As a sophomore in high school, I attended the National Future Farmers of America Convention, where more than 64,000 members were in attendance. While there, my advisor took me to watch the National Extemporaneous Speaking Contest finals. As I watched the final four speeches, I was in awe. How did they make it look so easy? How were they so polished? I told my advisor, “I could never do that.” She simply said, “We’ll see.”
In just a few years, my ag education expanded my horizons immeasurably. I studied new subjects such as food science and nursery landscape. I honed in on my passion for livestock judging. I earned a spot as a District FFA Officer. I attended leadership camps. I studied animal science, horticulture, welding, and ranch business management. I dreamed of one day raising cattle of my own and of studying to be an agricultural journalist. My FFA advisor brought these opportunities to life and encouraged me to try new things, which helped me make my dreams a reality.
There are more than 60,000 FFA members in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. But FFA isn’t just for farm kids. In fact, the largest chapters are in 18 of the 20 largest U.S. cities, including New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. And, in schools, there are more than 800,000 students enrolled in formal agricultural education instructional programs offered in grades 7–12.
However, there are still many school districts, even in rural communities, that don’t offer these programs to their students. With mounting national pressure for standardized testing, students are forced to ditch the “extracurricular” studies like agriculture, music, and art, while focusing solely on the core units of math, science, reading, and English. This rigid method of learning keeps students from exploring careers and learning by doing, which is the focus of FFA and agricultural education.
Looking back on my FFA career almost a decade later, I credit those experiences with giving me the skills I would use as a successful cattle rancher, for offering me hands-on learning to become an agricultural journalist, and for developing the confidence needed to compete and win the National FFA Extemporaneous Speaking Contest in my final year of FFA—something I thought I could never do.
I believe FFA and agricultural education belongs in every school across the country. We must put pressure on school administrators to make these opportunities available for students. We simply cannot shortchange youth the chance to develop leadership skills, pursue personal growth, and experience career success. Contact your local school district and let them know how important agriculture in the classroom truly is. There are students eager to learn; they must be given the chance.