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Dayton FFA students learn ‘life skills’

May 23, 2019

The preparations were over, and it was now time to reap the rewards of her hard work. As the judges drew nearer, her heart raced. Then they stood within a few feet of her. It was over. The was judging complete and now she could relax. Joley Jackson’s heart was lifted when she realized the best day of her life was about to really begin.

The sophomore at Dayton High School had completed her objective, but now the fun was about to begin, and she couldn’t wait.

“This morning I showed (my goat), and it was completely nerve-wracking. But when I finished, I completely relaxed because I got to come and hang out with my friend and help her show her animal,” Jackson said.

Her new friend was junior Autumn Williams, who had been paired up with Jackson for the annual Unified Rodeo at Anson Rigby Arena in Dayton.

The not-so-well-known part of the annual rodeo schedule couples Future Farmer of America students with their Life Skills counterparts, who have special needs, and the FFA students say its life-changing.

“Last year was my first year to do it, and I absolutely loved it,” Jackson said.

When the pair walked out of the arena, Williams had a trophy in her hand celebrating her win.

“To see that big smile on her face just made my day,” Jackson said.

The affection is mutual with Williams.

“I did a goat last year and got the blue ribbon,” she smiled from ear to ear.

“It is so much fun to do and my helper (Jackson) is really nice.”

Around 42 Life Skills students from Dayton High School and Woodrow Wilson Junior High participated in the Unified Rodeo. The joy in the room was palpable, Jackson said.

“They don’t get to do things like this often and when they do, you can see the smiles on their faces. It really warms my heart,” Jackson said.

It was hard to see who was giving and receiving the blessings throughout the morning as both Life Skills students and FFA students were charmed with each other and the compassion seemed to flow naturally, said DHS Ag teacher Jake Walker who brought the program to Dayton three years ago.

“This is literally my most favorite day of the year,” he said.

“It pairs two of my most favorite things—animals and children.”

Walker said he may have to do some explaining to his fiancé because he’s getting married in September, but said he thought she would understand why.

Walker has been teaching five years, two in Huffman and his last three at Dayton. The 2006 Humble High School graduate went to Oklahoma State and graduated in 2010.

“We do more than just animals in FFA, but for this event, it’s children and animals,” he said.

Walker said they put the students together and have two practices before the Unified Show.

“We teach them animal husbandry and how to show their animals,” he said.

The program, at the same time, inspires others to get involved with the Livestock Show each year, a staple of a farming community like Dayton and spreads gobs of good will.

“This is probably the best thing we do all year,” said senior Hunter Muskiet, the sentinel for the FFA chapter.

“It’s not about competing. It’s about bringing these kids out here who may not be privileged to work with animals daily as we are and let them do what we do and it makes them feel like they are like us with no difference,” he said.

Muskiet has been in FFA since he was a freshman and has participated in the show all three years. He had two projects ready for the show—a steer and a breeding heifer.

For Haylie Burns, who played on the softball team and was a member of the powerlifting team, it was special.

“Now that I got to do it my first year, it was a blast,” the senior said. “I met a new boyfriend, he says. Well, I think he has six or sever other girlfriends,” she laughed, and he smiled.

Burns said she has photos, memories, and some lifelong friends she will cherish forever.

“It’s all about making memories for them and they have something to look forward to next year,” she said.

Walker said for many of the FFA students, it’s a daily commitment to the program.

“Our kids who have steers have been working with them for at least a year now,” he said.

“They start as early in the morning as 5 feeding and then have to be at school by 7 a.m.,” the ag teacher said.

Then students go home and have chores to take care of feeding their animals again, brushing the animals down, giving them water and cleaning stalls. It’s not an easy job, but Walker said it prepares the students for the responsibilities of life.

“It’s a year-round, daily project for them.”

One student has 10 projects that he takes care of daily—a huge responsibility.

“We tie all of this in together with our Unified Show—unified because we are one regardless of disabilities or anything else, nothing separates us,” he said.

When the rodeo is over, the students’ relationship isn’t over.

“Our kids are so thankful to be able to participate in this program,” Walker said.

“A lot of times they will see them in the hall at school and the Life Skills students will recognize them and run up to them and give them a hug. It’s touching.”

In the bleachers and on the floor of the arena were parents, family members, friends and spectators who come out to support the students—all of them.

“I don’t see this program ever dying out as long as I’m here at Dayton,” Walker said.

dtaylor@hcnonline.com

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