Grant will fund outdoor learning center to honor past FFA officer


photo or infographic by courtesy photo

LASTING LEGACY. The Lauren Sparks Outdoor Education Center will be a reality because of a Education Foundation grant. Sparks was a former FFA officer and a 2010 graduate.

Most students graduate and leave nothing behind but the memories they have made in the halls; however, some Wildkats leave behind a legacy. 

Last week when the Willis Education Foundation’s prize patrol brought giant checks to the high school, ag teacher Amanda Traylor was awarded an outdoor learning center which will be named in honor of the legacy of Lauren Sparks.

“The classroom was named after Lauren Sparks, one of my past FFA officers,” Traylor said. “She was on my team when I first started working here, so I really appreciate how sweet and outgoing she could be.”

Traylor has submitted similar proposals before to other organizations offering grants. This is the first time she has submitted an application to the Willis Educational Foundation. The foundation changed some guidelines of the grants, and Traylor seized the opportunity.

“The grant money will be used to build an outdoor classroom,” Traylor said. “I think being out in the sunshine is going to be good for the students. It will consist of octagon picnic tables, pergola, planter boxes and a teaching podium.”

Sparks, a 2010 graduate, faced several illnesses in her life. The first was at the age of five when she was diagnosed with aplastic anemia. Then in high school she once again faced a serious illness, dyskeratosis congenita, a progressive genetic disorder so rare it is estimated to affect only one in one million people. Those affected by dyskeratosis congenita experience early aging, including organ and bone marrow failure. Sparks passed away Jan. 27, 2018 due to this illness.

SHINING THROUGH. The new outdoor teaching theater will be named after 2010 graduate Lauren Sparks. (photo or infographic by 2010 Wildkat yearbook)

Despite these illnesses Sparks was a barrel racer, and she and her horse Belle won championships at the high school, collegiate and professional levels. Ever-lasting friends of the past remember her as trustworthy and strong. 

“She was my best friend, and I know this is something that would definitely make her light up,” 2009 graduate Paige Kelleher said. “There is so much I could say about her, but it would never scratch the surface of it. If you were with her you were sure to have a good laugh. She was definitely a stick of dynamite and a true loyal friend.”

Agriculture students appreciate the efforts of Traylor and cannot wait to learn in a new environment.

“I think an outdoor learning center would be cool because when the weather is nice, we can go out and enjoy the sunlight,” sophomore ag student Emma Barber said. “Its sad that we got the grant under tragic circumstances, but I’m glad this area will be the light shining through.”