Clarkdale High School Agriculture Program Service Learning
By Gayle Fortenberry and Jessica Smith
Learning to do, doing to learn, earning to live, and living to serve. (FFA motto)
The words of the FFA motto encompass the core principles of school-based agriculture education, which include becoming agriculture literate, learning how to be self-sufficient in life’s endeavors, and giving back to the community.
What started five years ago as a memorial event for a Clarkdale High School student and FFA member has developed into a family-friendly tradition that brings the community together. The Dylan Mabry Bull Bash is a rodeo-type event that helps fund scholarships to high school students and offers FFA members the opportunity to learn lifelong skills through service.
After a car wreck took Mabry’s life in 2013, the members of the Clarkdale FFA chapter wanted to find a way to raise money to help his family. The students designed a T-shirt to sell, and the money collected was used to fund the first Dylan Mabry Bull Bash. Their ultimate goals were to raise enough money to help his family pay remaining medical and funeral expenses and to further memorialize Mabry’s life, his passion for the FFA, and his love of rodeo with an endowed scholarship fund.
The FFA members exceeded their monetary goal in the first year, and Mabry’s family received enough money to pay all of the bills associated with the accident and provide a scholarship to a deserving FFA member.
With the event in its fifth year, Clarkdale agriculture education students now have the opportunity to contribute ideas and discuss how the Bull Bash will expand and operate. Every student in the agriculture program has an active role in the Bull Bash event, from working the entry gate and concession stand to promoting and planning extra Bull Bash events, such as the Ag Olympics and a beauty pageant.
“It was the agriculture students who suggested that we add a Dylan Mabry Bull Bash Beauty Pageant in 2017,” said Toni Buchanan, Clarkdale FFA advisor. “A select group of my students planned and ran that event, along with our school librarian Debbie Fant and parent volunteer Penny Randall. It takes a lot of people to pull off this weekend.”
The FFA chapter’s leadership team’s members each document 40-50 service hours from June through September each year for planning and operating the event. Buchanan says those service hours provide students a way to develop a wide range of skillsets—from communication and interviewing, to budgeting and financial management—and allows them to cultivate a spirit of volunteerism.
“The biggest challenge for the students has been in dealing with potential sponsors,” Buchanan said. “The students have learned that they have to be persistent and follow up. They have to go back the next week and check with the sponsor, and sometimes it takes two or three more follow-up visits before a check is written or a donation is made.”
In addition to preparing for the Bull Bash, some of the students actively participate in the rodeo event. Curt Todd, a first-year agriculture class representative, pays an entry fee to actually get on the back of a bull and attempt to stay on for the required eight-second ride.
“I love it,” Todd said. “But through working this event, I have learned there is a lot more planning involved before the actual bull riding takes place.”
The bull ride is contracted by a professional rodeo contractor, so enough profit has to be made to cover the cost of the event. The student leaders are responsible for soliciting potential donors, as well as publicizing the event through radio, television, and social and print media. Hard work pays off, as this year’s event brought in approximately $14,000.
“Through all of this, I have really learned how to communicate more effectively, especially with the radio stations and television interviews,” Vick said.
In order to give back to the Mississippi FFA Association, the Mabry family wanted to extend the event beyond the local community. As a result, the Clarkdale FFA Chapter called upon the Mississippi State FFA officer team to help by coordinating and hosting an Ag Olympics as a warm-up to the rodeo. Eleven teams from schools across the state competed for a $500 prize to take home to their local FFA chapter. They competed in timed and scored events, such as finding a needle in a haystack, wheelbarrow races, calf roping, hay-bale tosses, and stick-horse races.
What started as a way to keep a special young man’s memory alive has grown into a multifaceted, service-learning opportunity for students who are following in Dylan Mabry’s footsteps in the agriculture education program and the FFA at Clarkdale High School. The Dylan Mabry Memorial Bull Bash has served his family well and has provided scholarships to 14 deserving students in four years. Each event generates money that will endow many more scholarship awards for years to come. These scholarships will provide countless opportunities for FFA members in Clarkdale and across the state to grow and develop their future.