Junior REAL: South Dakota Farmers Union cultivates youth leaders

Farm Forum

HURON — Through South Dakota Farmers Union Jr. REAL (Junior Rural Economic and Leadership) program, high school juniors and seniors in rural schools across the state have been learning about community service, leadership and personal finance for the past nine years.

The program gets kids to start thinking about the choices they are making with money.

Karla Hofhenke, S.D. Farmers Union Executive Director, says they try to bring Jr. REAL to 10 locations each fall and winter to deliver their daylong program. Britton-Hecla was one of those locations this fall.

“We gained great real life and practical things that kids could apply to their own lives and the future. All four of the presentations were very pertinent to juniors and seniors and things that are happening in their lives right now, plus the things that are happening in the next couple of years as they transition to college,” says Carrie James, principal at Britton-Hecla High School.

James appreciates the effort that Farmers Union puts into bringing such a great program to rural schools. The organization comes well prepared, leaving little additional work for the school district.

“As a rural school, sometimes we don’t have all the different opportunities that maybe a more urban school might have,” James says. “I knew it would be a quality experience. I know that Farmers Union is a very big supporter of our schools.”

For the second year, SDFU sponsored a public service announcement (PSA) contest after the Jr. REAL program.

Hofhenke says the PSA contest gives the students a chance to show what they learned from the program in a fun way. She says the PSAs appeal to students because they can use modern technology to create something fun and educational.

Pat Renner, elementary physical education teacher and high school multimedia teacher at Britton-Hecla, had three teams complete a PSA. However, only one can be submitted to the contest. Their team made up of junior, Toni Symens, and sophomores, Ben Boyko, Tyler Bush and Laken Olson, won the contest.

For their video, they put together a re-enactment where two students graduate from high school and go out and get credit cards. One makes good choices and the other makes poor choices and ends up living on the street.

The team hopes viewers will learn how to make better decisions financially.

“I hope they’ll see the gravity of the situation if you make bad choices,” Boyko says.

Renner says the PSA contest was a good avenue for his students to research more about credit cards and credit scores.

“I think it’s always good for the kids to learn about their finances at an early age because sometimes they don’t get that at home,” Renner says.

Symens says the Jr. REAL program was educational and helped them learn about credit scores. She says it will help prepare her for decisions she will need to make heading into college.

Hofhenke feels the PSAs do a great job in helping students to understand financial situations. She hopes the Jr. REAL program will help South Dakota’s young people make wiser decisions as they become adults.

“The choices today equal your opportunities tomorrow,” Hofhenke says.