Developing Professional Relationships in the Local Community

Article excerpt

High school agricultural education programs face all sorts of challenges in their efforts to provide educational opportunities for their students. The results of these efforts have a tremendous impact on the social and economic health of the community. It is advantageous for all of the agencies in a community to work together to offer educational, training, employment, and even enrichment opportunities for its citizens. Agriculture teachers and their student "customers" can gain many benefits from developing relationships with other professionals in the local and even global community.

The first relationships that most agriculture teachers begin to build in a community are with the students themselves. Often the initial introductions occur on the first day of classes, however the wise teachers will get to know their students long before classes begin by getting to know the feeder school teachers before the previous school year is over. High school teachers can collaborate with middle school teachers to identify and recruit potential agriculture students by offering field trips or other visits to the high school agriculture department. This builds excitement for the program and cultivates understanding of the courses offered. Each spring, before the middle school students register for their freshman year courses, all of the eighth graders take a tour of our high school campus. We, the advisors, along with our FFA members and officers, lead the groups through our agriculture department explaining the activities that go on in our classrooms, shop, greenhouse, and aquaculture laboratory. The FFA members answer student questions and provide a peer perspective that adults cannot.

Meanwhile, we offer CDs to the middle school teachers that provide photos of our students in the classrooms and labs and engaged in FFA activities. We also send flyers and brochures back with the teachers so they can have more resources to help future students make informed choices about their educational plans. Other possible middle school partnership activities include using current high school students/FFA members in mentor programs or as agricultural ambassadors to help the middle school teachers teach special science labs or other agricultural activities. These types of efforts pay big dividends to both the teachers and the students by building familiarity and confidence making a smoother transition into the new school year.

In our program, families are a huge part of our success. We have even called membership in our chapter a "Family Tradition." As a husband and wife teaching partner team, it seems to go with the territory. On open house nights our department gets more traffic than most areas of the school and more of the visits are social than academic. Parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends of our students flock to our rooms to visit, and to share stories about what it was like when they were in class. What may seem like casual conversations are really important networking sessions that help us make connections throughout the school year.

The family members of our students are involved in all areas of our local community and have interests, hobbies, and skills that provide great resources for our students. When students have questions about their SAE programs that we may not have firsthand experience with, we often know who to call to ask for advice. Family members are great resources when students need SAE opportunities, help training Career Development Event teams or chaperoning field trips. Parent and family contacts are also helpful when our program needs business support in the form of donations or reduced rates for supplies and services. Of course, friends and family members are the foundation of a strong FFA Alumni Chapter or FFA Support Group. These relationships with student friends and family members provide a "tag team" effort in motivating students to perform at their best level and to make the most of the opportunities available. …