Neither Stinson Burns, 17, nor Kye Chesmer, 17, live on a farm, but both students have raised and shown animals throughout their time at Arlington Heights High School.

The senior and junior are just two of a larger pool of students from the school’s FFA program raising animals at the Fort Worth ISD barn.

“I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity,” Chesmer said. “We get to have opportunities that many kids in the city wouldn’t have, and we make great bonds. It’s basically a second family to me, we spend holidays, birthdays, everything together.”   

If a student is traveling, ill or otherwise unable to come to the barn, other students step in to help out. But, for the most part, students are out at the barn every day, including weekends and holidays.

Both students said it’s a sacrifice, but well worth it.

“As a rancher, you have no days off, you know?” Burns said. “Every single day your animals need you and you have to take care of them.”

Students aren’t the only ones making this effort. They recognize that it’s also a major time commitment for their teachers.

Linsey Shands has been teaching for 17 years and has been working with this FFA chapter for the past 13. 

She estimates that a quarter of the high school’s roughly 2,000 students take ag classes and just over 380 are FFA members.

But the program hasn’t always been this big. 

“When Cody Davenport — he’s our seasoned veteran teacher of 18 years at Heights  — started, it was nothing. We had maybe 20 students and hardly any projects,” she said.

As the program grew, Davenport was able to build partnerships with the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, Justin Boots and other community members. 

“They just kind of got together and decided this is something we needed,” Shands explained. “We can’t be called Cowtown and not have an FFA chapter.”

In the early 2000s, the program was able to build a barn.

“The barn is essential for an urban setting school … a lot of our students live in apartments or small homes where they can’t raise these larger livestock species,” she said. “It’s an awesome experience for students who wouldn’t otherwise set foot in a barn.” 

This year the barn is home to about 24 head of cattle, including both heifers and steers, 13 sheep and goats and three pigs. Students also raise rabbits, turkeys and other poultry, including multiple breeds of chickens.

Burns, who aspires to be a vet someday, said he spends about 3-4 hours at the barn each day.

“It’s more than just coming out here, feeding your animal and leaving. You’ve got to love on them and spend time with them,” he said.

Chesmer wants to pursue a career in agriculture, and he said one major reason he enrolled at Arlington Heights High School was because of the school’s strong FFA program. 

Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School, also in Fort Worth ISD, is in the midst of growing its FFA chapter and shares the barn with Heights.

Aside from the barn, the addition of an ag mechanics program helped sparked growth in the Heights FFA chapter, Shands said.

Students can build projects, participate in a county show and get a welding certificate.

“I think a lot of people see FFA as cows and tractors, and it’s a lot more than that. There’s a lot of career opportunities, scholarships and speaking events. We also have an ag mech shop where we get to build things on campus,” Chesmer said. “It’s much more than just cows and crops. It’s bettering yourself for your future.

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcheta.fornoff@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Marcheta FornoffArts & Culture Editor

For just over seven years Marcheta Fornoff performed the high wire act of producing a live morning news program on Minnesota Public Radio. She led a small, but nimble team to cover everything from politics...