Youth leadership programs, such as FFA or 4-H, allow students to explore their opportunities and develop their personal and professional skills. Kirsten Franks is a high school senior and president of the FFA chapter at Visalia Technical Early College. Based on her experiences with early ag education and leadership programs, Franks advocates for students of all ages to get involved in these programs and take advantage of the opportunities they can provide.
4-H is a community-centered organization available to children from the ages of 9 to 21. In this program, students gain the opportunity to practice a variety of skills that are centered around agriculture and rural life, such as caring for animals, creating crafts, and participating in sports like archery. FFA, by contrast, is an organization with members ranging from 12 to 21 years of age and is typically for middle and high school students. These students practice leadership skills, such as public speaking, in the context of agricultural education.
“There is always somewhere for a little kid in 4-H,” Franks said. “They may have to learn how to sit through a meeting, but once they get past that, my club now offers scrapbooking and small animal projects, so there’s always a place for a kid in 4-H.”
Franks believes in the importance of students getting hands-on education as early in their lives as possible. Being actively involved in 4-H from a young age has provided Franks with a comfortable introduction to agriculture and has helped her teach others about the industry.
FFA has also equipped Franks with many of the skills and experiences that she will carry with her into her career. She explained that FFA is more structured, which helps with the events that students compete in. One type of event, public speaking competitions, has been one of the largest contributors to Franks’ success and enjoyment in the organization.
“I have two [careers] that I’m leaning towards and I’m trying to take my opportunities in both 4-H and FFA to get to experience them,” Franks said. “My goal is either to become an ag teacher, and be able to teach the thing that I’m most passionate about, but I also really have a passion for ag business and helping the more production and management side of agriculture too.”
Franks has discovered a strong passion for the agriculture industry through her involvement in both FFA and 4-H. The skills she has learned and the connections she has made will continue to push her to pursue agricultural endeavors.