Mansfield is a city with more than 65,000 population and six high schools. It's a stone's throw from some of the largest cities in Texas, Arlington, Fort Worth and Dallas.
But there's still a lot of country within the Mansfield city limits, and nowhere is that more evident than in the school district's Future Farmers of America (FFA) program. It began in 1935 and remains one of the best in the state.
Kristi Chambliss, the teacher in charge of the FFA and agricultural sciences program, said the reason for its flourishing is simple, it is an integral part of daily lives.
"FFA offers students an opportunity to be leaders and develop their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success," Chambliss said. "It offers over two million dollars in scholarships and over 300 career choices."
Successes by the ag program in the MISD include:
▪ A state qualified soil stewardship speaker two years in a row.
▪ Numerous Lone Star Degree recipients.
▪ A state media staff member.
▪ Area talent team qualifiers two consecutive years.
▪ Various area qualifying Leadership Development Event and Career Development Events teams.
▪ Countless livestock animals sold at the Parker County Livestock Show.
"Having organizations like FFA and agricultural science are important not only because of the organizational and leadership competencies they impart, but because these skills have a direct impact on our local economy," said Dr. Sean Scott, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. "Farmers and ranchers are critical to society to produce fresh foods.
"It allows students to realize how their food gets to our local grocery stores and educates them in the various factors that work together to make that happen.”
And while the eyes of Texas might be on the Longhorns sports teams at the University of Texas in Austin, the ones in the Mansfield FFA have also caught the eye of plenty of folks across the state.
One of the highlights of the longstanding program is the Longhorn Show Team. Among their success is recently winning almost $57,000 in scholarships from the prestigious Autobahn Showcase in Fort Worth.
"Texas Longhorns are a docile and unique breed connected to Texas history, so several students are interested in them," Chambliss said.
The Longhorn Show Team currently has five boys and 11 girls. In all, the ag team includes five seniors, four juniors, four sophomores, a freshman and two intermediate school students for 17 in all.
Students who wish to be on the Longhorn Show Team must own or lease a longhorn to show. Chambliss said several students lease their cattle and show them through the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association.
This allows students who would not be able to purchase a calf and/or have a place to put it participate. It also gives the student who does not want to be a cattle rancher the opportunity to test out what raising cattle would be like without incurring the cost of purchasing a show animal.
"Additionally, the Texas Longhorn Breeders Association does a great job of promoting and supporting the youth through scholarship programs and award programs," she said. "Also Mr. John Chase of the Autobahn Car group hosts the Dianne Chase Scholarship show each year where they award students in the longhorn industry over $400,000 in scholarship money."
Chambliss said ultimately, the Longhorn Show program is a way for the FFA to offer inner city students the opportunity to learn while doing, while not excluding those unable to afford or unwilling to invest before learning their full interest.
"It’s a way for students who have a desire and a need to reach a goal or obtain an education that may have otherwise been unavailable," she said.
"That ag program is incredible. My daughter went through and it was so great for her," said Mansfield School Board President Raul Gonzalez, whose daughter won the team's overall award as a sophomore and senior.
"They are so mature. They wake up every morning at 5, feed these animals, care for them. It's an incredible commitment."
Chambliss said the goal is for all ag students to serve and help improve society as they move forward in life.
"These competitions teach our students about agricultural industries, community services, and help them develop real world professionalism, communication skills, problem solving skills, time management skills, and responsibility as well," she said. "Our students learn how to deal with uncooperative animals (and people) in a real world setting where they have to problem solve instead of reading the answer on a piece of paper."