everything the chapter has accomplished and looks forward to the possibilities in the future. “I am so proud of the involvement of our students. They have made it easy to get the chapter started and continue to try to improve our chapter. I have an awesome group of students. I am excited to see how we can grow our chapter in the future.”
As a student who graduated from a private school without the opportunity of ag in the classroom, I am reassured of the future of agriculture. We need to allow our students every opportunity to get involved in agriculture and to be able to immerse themselves in something new.