Wessington Springs FFA secures grant, to upgrade materials, commission hallway mural

Jan. 24—WESSINGTON SPRINGS, S.D. — A pair of programs at the Wessington Springs School District are getting a boost thanks to a little teamwork.

The FFA and FCCLA at the district recently secured a Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO) Revitalization Grant, bringing in approximately $8,000 between the two organizations. The funds are expected to go toward a number of improvements associated with the groups that should do exactly what the grant title implies it will do.

Revitalize them.

"It's actually a brand new grant. Basically, it's to help programs get a facelift and increase membership," said Brady Duxbury, who is in his first year as ag teacher and FFA adviser at his alma mater.

The grant works on a tiered system and distributes funds based on certain criteria. A brand-new program in its first year could apply for up to $10,000. A new teacher coming into an established program could apply for $5,000 and an established teacher in an established program could apply for up to $3,000.

With Duxbury being a new teacher in an established program, he applied for the $5,000 disbursement while the Wessington Springs FCCLA chapter and its adviser Charlotte Mohling applied for the $3,000 disbursement, being an established teacher already in an established program. Both applications were successful, so they now are working with $8,000 to bring about some changes.

Receiving the grant was a surprise, but a welcome one, Duxbury said.

"We weren't sure if it was going to go through. We were asking for quite a bit of money. So it was really kind of a shock," Duxbury said of receiving word that they had secured the grant. "We would not have gotten this unless we had FCCLA, because we came together. It was a joint effort. It worked out really well, with both being able to do things we wanted to get done anyway."

Other schools and programs to receive similar grants included the Aberdeen FBLA, Hitchcock-Tulare FCCLA, Madison FFA, Burke Ed Rising, Madison FBLA, Burke FCCLA, Madison Ed Rising, Burke FFA, Huron HOSA, Madison FCCLA, Hitchcock-Tulare FFA, Madison HOSA, Miller FCCLA and Chamberlain HOSA.

Duxbury said there are a few items that the Wessington Springs FFA chapter is eyeing. The chapter's banner hasn't been updated in years, and the two organizations plan to combine forces to purchase a display cabinet and message board that will sit in the main hallway of the high school to display awards of the Career and Technical Education programs.

"There are obviously some incredible things we have in this program, but some things are dated as well. Being able to use funds like this, it's going to give the program almost a new feel," Duxbury said. "And it's going to speak to a new generation of kids and speak to the direction I'd like to take this program moving forward into the future."

Mohling said in addition to the combined cabinetry project, the grants will provide a chance to promote the FCCLA program, something that tends to get overlooked when funds aren't there to support it.

"It gives us an opportunity to do some promotion that we might not be able to do with our current funds. When Brady and I talked about it, one of the things that stands out for me is I have very active students in FCCLA who are involved in STAR events," Mohling said. "I have learned that it doesn't matter how much you try to promote and publicize, it still helps to continue to do that to update what your community thinks of the image of your program and what you do."

Mohling said she has about 34 FCCLA members in her senior high chapter alone, while Duxbury said the FFA program sports about 53 members.

Some FFA materials are long overdue for an upgrade, Duxbury said.

"Our banner still says 'vo-ag,' and that hasn't been true since I was born. We'll update the banner and get it more relevant to today's ag education courses for when we take it to events and those kinds of things," Duxbury said. "And we don't have a lot of advertisements outside our rooms, so (the cabinets) will give us a chance to showcase for our school, a display where we can advocate our programs."

The FFA program will also get a fresh coat of paint. Duxbury is working to transform a pair of blank white walls at the school into a mural depicting the history of the Wessington Springs FFA chapter. Painting that mural will be Wessington Springs graduate and noted mural painter Kenzee Schafer, who has

completed similar works in Kimball


Wessington Springs.

Schafer is also an alum of the Wessington Springs FFA program, Duxbury said.

Duxbury wants to focus on the history of the chapter as the theme for the mural, so he's been researching what he believes is one of the oldest ag program/FFA chapters in the state, with some oral histories of the program dating it to as far back 1918, though that is unconfirmed.

"We're still in the process of figuring that out exactly — our program, our history. I've been told this is the fourth ever ag program in South Dakota, and was created before FFA was even a thing nationally," Duxbury said. "With that being said, we want to confirm and represent the history of this program from the beginning. And we've been continuous the entire time, which is not true of some other programs."

Duxbury, who has taught ag at a handful of schools in South Dakota over the years, said he'll consult with his former ag teacher who recently stepped down from his role at the school, Craig Shryock, who served the district for 39 years. Duxbury credits his old ag teacher for

keeping the program vital for decades.

"For a school of our size to have this much success is really, really incredible," Duxbury said. "In your first year (teaching agriculture at a school), you're adopting what you get. So you have to live under the system that has been created for you to live under. That's really what's happening here. This success is his success. My success will be maintaining and growing (the program)."

Duxbury hopes to begin work on the mural, which will be located near the entrance to the ag classroom, sometime in the near future as Schafer wraps up prior painting obligations, and the new banner and cabinetry will be secured in relatively short order, as well.

Mohling, who has been teaching for 47 years, said the developments coming about because of the grant are another testament to the programs and the students who take part in them. A little extra funding should help support that into the future and keep the programs as strong as they always have been.

"We have strong CTE programs here, and have for years," Mohling said.

Duxbury agrees, and is happy the CTSO grant funds will allow both programs to build for the future. In the meantime, he plans to keep looking back at the history of his FFA chapter and better understand dates and details. He's even reached out on Facebook asking the public for help identifying vintage trophies from the FFA collection.

Honoring the program's past is a good way to build excitement for the future and the opportunities it brings, he said. The mural will be a nod to that history, while the students, instructors and their efforts will continue to be a guiding light for the future.

"I want to represent the FFA, obviously, and opportunities that students can have in the FFA. And I want to represent agriculture and what agriculture is. My name for this is the FFA Way. So as students walk into the program, they're greeted with history, agriculture, FFA opportunities. Basically, it will be a way to walk into the world that we live in out here," Duxbury said.