FFA programs continue to thrive

The FFA programs in Magnolia and Tomball ISDs have grown significantly throughout the past decade, with the help of a region that has deep agriculture roots and more than 5,000 agriculture producers.

Most recently, the Tomball FFA program has outgrown its 20,000-square-foot agriculture project barn built three years ago and will use part of the district's $160 million bond approved in May to build a second barn adjacent to the exiting facility.

"Fortunately, the voters approved Bond 2013 and we will be able to expand the project barn enabling the program to continue to grow," said recently retired Tomball Superintendent John Neubauer.

The impact FFA chapters in Magnolia and Tomball have on the communities they operate in reach far beyond raising animals. The local FFA chapters work to better their communities through community service and they travel the state for debate and leadership development competitions. In return, business leaders and residents play a large role in helping the chapters thrive and grow stronger, in part by supporting each of the FFA's annual livestock shows and sales.

"As a former FFA student, I think FFA is hugely impactful," said Texas State Rep. Cecil Bell Jr., R-Magnolia. "You learn a lot of leadership skills, you learn responsibility, you learn teamwork. The FFA is a strong framework for training future leaders."

With more than 10,000 agriculture producers in Harris County, there are many opportunities for students wanting to find a career in the ag field throughout the region and the state, including ranching, international marketing and ag journalism, said Gary Underwood, director of agriculture appraisal for Harris County.

In addition, the FFA program teaches students technical skills to help them get jobs immediately after high school, Underwood said.

"They're not only teaching animal science, they're teaching leadership and they're teaching some of the basic skills in ag mechanics and welding," Underwood said. "They're giving the students the ability to go out and work with their hands and minds. Programs like this provide skills to get a job when they leave high school."

Nonprofit

There are about 400 students in the FFA at Tomball and Tomball Memorial high schools and about 250 FFA members at Magnolia and Magnolia West high schools. The FFA is a nonprofit organization that operates as a club on high school campuses across the U.S.

"We really watched our program just explode over the past 12 years," said Jessica Reeves, Tomball High School agriculture teacher and FFA adviser.

About a fourth of all students at Tomball High School will be enrolled in agriculture classes next year, Reeves said. Many of those students join the FFA to continue their agriculture education. FFA has something to offer any student with any skill level, FFA advisors said.

"You don't have to raise an animal," Reeves said. "Everybody thinks it's raising a cow or a pig, but it's so much more. Our kids compete in public speaking competitions, learn job interviewing skills, produce a radio show, learn parliamentary procedure, participate in ag debate. We have kids that judge livestock and other kids learn nursery landscape, floral design or compete in economics tests against other schools."

The FFA is funded mostly by the money raised at annual livestock shows and sales and with fundraising help from its booster clubs. The organization also receives a small amount of funds from local school districts to function as a club on high school campuses. In Tomball, the annual livestock sale last January brought in a total of more than $600,000, Reeves said.

Community service

FFA chapters teach students to help others in tough times in whatever ways they can. FFA members dedicate weekends and holidays to help with community service projects.

The FFA helps at local elementary school events, participates in toy drives and adopts families during the Christmas holiday. Tomball FFA members recently served free lunches to children at Tomball's MLK Park.

In addition, the Tomball FFA raised $7,500 to help with rebuilding efforts in West, Texas, after the fertilizer plant explosion there this spring. And the Magnolia and Tomball FFAs worked together to raise $2,000 for Oklahoma rebuilding efforts after the tornadoes there in May.

"One of our motto's is living to serve," Reeves said. "We're really trying to teach our students that we're called to help people in need and to serve others."