CONTINUING DURANT AGRICULTURE STUDIES AND FFA ACTIVITIES
An Enviable Record of Achievement Plus a Good Deal More
By Jim Frankowiak
It’s hard to believe Durant High School will not celebrate its 20th anniversary until this coming August. That’s especially true if you have a chance to visit the Agriculture Department’s Coach’s Trophy Room where evidence of local, state and national recognition for wide-ranging and diverse successes abounds. Durant students have held 11 state FFA officers since it’s opening in 1995. Durant FFA members have won 105 state titles and four at the national level. There are more on the horizon, too.
But those honors reflect much more than student success. “We’ve been blessed here at Durant High School from the very beginning with committed and hard-working teachers, focused students, a supportive administration, families that aren’t afraid to help, industry members that just won’t say no and a community that cares and steps up with assistance when needed,” said Ag Department Head Tim Cribbs, who has been at Durant since the beginning, nearly 20 years ago.
And there’s even more. “We take deep pride in our students and how they do in class, with FFA activities and their support of the community through several important programs. And it doesn’t stop when they graduate as our alumni continue to support us long after that last class and graduation,” noted Ag faculty member Thomas Sturgis, who has been at Durant and an Ag faculty member for 19 years.
Cribbs, Sturgis and Kendall Jenkins comprise Durant’s current Ag faculty, which has ranged in size from four members when the school opened to seven during the late 90s and until 2006, but department enrollment has remained constant over the years at approximately 475,” said Cribbs “and I believe that says a good deal about the commitment of our faculty to our students and FFA activities.” That translates to about 10,000 students since Durant opened its doors August 21, 1995. There are approximately 2300 students currently enrolled at the high school.
Former Durant Ag faculty includes Dr. Grady Roberts, who is now part of the Agricultural Education faculty at the University of Florida, Chuck Lambs, retired; Kim Matthias, who is teaching out of state; Richard Albertson, retired; Kitty Davis, now teaching in Georgia and Scott Brooks, General Director of Career and Technical Education for Hillsborough County Schools. Other former faculty include Kelley Ware, an Ag teacher at Newsome High School, Kenneth Hiscock, also an Ag faculty member at Newsome, Bob Ward, retired and Jason Steward at Tomlin Middle School.
The mix of students in Ag studies is about “60 percent male and 40 percent female,” said Cribbs. “We find that girls out participate the boys when it comes to our FFA activities.” The Durant Ag faculty offers students involved in FFA to participate in 18 different and diverse Career Development Events.
“I am pleased to note that our CDE participants regularly place in the top 5 statewide in those events,” said Cribbs. The Parliamentary Procedures team, which took top state honors in June and is competing at the national FFA convention in Louisville at this writing, includes Mariah Kunze, Clint Walden, Kent Greenwood, Alyssa Shepherd, Haley Burelson and Kaitlyn Taylor.
Cougar Mylie Feaster took top state honors in the Job Interview event, which involves preparation of a resume and cover letter, follow-up, the actual position interview and completion of a job application.
“We also had two students who won Proficiency Awards and proceeded to the national level competition.” Alex Fernandez won gold honors at national for his Turf & Landscape Management effort, while Cassidy Hasting won a silver medal for her sheep production project.
Over the years, eight Durant FFA students have received American Farm Degrees, the highest level of FFA recognition for projects.
Durant FFA Sweetheart Scholarship Pageant
The year 2007 marked the beginning of the Durant FFA Sweetheart Scholarship Pageant, which Jenkins began to oversee in 2013. “This is an exciting opportunity for students that may not necessarily be interested in showing livestock,” she said. “This year we had 15 students compete for the title and the top three finishers received over $2,000 in scholarships combined.”
It has to be noted that Ag faculty members at Durant are not compensated for activities that take place after 3:15 on school days or at any time on the weekend. “And there are months when the number of hours devoted to after school activities is very substantial,” said Cribbs, “but that’s part of being an Ag teacher and an accurate reflection of the industry. Ag work is not 9 to 5, and I am glad that my wife comes from an Ag family so she understands all of those hours. If she did not have that background, I doubt that she would be so tolerant.”
Durant Vocational Agriculture courses include Ag Communications, Animal Science and Services, Technical Agriculture Operations (Mechanics), Horticulture and Forestry. “Our students also have the opportunity to participate in an Agribusiness Cooperative Education,” said Sturgis. “This is planned and supervised OJT-type experience that contributes to the participating student’s education and employability.” Students get a job at a local Agriculture Business and sign out of school after lunch to report to work – they get high school credit and on-the-job training simultaneously.”
FFA offers the opportunity to gain industry certifications
“Our curriculum also offers students the opportunity to gain industry certifications in agricultural communications, nursery operations, agricultural mechanics and animal science,” said Cribbs. “Our teaching and after class activities are not limited to the classroom. Durant has a full working farm for hands on application of lessons learned in the classroom.” That “farm” includes a one-acre strawberry field, an ornamental plant nursery, an acre of citrus and 12 head of cattle, as well as a shop for ag mechanics.
“The proceeds from some of those operations are used to support our community service projects,” said Sturgis. Among those is Operation Bike Drop through which underprivileged elementary school students are given bicycles. “That effort has been underway for 15 years,” noted Cribbs, “and we have given away approximately 70 bikes during that time.” Tools for School is another that provides back packs filled with school supplies for needy students at Trapnell Elementary School. “Our students also provide several Thanksgiving baskets to needy families, and they do that working with local churches selecting the recipients.”
A tradition of 'giving back'
Students also give back to FFA through participation in the annual Beast Feast, a wild game cookout held at Haines City with the proceeds contributed to the state Leadership Training Center, also at Haines City. And there is the tradition of buying back the FFA blue jackets from students who have held state office. Durant has been able to buy those jackets back at $500 each and the jackets are on display at the high school, while the funds were donated to the FFA Alumni Scholarship Foundation.
Another measure of recognition for Durant’s Ag program comes from former students who are now engaged in the teaching of agriculture. That list includes Brett Wheeler, Melissa Sampson, Julia McConnell, Debbie Berry, Kelley Ware, Kenneth Hiscock, Michelle Curts, Kelcie Williams, Melissa Raburn and Audra Maxwell.
Support from the community and local businesses
“Industry support of our program is another blessing that we enjoy,” said Cribbs. “Local strawberry growers, cattlemen and merchants have been most generous with the cash and other donations. Harold’s Farm Supply and Southside Farm Supply are among the local businesses that help us and Brandon Farms literally oversees our strawberry operation,” Sturgis added. “Just this week, we received a donation of 12 auto-darkening welding helmets for the Agriculture Mechanics program from Zachry Industrial – Glenda Garrison and Mr. Roy Tillis.”
Durant’s legacy of success in its varied Ag program and FFA projects has made it the “go to” school for students seeking a strong and diverse experience in agriculture. “Some parents have actually relocated to residences within our area and there have been students who have selected Durant as their school of choice,” said Sturgis. The school of choice selection permits students enrolled at another high school to switch to another high school with district permission.
Support from Durant faculty
Durant Ag faculty members also help with FFA activities beyond those in which their students are participants, serving as judges and helping events in other ways. Cribbs annually organizes a livestock judging contest for middle schoolers from across Florida. This competition is held in conjunction with the Florida Strawberry Festival and involves swine, beef and lambs. Sturgis is a volunteer for the Swine Shows at the Florida Strawberry Festival, Hillsborough County Fair and the Florida State Fair. He also serves as Chairman for the Rabbit and Poultry Show at the Florida Strawberry Festival.
All of these activities and events could not take place without the encouragement and backing of Durant High Schools’ Administration. “Principal Pam Bowden has always been very supportive of our Ag program,” noted Sturgis. “We say Durant is a high school where student pursue their dreams. If that dream includes just about any aspect of agriculture, we can help make it come true.”
As to the future, it “will be more of the same with an eye to technological developments within the industry, “said Cribbs.
For more information about Durant High School and its award-winning Ag program, visit: durant.mysdhc.org. Go Cougars!