Of all the things FIRST has succeeded with in the numerous years past, there’s one big area where we as a national organization are lacking: Gaining recognition as a national career and technical student leadership organization
What will it take for FIRST to become national recognized by federal and state governments as a career and technical student leadership organization? How can teams assist in this effort?
While I have not yet led any student in SkillsUSA, I am convinced that the quantity and quality of student leadership training we do in FIRST (especially at the highest levels) meets and likely exceeds that of many SkillsUSA participants and competitions. This is not meant to diminish the efforts of SkillsUSA in any way, but rather act as a comparison to gain insight as to why SkillsUSA and other organizations are recognized in this way and FIRST is not. How do we bring ourselves as a national organization, FIRST, to a level at which we gain the same respect, acknowledgement, and opportunity as these other organizations.
To quote a memo I found from the California Department of Education:
In California, the state supported career and technical student organizations include: California DECA: A Marketing Association (formerly Distributive Education Clubs of America), Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), Future Farmers of America (FFA), Future Homemakers of America-Home Economics Related Occupations (FHA-HERO), Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), and Skills USA (formerly Vocational Industrial Clubs of America-VICA).
How did this all come to be, and what can we do to get there too?
IMHO, student leadership in FIRST isn’t as visible as in other organizations due to the fact that there is such a large mentor presence. Mentors are extremely beneficial to FIRST and are a core tenet in the programs, but in many situations mentor involvement can diminish student leadership. Yes, students still have the opportunity to lead, but this is not nearly as visible as it would be without mentors.
You are running into what we are in Idaho as well. We need to get either legislation or state board of education changes to recognize it as an organization like SkillsUSA, DECA, FFA, etc. It also comes down to what is recognized as part of grant systems like Perkins at the state level for funding (stipends, program management, etc). I think other states have run into this as well and have had legislation help get past these boundaries. That is what we are working towards. Look to Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and Utah for examples of how they have made that happen.
One of the items asked of me during a conversation with the state board of education groups is, “… does the state need a program manager (like they have for Skills, TSA, FFA) to work for FIRST too?” So there are many layers to this issue to be recognized as a student leader organization.
I agree the program has the ability to have exceptional student led programs, we have seen many at events and the mentor involvement should enhance that as they guide and encourage those leaders.
Keep up the good fight, we will get there someday!
Actually another thought just occurred to me that I had not looked into before. How did those others become on this list for all the states as recognized organizations? Did they lump sum appear one time, or was there a process they had followed which made them successful. If we can learn the history we may be able to repeat it (in the good way of course).
Since gaining this recognition is tied to federal and state funding, I think FIRST as a national organization needs to be more active on this front. We want to help, but don’t know where to start with this one.
While I would agree with you on this, it’s also true that we are losing support for FIRST because it’s not part of the national education agenda. If it can’t be tested, it’s just “fluff” and nonessential. This is where our FIRST executive folks need to get in and push hard.
Our own school district is facing a massive shortfall this year, due to increased mandated testing and all-day kindergarten requirements. We lost our DECCA program years ago, now our high school is rejecting our FIRST robotics team, closing our woodshop and drafting programs, and giving up on almost all vocational skill building classes.
It’s ironic because they are going for GEAR-UP money to push college for everyone. They don’t see that programs like FIRST give students exposure to interests they wouldn’t pique otherwise.