CHISD breaks ground on new Ag Barn
(CHAPEL HILL ISD, TYLER, TX) Chapel Hill ISD is getting a makeover, and we are not just talking about the reconfiguration of 2020. The Agricultural Department within our CTE program is getting a major boost that will affect the many generations that walk through the doors of CHISD.
It all started with a vision back in 2017. The vision of one student, within the FFA program, Kaitlyn King.
“Me and Mr. Carnes had been talking … saying we need to get an ag barn, because there were lots of students that were coming into the program at that time and we noticed that there was no space for them to have an animal. Some lived in an apartment or neighborhood, but many were interested in animals,” says King.
“I didn’t have land to put a cow on and I really wanted to. Someone had given Kaitlyn some land and so she was able to pursue that passion. I just think how much of a difference it would have made for me to be able to have somewhere to put an animal,” says Ashlyn Smith, current FFA President at CHISD.
Smith will be a senior at Chapel Hill High School next year. She began her research on the ag barn, as a freshman, working side by side with King and other students. They did their homework and came up with a plan on how to get a barn erected on school property. They discovered a grant called ‘Grants for Growing,’ which is a competitive grant program for middle and high school FFA chapters that are developing and improving project-based or experiential learning opportunities for students. The FFA chapters may apply for up to 5 thousand dollars and the grant is sponsored by Tractor Supply.
“And within a two week time frame, Mr. Carnes and I and Mr. Woods, we sat down and we drew up some plans for this really small, I believe it was a 40x60, very small, just basic open frame barn that we could put up that just had a roof and three sides. Maybe we could put three cattle, a couple pigs, something we could just put behind the green house there on campus. We wanted to put something up fast because students were losing years to participate in this,” says King.
King, Carnes, and the fellow FFA students that were closely involved, looked up prices for the barn and submitted their presentation for the five thousand dollar grant in December of 2017. They won. There were only three other chapters to receive the grant.
“Other districts don’t really know who we are because we’re small. So, it was really exciting for us to get that,” says King.
With a small barn in mind, they started making plans, but it wasn’t long before the small ag barn grew into a much bigger project than imagined.
“After we got the grant, some of the school board members caught wind of it and they wanted to make it bigger. It’s been a process since then to get the dream barn that’s about to be put up,” said King.
School Board President, Martin Ibarra, works for Woodmen Life, a company that often gives back to the community.
“They came and spoke at one of our meetings. The President of the company at the time, asked the students why don’t you tell me what your dream barn would look like and how much it would cost. They came and they presented and Woodmen was willing to give a substantial amount of money. Well, by that time, word of the new ag barn had also gotten to Mr. Dean, and the board. We decided it was definitely something we wanted to grow. It just sort of snow balled from there. Mr. Dean and his staff did a great job of doing some research across the state and looking at other facilities and what they looked like and what the best fit for our school would be, “said Ibarra.
“We went to Woodmen Life’s insurance board meeting, and I spoke with Kaitlyn and Sydney and we just gave our testimony on how important this really was,” says Smith.
The project started with a 5 thousand dollar grant, and the project skyrocketed from there.
“Woodmen life donated 40 thousand. It started with these kids and it grew by approaching Woodmen Life and then it really went through the roof when the administration got involved,” says Ibarra, “Not just throwing up a metal shed but having something nice for all of our kids to be able to use. This will provide a lot of opportunities for kids to have a show project or just learn about showing animals, all of that stuff.”
“I definitely think it opens doors for kids who don’t have the opportunity to learn about this stuff at home,” says Smith, “We’re going to have a vet room and have hands on experience. Kids can actually raise an animal on campus and take care of it every day.”
Smith says it’s also an excellent opportunity for the district to host jackpot shows, where an FFA chapter puts together a weekend animal competition for local district chapters. It allows students and their animals to get more experience.
“Some kids can’t afford to go to Houston or buy a large animal to take to these larger shows where they can compete and win prizes,” says Smith.
So what does this mean for future students coming into the agriculture program? King says it means everything.
“When we were trying to get additional funds outside of what the school was going to put in, we did the presentation, we drew up the figures and the majority of students that were coming into the ag program were expressing that they wanted to participate in showing in some form or fashion. I think it was ¾ of them, that didn’t have a place to house an animal or know anyone who did. I mean, they can show anything they want! Some live in apartments and they can’t even show a rabbit. It’s just so important, having the visual and making it achievable … it’s going to grow the program tremendously,” says King.
The students stated that the donors that have invested in this project are simply incredible.
“They really invest and they want us to succeed,” says King, “They want to see us get there and part of that is because our FFA isn't super prominent in the show world."
King’s father went to Chapel Hill and was also FFA president at that time. He told King the district didn’t have a large ag department and what a difference it would have made if they had. A sentiment that was felt, even by our School Board President.
“I grew up in town, so I didn’t grow up around cattle and horses, now I live on a ranch with cattle, it’s something that I enjoy doing, but I never had that opportunity growing up because we didn’t have the acreage or a place to facilitate an animal,” says Ibarra, “And it’s not just animals, the kids can grow plants there as well. There’s going to be a lot of people impacted by this.”
“We’ve seen over the past few years, the vocational part of schools are really gaining track with students. All the CTE programs are helping push students into hands on learning, where just a few years ago, it was all academics in the classroom. These donors are setting the mood for future students that want to get in there and see what’s in the agricultural world and just in general have that hands on experience,” says King.
The project is expected to be completed within 6 months. Monday, May 18, CHISD held it’s ground breaking ceremony, with shovels in hand, ready to begin on a project that’s been years in the making.
“I’m just really excited for the kids” says Ibarra, “It’s a great example of what can be accomplished when everyone is pulling in the same direction. The parents and the community can come together for one purpose and that’s the betterment of the district, and give kids the opportunity that they wouldn’t have had without everyone pulling together and creating this facility for our kids.”