Columns | Northwest Herald

Youth organization connects students to ag careers

Agriculture education supporters learned a youth organization helps students learn about agricultural careers even if their school doesn’t offer ag classes.

Ebony Webber, CEO of National Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, discussed the organization and its youth chapters with the Illinois Leadership Council for Agricultural Education in Chicago. The group toured Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences and heard from faculty and administrators.

Increasing the number of urban students interested in agriculture-related careers is an ongoing goal for ILCAE and others involved with agriculture education. One of the challenges has been expanding the number of schools with agriculture programs, especially given the high demand for agriculture teachers.

Two of Junior MANRRS’ goals are to expose high school students to careers in food, agriculture and natural resources and to dispel myths about ag careers, Webber said.

However, a school does not have to teach agriculture classes to host a Junior MANRRS chapter, she noted. For example, a math teacher could serve as a sponsor and help students understand math careers related to agriculture.

“Everything is connected to agriculture,” Webber said. “We take what students are interested in doing and help them understand what they can do related to agriculture.”

Junior MANRRS chapters may be connected to a community organization, Webber noted. “Most successful chapters have a community base and the parents [involved],” she said.

Similar to FFA, Junior MANRRS offers academic and leadership experiences, career exploration and community service. A requirement to offer a full agriculture program, FFA and Supervised Agricultural Experience projects that apply classroom knowledge has stymied some districts from adding ag classes.

Seven Illinois districts offer Junior MANRRS chapters and five more around the state are considering it. Illinois schools with Junior MANRRS are CHSAS, Prosser Career Academy and Gary Comer College Prep, both in Chicago; Freeport High School; Carbondale High School; Cahokia High School; and Lovejoy Technology Academy, Brooklyn.

Junior MANRRS started through 4-H in a Pennsylvania middle school in 1991 and has grown to 700 members nationwide. MANRRS started on the collegiate level in 1984. In addition to high school and college students, MANRRS also offers professional membership for anyone employed or involved professionally in the industry and not a full-time student.

Along with career awareness, Junior MANRRS members receive information about scholarships, applied research and mentorships with local universities. National competitions are held for public speaking, research posters, written essays and photography.

“We have to educate students and their parents about agriculture,” Webber said. “They don’t think of STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] or technology. We have to reframe the conversation. Most of the time, they’re not aware that they’re already connected to agriculture.”

• This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.