Following the success of a solid high school Future Farmers of America (FFA) program, the Mansfield School District has now launched a Junior FFA program.
"The ultimate goal is to have a farm that provides food for the elementary schools," said Doug Klaudt of the Ben Barber Career Tech Academy Agriculture Department.
The original launch site of the Junior FFA program is at Tarver-Rendon Elementary School. Donna Shepard Intermediate is next on the list.
"It makes sense to have Tarver Rendon the pilot school because of its proximity to the Ron Whitson barn," Klaudt said. "Likewise, Donna Shepherd is close to the Reed Stewart barn. We also have strong administrator interest and support at both schools."
The high school campuses are consolidated into a single Mansfield FFA chapter. The center of operations for the FFA chapter is Ben Barber Innovation Academy.
Mansfield FFA director Kristi Chambliss said the Junior FFA Program allows young students the opportunity to gain experience in the ag program at an early age rather than wait until they get in high school.
"Many student in the past have started in 4H, but we hope that this will allow our program to grow in the future," she said. "The goal is to build a strong base for the FFA program."
To summarize, Junior FFA is a statewide program offered to students in grades 3-8 where there is an active FFA chapter. Unlike 4-H, which has many different programs, Junior FFA is strictly limited to raising and exhibiting livestock, poultry and rabbits. Those students and parents must care for the project for the entirety of the feeding duration.
"Students learn where their food comes from and about being a part of agriculture, despite being raised in a city," Chambliss said. "The result is our students become productive, responsible, and informed youth in today’s agricultural sector. We believe that students should have the option to be a part of the FFA program as early as possible.
"Much like their high schools peers, they love the responsibility, sportsmanship, leadership, and integrity that is taught when caring for an animal. If students can connect and find and an interest in FFA at the junior level, they are more likely to stay involved when they get into high school, and possibly choose a career in agriculture."
The program has 19 students (11 boys, 8 girls), with 17 coming from Tarver-Rendon. Among the early success of the program is:
▪ Savannah Duncan of Cross Timbers Intermediate exhibited a heifer and a young bull. The bull placed first in class.
▪ Oran Chambliss of Donna Shepard Intermediate exhibited 7 head of cattle placing from sixth to 15th.
"We have had two Jr FFA students exhibit pigs at the Fort Worth Stock Show. They did not place, but had a very valuable learning experience, since this was their first time at a major stock show," Chambliss said.
Junior FFA students also exhibited goats, sheep and rabbits in the Fort Worth Stock Show.
"We feel that every chance our students get out to show their animals, learn what a judge might be looking for in a market/breeding animal, or practice showmanship skills is truly an invaluable experience," she said.
To be a part of the Tarver Rendon Junior FFA Leadership Program, students must be in grades 3 or 4, must attend meetings, be in good standing with their teachers, and passing all classes in order to show animals. To be a part of the traditional Junior FFA Pathway students must have membership in Tarver Rendon’s Leadership Junior FFA or have a sibling in the program.
In order for a student who graduates into Donna Shepherd to continue the program, they must maintain a project and continual FFA membership. This continues until a student is eligible to attend an ag class at Ben Barber in the ninth grade.
"We think the plan is continue to grow as we are a school at a time to keep it manageable and successful," Chambliss said.
Chambliss said the hope is that Junior FFA students - and those in Senior FFA - will become leaders in the agriculture world once they move on from the MISD.
"Building relationships between the younger students and the advisors and the high school students puts our students in line to become the next leaders in the agricultural world and ensures we continue to have a steady food supply," she said.
She cites her own son as an example.
"As a parent and teacher of the students in Junior FFA program, I have seen so many benefits to our youth participating in Junior FFA at a young age. My son has grown so much in maturity and responsibility. While most students at the age of 10 are at home playing on a computer or gaming system, my son gets up at 5 a.m. to get ready for school, to go out and feed, clean, and work his cattle every morning," she said.
"The sense of responsibility has spilled over into other areas of his life, including taking on the responsibility on his own of cooking dinner one night a week and managing his grades himself. I believe if you show me a kid involved in FFA in some capacity, I will show you a child who transformed to a productive individual."
Keven Smith, who runs the Whitson facility, said some students are already planning for next year's projects.
"Any FFA chapter is always looking for ways to attract, maintain and retain the level of membership," Smith said. "Having jr FFA is one avenue that will help Mansfield FFA to grow."
To which Chambliss added, "Someday we would like these kids to look back and be able to say that FFA opened many doors for their future that maybe they would not have considered.
"It is amazing how much these students really learn before they graduate."