Many FFA members are constantly pushing themselves to be better. One Iowa chapter totally revamped their activities to achieve better standards. Jacob Hunter, agricultural educator and FFA adviser at North Scott High School in Eldridge, Iowa, has worked with the students, alumni, and their community to improve their chapter. Through new activities and centering their chapter with the National FFA Organization’s Quality Standards, the chapter has made great strides. Hunter shares the secrets to success and ways they are continuing to improve.
Hunter, who previously served as the director of Iowa education programs for the World Food Prize Foundation, missed the classroom setting and returned to North Scott with a vision. When he took over in 2016, their program only had 13 freshmen enrolled. Hunter collaborated with the officer team to figure out what they needed to work on in order to improve their chapter and increase involvement in the program. After implementing these new methods, the next school year the new freshman class had 70 students enrolled! What a difference hard work, time, and dedication make.
The officer team realized they needed to make changes in their program to get more students involved. As a student lead organization, their FFA Chapter worked hard to improve themselves in a short amount of time with hard work and dedication, not only from student and staff, but also with help from their community.
Part of the climb consisted of centering activities with National FFA Quality Standards and increasing involvement for students. After a self-reflection and self-evaluation, the club put more of an emphasis in student involvement and community outreach.
Hunter said, “The first officer team started to evaluate the programs and activities we offered as an FFA Chapter. We began to prioritize the ones were the students were taking an active leadership role in and the ones that met National Quality Standards for the FFA Organization. We focused on those activities. In the areas that we were not meeting, for the National Quality Standards, we evaluated the needs of our communities and focused on those specific areas to add activities.”
For example, the students wanted to have meaningful safety activities. Their student population suffered losses over the past few years due to car accidents. As most of their students come from the suburban areas, they were not as familiar with farm equipment traveling on the highway during harvest. For their safety activity, the officer team brought a semi to a dead-end street to demonstrate the safety concerns of truck drivers. Students were able to sit in the driver seat of the semi while a van drove past, allowing the students to see the blind the spots from the driver’s perspective. Not only was this relevant to agriculture, but also held a deeper meaning in the students’ lives.
Hunter has few pieces of advice for those chapters trying to improve themselves. “The big thing about taking on an FFA Chapter is recognizing that it IS a challenge and understanding that it is really difficult to take on. Once you see it that way, and understand that is isn’t something that comes easy, it becomes easier to take it on the challenge. Those create more manageable pieces.” Hunter also said, “Invest in the things that are going to help support those students who are currently in and will be in the program.” They were able to take the production ag-based chapter and reframe it to be more of an inclusive program for all students. Once the students get involved, they learn to understand the importance of agriculture.
As a result of all the hard work, the chapter has seen positive results. Their alumni association has seen an increase in involvement. What used to be a few people gathering every month, has turned into a packed classroom of self-directing, monthly meetings. Perhaps the best result is the community has also become more involved in the organization and shown more support. Hunter said, “It is the communities’ agricultural program, I just happen to be the steward of it at the moment.” With the increase in interest, the chapter is currently building a new facility to increase students’ involvement and to create a more of a well-rounded organization.