I have a number of occasions each year to be around high school students. Some impress me, others don’t.
A few days ago in Atlanta, there was a gathering of about 6,000 impressive students from across the U.S. It was the annual leadership conference of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America. FCCLA is the successor to what once was known as Future Homemakers of America.
They have 160,000 members in 5,900 chapters across the country and some of our territories.
These students are the cream of the crop. If you were driving through downtown Atlanta, you would have seen them in their red blazers. Dressing for success is one of the important aspects of being a member of FCCLA.
Attending the Atlanta conference was the culmination of a lot of hard work. Students compete in a variety of areas ranging from culinary skills to early childhood education. There are competitions focusing on nutrition, mathematics and science.
One of their newest areas involves traffic safety.
I guess the thing that is most impressive is the diverse group of participants. There are students from tiny hamlets in places like Montana or Wyoming. Others hail from some of our largest cities.
I overheard students riding on an escalator at the Georgia World Congress Center commenting on this being their first time to see or ride one. Some of them were staying in a hotel for the first time and arrived here on their first plane trip. They had worked hard to raise money to defray their travel expenses.
I think the most impressive thing was their good manners.
I brought a seat belt demonstration to the conference and had about 500 students take a ride on it. They didn’t finish the ride without turning back to say, “thank you.”
I would often ask about their hometown or state. This usually involved them reaching out for a handshake and introducing themselves. Some of them were in a high school class of 30.
I don’t know what the other 29 students back at home were like, but the one they sent to Atlanta was a winner.
Some of them are learning the finer points of dressing for success. A major clothing company has partnered with FCCLA to sell blazers at a price of around $50 and also assists in alterations to make them fit professionally.
Putting a kid in a coat and tie does not instantly make them successful. But when you combine it with the other aspects of career preparation, it becomes a visible sign of change.
The participation in FCCLA can begin in middle school and continues through high school. Some of the senior members have been accepted into some of our nation’s finest colleges and universities. Others are heading into specialized vocational programs, such as culinary schools.
FCCLA is often mentioned alongside other youth development organizations, such as 4-H and FFA. There is a lot of great work being done to help our high school students hone their leadership skills and prepare them to make a difference, not just in their local community, but also in our entire nation.
If you have a child or grandchild coming along, it might be a great opportunity to help them a talent that could open great doors for the future.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear Sunday.