FFA at White House Rural Economic Forum

“I was an FFA member back in the day” … “Some of my greatest memories are as a student in a rural setting” … “We believe in the future of agriculture and in students like you.

Comments like these were common from White House Staff, business leaders and attendees at the White House’s Rural Economic Forum held at Northeast Iowa Community College on August 16. State FFA Officers from Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois joined rural advocates, small business owners, cabinet members, my national FFA officer teammate, Wyatt DeJong, and me in a discussion focusing on rural America.

Riley Pagett and Wyatt DeJong at the White House’s Rural Economic Forum

The day was a success in developing ideas for effective rural communities, recruitment to such areas and other issues involving rural persons and businesses. The day also marked a great step forward for the American education system. People became more aware of the importance of education of people of all ages from all walks of life through breakout sessions. Business and industry leaders, staff, cabinet members and others brainstormed ideas in which we could enhance rural America – educational standards, increased broadband coverage, and opportunities for students to return to production agricultural areas and family farms were topics covered. Thoughts in the breakout sessions were solidified during President Obama’s remarks to the group.

“It’s always a mistake to bet against America. It’s always a mistake to bet against the American worker, the American farmer, the American small business owner, the American People,” President Obama said. As the President wrapped up the rural economic development forum, he said he has confidence in our nation’s economic recovery and is encouraged by what he saw on his trip through rural Iowa and Minnesota.

His comments seemed to motivate attendees and summed up the day. He explained that the future direction of the Rural Council is to support the work done that day and the work of rural people he had encountered during his term.  He thanked “the future farmers” for our commitment to young people, agriculture, education and rural America.

To me, his comments spoke highly of today’s youth and of what we had achieved that day in Iowa – awareness, need for opportunity in rural areas and a sense of community among all.

Riley Pagett
Oklahoma student
2010-11 National FFA President

Giving Youth a Voice

Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover

We can’t improve education if we don’t listen to students, Secretary Duncan often explains when he talks about the need for an ongoing conversation with students, teachers and parents. As part of that ongoing conversation, some of the Secretary’s top advisers met with a group of students from the National Campaign for Quality Education last month to discuss ideas on education reform and how we can increase student achievement throughout the country. The students highlighted their proposed legislation entitled the Youth SUCCESS Act, which calls for a student Bill of Rights, investment in job opportunities, and ending the school-to-prison pipeline.

The youth described how their personal experiences in their communities and classrooms have influenced their education, and they expressed a strong interest in continuing to work with ED to close our country’s achievement gap.

The meeting was the result of a request from a student during ED’s Voices in Action: National Youth Summit at Howard University in February. Following the meeting, hundreds of students from the National Campaign for Quality Education staged a rally on ED’s plaza and marched to the Department of Labor to continue their call for youth investment.

Read about the top five things we learned at the National Youth Summit, and continue the conversation by becoming a fan of ED Youth Voices on Facebook.

Robert Gomez is a Management and Program Analyst at the Department of Education