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More than farming: John Hardin FFA students are learning to lead

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By Becca Owsley

The National FFA Organization’s creed states “I believe in leadership from ourselves and respect from others.”

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Leadership is one of the core functions of FFA and John Hardin High School’s chapter is taking leadership a step further.

Advisor Jeremy Hall has, with the assistance of students, developed an independent leadership growth program to help students evaluate and improve their leadership skills.

The idea came to Hall during a drive back to eastern Kentucky to visit his parents. He passed a college billboard that read “Leadership U.”

Hall has noticed, in a high school, the term leadership is thrown around a lot. People usually call a student who is good at something a leader but this is not always the case, he said.

“Leadership to me is a 24-hour, seven days a week thing,” Hall said.

He said students who want to be true leaders need a program to push them further, even beyond what FFA already does.

Hall put the idea on the backburner but when student Vasiliki Wilk applied for Governor’s Scholars, she needed a leadership project. He gave the idea to her and she tweaked it to what it is now and a pilot program will begin next year. It will lead to a two-year program to be completed during students’ junior and senior years.

“It’s a little different but we are excited about it because I think it’s something that will take leadership development to a whole different category in high schools,” Hall said.

Wilk, a junior, wants to use the program to improve her leadership to accomplish her goal of making a difference in her school, community, state and nation.

The program is broken down into nine requirements.

  • Written leadership growth plan and monthly evaluations with a teacher mentor
  • Weekly reflective leadership blog
  • Leadership strengths and weakness assessment
  • Speaking event every two months
  • Leadership book study (four books)
  • 75 hours of community service
  • Planning and implementation of a community service project
  • Attend a weekly leadership workshop led by various teachers and community leaders
  • Conduct a leadership workshop each year to underclassmen

Hall used some federal grant money to buy six iPod minis for the students to document what they do and blog about their experiences.

The leadership evaluation and growth plan will help students look at their strengths and weaknesses, to honestly look in the mirror to see what they need help with, Hall said.

During monthly meetings with their advisor and group, students will have to be honest with one another and use the criticism given to improve. 

“Trust and honesty in this program is going to be essential,” Hall said.

Wilk likes the idea of being able to see how she will progress throughout the year.

She knows she’ll have to be honest with herself about the things she needs to improve because people who think they are leaders often think they are perfect and know everything, which is not always the case, she said.

“You have to have a reality check every once in a while to get off your high horse and you are going to have things to work on, you always will,” she said.

Sophomore Ebonie Hampton hopes to use the evaluation to see where she needs to grow.

“It’s one of those things where you know where you’re starting at, so you’ll see where you can go,” she said. “If you never know a starting point you’re never going to get to an ending point”

Dakoda Rothermel, a sophomore, said the program will help a student better themselves without restrictions of people saying they can’t do something. He also likes that an advisor will help push him along the way.

At the end, students also will have to plan and implement a community service event to instill a servant-leader mentality, a major part of leadership, Hall said.

This program will be an independent study and not for school credit.

“It will run on the pure merits of students wanting to better themselves,” Hall said.

As a teacher, Hall is inspired to see students are interested in the program just to better themselves.

He hopes to someday attach a scholarship from the community to the program as a sort of reward for their work. But for now, the reward is simply learning to lead.

Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.