Seeing Yourself in CATA and FFA

By: Brian Kim, CATA Southern Region President

Like many other high school agriculture teachers in the state, I knew I wanted to be an agriculture teacher through my participation and involvement within my own chapter. I would have considered myself the gung-ho FFA kid who wanted to participate in every leadership conference, run for office, and show livestock. The FFA, as it does for so many young students, provided me with a home, a place to thrive, and somewhere that I had a sense of belonging. There was a huge part of my FFA experience missing though: my parents. Growing up I saw my parents actively involved in my older sisters’ choir concerts and my older brothers’ baseball and marching band competitions, but when it came down to the ag world, there was a disconnect. Still, even to this day, my parents don’t fully understand the world of agricultural education and I attribute the disconnect to their race, upbringing, and culture. 

During my sophomore year, while running for regional office, I had made the first conscious note in my head that not many other FFA members looked like me. I didn’t see many other Asian FFA members in blue jackets. Even as a professional, I can probably count the number of Asian agriculture teachers on my hands within our state. As we find ourselves, as an organization, pushing towards inclusivity, going as far as stating that our FFA programs should reflect our school population, and how beneficial it would be that students see themselves in their educators, I can’t help but think that our teachers will need to be supported in having more dynamic discussions and awareness to engage all student populations. 

Participation in extracurricular activities is associated with higher educational aspirations and expectations, higher levels of academic achievement, higher levels of self-esteem and a lower likelihood of dropping out of high school. Extracurricular activities enable students not only to explore interests and make new friends, but also to develop a large range of physical, interpersonal, leadership, and intellectual skills.  

These activities appeared to have been a response from educational systems in industrialized nations to a rapid increase in secondary enrollments. Administrative leaders began writing articles that reflected the value of extracurricular activities. It was not until well into the 20th century those extracurricular activities began to be considered as important by educational leaders. In general, low socioeconomic and minority students receive less attention from teachers, are placed in lower academic tracks, and learn less during the school year. Supporting evidence claims that access to the extra curriculum is inequitably distributed among students from various social, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. It is important to research the inequalities in extracurricular activities given the potential benefits that students may receive from participation. 

Research shares prevalent stereotypes that link ethnic group membership to academic ability and other skills. These stereotypes form a reference point for the construction of success among the youth. This supports the idea that adolescents define their goals depending on the stereotypes attached to their ethnic group. Research also shared that income is a significant predictor of whether a child participates in an extracurricular activity. Paying to play extracurricular activities places a financial burden on the students and their families. Low participation is high among economically disadvantaged children. Families with higher income are more likely to provide opportunities for their children to participate in extracurricular activities than families with lower income. Relating this very topic to the livestock world, we see similarities within those families who have the ability to provide their children with “higher-end” livestock animals, those families who get the very “basic” livestock animal, and even those students who, after learning there is a price tag involved, ultimately do not even show up to the interest meetings. 

Raising livestock, attending leadership conferences, and any activities have much in common as there is an after-school commitment as well as a financial responsibility to the project. There is a racial discrepancy as the majority of students that raise livestock at Sunny Hills High School are Caucasian and Latino. In addressing the Asian population and why more Asian students don’t participate in agricultural education, there is a cultural gap. We have a strong population of Asian students enrolling in agriculture courses because we can “sell” to both the student and parent that our classes fall under Biology and Chemistry; when it comes to having the opportunity to raise livestock or participate in agriculture-related activities there is a distinctive gap. In a high school with a strong academic achievement level and a large Asian population, some educational stereotypes are very much real. Parents of Asian students are pushing them to have the best odds on college applications, therefore any course that veers away from an AP, IB, and/or Honors is not relevant. Students asking their parents to raise livestock are often turned down as the event is not academically relevant nor does it actively thrust their students into a higher achievement category. This discrepancy even begins with students asking their parents if they can register for an agriculture class. The word “agriculture” is foreign and unfamiliar to them, which places the course in a “less-than” category. Pushing for the Asian community to accept CTE courses, place value, and rigor will require consistent exposure, education, and awareness in which we need to be prepared to do in order to break educational misunderstandings. Though the challenges that the Asian community and agricultural education face may differ from those of different races and cultures, one thing remains true: we need to continue diving into these conversations and creating meaningful change.  

Although the focus for our school is the Asian population, California agriculture programs are diverse and require a dive into other areas of race. As teachers begin to actively try and involve all students, special attention should be placed on racial inequities and how they affect student participation.

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