Standing there in a group of Booker Washington Institute (BWI) FFA leaders and alumni, I looked off in the distance in the direction of our FFA students who were laughing, yelling, and running around while playing ultimate frisbee on the football field. It was after our FFA End of the Year Program and the sun was setting just behind where the students were playing. It was beautiful. However, that’s not what I thought was beautiful at that moment. What caught my eye and my interest was the situation in which after the completion of a positive youth development program the adults conversed while the kids played and had fun. It occurred to me that this situation was eerily similar to situations that I was very familiar with growing up. Without fail, after the many sports game or practices, this strangely identical situation would slowly construct itself. To those who have not experienced these situations, or even to those who have, I may seem crazy; what’s so interesting and beautiful about a seemingly normal situation in life? Well, in a positive youth development process that can be very difficult, it was one of those few moments for reflection on accomplishment. Here are my reflections:
1. First and foremost I was in awe of the friendship that was being practiced in front of me by the students and the adults. We were smiling and taking pictures while you could hear the hysterical laughter and yelling of the students in the background. FFA really has successfully unified people on the basis of a passion for leadership and agriculture.
2. This moment was a milestone because before this moment FFA at BWI seemed to live by the motto “work hard, work harder”. Throughout our time with the BWI FFA, we had trouble organizing events and activities that would be fun because the students weren’t at that level yet. They weren’t able to do it and to be honest, we were hesitant to help too much. We didn’t know whether we were doing it the right way, but we wanted these fun times to come after the students and alumni had done the majority of the work to organize it. Helping out too much too early would have only lowered the bar; a bar that we wanted to raise so that they had to reach out of their comfort zones. Flash forward to this moment and it felt natural and it was because the students deserved it. They worked hard and now they got to play hard.
3. Adults in Liberia don’t have the same relationship with their children as adults in the United States do. In the learning process, it seems like a lot of the time that adults are taking over the hands-on experiential learning activities for themselves, leaving menial tasks to the students. To a degree, that sense of “I have done it, but I want them to do it”, or that sense of “whatever is good for the children” is usually missing. But, not in this situation…not after the ‘End of the Year’ FFA event that was completely organized by the student! This was a moment where the Alumni and other adult leaders of the BWI FFA felt accomplished for what the students had done, not for what they had done. You could sense the pride that the BWI FFA adult leaders had for their student FFA members.
4. At this moment, the BWI FFA is not where I had hoped they would be when I started this journey, but the process itself was a huge success. My goals for the FFA were higher. I had hoped to do so many more social activities, leadership workshops, educational competitions, and community service events. Many of the goals I set for the club were not met. However, if you were to describe the process that we went through together and the meaningful growth that I witnessed in these students, alumni, and this chapter as a whole, I would not have believed it. The students went from not knowing what FFA is to organizing an end of the year party to celebrate their accomplishments and playing ultimate frisbee like best friends, unified by their passion for leadership and agriculture. The FFA alumni went from being in control of the organizing to giving ownership of the FFA to the students while separating themselves into the BWI FFA Alumni Volunteer Network. I went from focusing on MY goals and vision to focusing on OUR goals by getting to know the people of the BWI FFA and nurturing my relationships with them. Vision and goals are necessary for motivation and perseverance, but in the game of life, I think I’ve figured out that it’s all about the process.
I’m so proud of these students and this FFA! The students have taken ownership of their education and their futures. The adults have taken ownership for the FFA and the success of the student members. Here’s to many more years of hard work, growth, and fun celebrations for the BWI FFA in the future! Here’s to the process!
Nathan Glenn received bachelor’s degrees in Animal Science and Secondary Education from the University of Maryland. Before becoming an AgriCorps Fellow Nathan taught high school agricultural education.