Making a Difference with Volunteers in Agricultural Education Programs
Rosencrans, Carlos, Seevers, Brenda S., The Agricultural Education Magazine
Are you using volunteers in your Agricultural Education program? Have you thought about using volunteers to help you better serve your students and their many and varied agricultural interests? Do you feel comfortable enlisting the aid of volunteers to enhance your agricultural education program? Are other instructors utilizing volunteers, and if so, how are they using them?
Enlisting the aid of volunteers is nothing new to programs of many kinds, including education. Every year, millions of Americans volunteer their time and assistance to causes which they consider worthwhile (Katz, 1982). Volunteers in school settings provide widespread benefits to students. Shifflett (1994), states that academic achievement appears to increase when volunteers are utilized. Programs can be expanded to better meet the needs of students when volunteers and their expertise are employed. Volunteers contribute extra resources without adding additional costs to programs.
State and national statistics indicate that not only is enrollment in agricultural education programs growing but the availability of qualified teachers is shrinking. Involving community volunteers is essential to maximize resources and meet needs. Teachers must look to the community and actively engage them.
A recent study conducted in New Mexico (Rosencrans and Seevers, 2000) described the use of volunteers in New Mexico Agricultural Education programs.
Overall, Agricultural Educators in New Mexico had a positive attitude toward involvement of volunteers in their programs. There was agreement that volunteers are an important part of the agricultural education program, that use of volunteers provides many benefits, and involving qualified volunteers in various functions and activities frees the teacher to focus on other aspects of the program. Overall, it was believed that volunteer involvement in the program made the teacher's job easier. Of the 13% of teachers that did not use volunteers in their program, the majority indicated that it was because they were new to the program, the program was too small, or they did not have the time to properly supervise volunteers.
Not only did teachers believe that volunteers were essential to their programs, there was agreement that volunteers should be involved in educational aspects of the program as well as support efforts. Volunteers in New Mexico were active in support activities such as chaperoning, fundraising, and assisting with FFA activities, but they were also actively involved in educational activities such as laboratory and classroom instruction, serving as a guest speaker in class/lab, and coaching CDE events. The teachers also felt that volunteers not only add a wealth of knowledge and experience to programs, but they bring a variety of viewpoints to the educational arena as well. What are some effective strategies focusing on the successful involvement of volunteers in your program?
Identification and Selection
The volunteer experience will be most successful when the agricultural educator determines specifically what his/her needs are, matches the individual with the need, and provides clear and specific guidance about roles, responsibilities and needs. Individuals should be accepted as volunteers in your program not just based on their willingness to participate but also on the competence and capability they contribute. Teachers in New Mexico rated the helpfulness provided by volunteers in their programs as very high, clearly indicating that with proper planning and coordination, volunteers are an asset to their programs.
Orientation and Supervision
Clear communication about needs and expectations is essential to making the volunteer experience work. An orientation meeting with volunteers at the beginning of each school year or prior to an activity or event should be conducted to clearly communicate expectations. …