The biggest lesson students can take from “small” projects at the local level is that any positive impact, regardless of size, is still impact. Starting small can open minds to the possibility of what could be.

Get everyone involved
When students get others involved in their project, they learn teamwork and realize that other people care, too.

Hunter Hackley from Jacksboro FFA decided to build a memorial courtyard to commemorate students and teachers in the Jacksboro, Texas community who have passed away, four of which were students who died during the previous school year. One was a close friend of Hackley’s; another, a teammate. What started as a memorial to the four students became a larger project that serves as a tribute to both students and teachers who impacted the school in the last several decades.

Hackley raised $81,000 for this project. The courtyard is now 2,500 square feet, all designed by Hackley, with flower beds, granite stones engraved with names, and a fountain in the center. Hackley managed the project every step of the way, including budgeting, fundraising, and meeting with contractors. He had help from a local businessman and mentor, Ken Swan, and from administrators and teachers. People got involved because they cared.

Hackley, now a student at Texas A&M University, learned that the community at large wanted to help through donations and mentorship. By engaging with more people, he expanded his project to include the community. Involving others ensures that his project will be well-maintained for years to come.

Community outreach shows students how to apply their skills in the real world

Don’t reinvent the wheel
Sometimes, instead of starting from scratch, it’s better to improve what’s already there.

Luke Dotson of the Dawson FFA thought his town’s local park, which had become sparse, could offer more. In 2017, the park had dwindled to just a swing set or two and a walking trail. Dotson wanted to create a meaningful community space where people could gather and relax, but creating a new park was cost prohibitive, so he decided to work with what was already there.

While still a full-time high school student, Dotson secured funding and managed contractors to revitalize the public space, adding a new playground, improving landscaping for existing memorials, and staging community events in the park. Though he’s graduated from high school now, Dotson isn’t finished. He has plans to add a community garden, winter holiday decorations, and additional play equipment.

Starting a new project has possibilities but working with what you already have can be a more realistic skill in the real world. Those who can see the possibility in things that just need a little help or polish can do truly great things.

About the Author:

Kelli Neuman is the leadership development coordinator for the Texas Future Farmers of America (FFA), where she also served as the state vice president in 2011. The FFA connects STEM to the real world through hands-on projects that make classroom learning meaningful and applicable.

Austin Large joined Texas FFA as an executive director in 2017. Prior to this, Large was an education specialist on the leadership development team with the national FFA organization and taught high school agriculture for four years in California.