Two girls overcoming adversity and learning the lessons of loss and commitment
A love of animals and caretaking, a desire to lead, and a family that believes in the life lessons that come from raising and showing animals: the common denominators between Lake Creek HS senior Shelby Winn and Montgomery HS senior Gussie Armatys, two MISD medical pathway students that have found great benefit from their involvement in FFA through high school.
Gussie is a charming student-leader, serving as President of the Montgomery HS FFA chapter and Area 11 Vice-President. With a true passion for FFA, Gussie believes with full conviction that the experience she has received since starting FFA in third grade has been the most influential factor in the student she is today and what she plans to become.
“FFA was nothing new to me – it’s a family thing and always has been,” Gussie said. “But I have never learned responsibility and dedication more than I have through FFA, my animals and my projects.”
Gussie started raising and showing goats in third grade, learning the hard lessons that these animals are not pets. The time and commitment given to raising an animal throughout the year naturally creates a bond, one that brought tears the first time Gussie’s goat made the sale. She says you get used to it and you have to remind yourself that this isn’t a pet and there is a purpose to the work.
“So many nights I do not want to go to the barn. I want to go home and go to bed,” Gussie said. “But they count on me every day, and I think that prepares me for future life lessons of loss, dedication, giving your heart and soul to something that isn’t going to stick with you for the rest of your life.”
Lake Creek senior Shelby Winn also comes from an agricultural family, sharing that raising and showing animals isn’t a hobby, but a lifestyle. Shelby is the Secretary of the Lake Creek HS FFA, is a competitive softball player and a member of Lake Creek’s State and National Champion softball team. Participation in FFA and showing steers since third grade has created a work ethic that she believes touches every part of her life, and taking part in both softball and FFA means sometimes the animal comes first, before Shelby gets dinner or even gets changed out of her softball uniform.
“Raising an animal requires time before school and after school, no matter the weather or whatever else I have going on,” Shelby said. “I’m accountable to these animals. They depend on me and I have to show up!”
FFA is about more than animals
Both student leaders participate in FFA beyond showing animals and share the belief that FFA has something to offer every student. Participating in Leadership Development Events (LDEs) and Career Development Events (CDEs) has given both girls the opportunities to develop public speaking and leadership skills through preparation and competition.
“FFA has taught me how to study!” Gussie said. “I have participated in job interview events that included application, resumes, interviews, and follow up and I was never the kid that stood up in class to talk in front of people, but FFA has changed that!”
These development events provide opportunities for MISD students to compete in many areas that interest them, including meat science, horticulture, horse judging, public relations, radio broadcasting, ag advocacy, and more. Both girls have participated in LDEs and CDEs and are thankful for the confidence they have developed and the opportunities that have been available to challenge them.
“There’s something for everyone,” Shelby said.
“Some people think FFA is cows, plows, and sows,” Gussie said. “But it’s so much more!”
Life lessons when things don’t go as planned
The life lessons that come from raising and showing animals has taught both Shelby and Gussie how to overcome adversity, deal with grief and move on when things don’t always go your way.
Gussie’s freshman year, just two weeks before county fair, her goat began to fall ill, eventually dying of coccidia, a bacterial disease. She fought to use medication and any remedies that were recommended to help him survive, but eventually had to realize that she’d be left without a goat to show for the first time since age 8.
“We bought out Brookshire Brothers on greek yogurt to do whatever we could to help him,” Gussie said. “I only commit to one goat a year because I want to be able to give all that I have to him, and I was heartbroken.”
Gussie has won several reserve-champion belt buckles through the years, but says that’s not something she prides herself on.
“Sometimes you have a great sale and sometimes you don’t,” she said. “But the life lessons make up for any money lost and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
Last year Shelby watched as two steers died in the same season, one snake bit, the other suffering a bloat and dying as they were trying to release it. Knowing then that they were gone and she couldn’t do anything about it, she had to figure out what to do next as she learned the lesson of loss and grief.
“It took me a minute to overcome,” Shelby said. “It was so hard to watch and it was really emotional because I truly create a bond that’s not like anything else I have in my life. I don’t have a bond like this with friends, I mean, it’s completely different.”
In eighth grade, Shelby received Grand Champion at San Antonio. However, when her steer weighed-out, she was stripped of her title and disqualified from the show.
“That was a tough time for me,” Shelby said. “Because I put in all that effort and showed him to the best of my ability, was so proud when I won and then it was just over. But God had other plans and I’ve learned to trust Him through the process each year.”
Shelby took that same steer to Houston just a few weeks later and won her breed with the steer selling for $140k. Overcoming challenges has created great opportunity for success, as Shelby has won Grand Champion American Steer at Montgomery County six times, with her sister being named Reserve Grand Champion three of those.
“When the judge slaps my steer (selecting him as the champion), the first thing I do is pet his head,” Shelby said. “It’s a team effort and after the work we’ve put in together, it’s a win for both of us!”
From showing animals to the CTE Medical Pathway
Both Gussie and Shelby are CTE students taking Ag Science classes throughout high school, while also taking classes in the CTE Health Science pathway. When asked what they want to be when they grow up, they both believe the experience in FFA and raising and showing animals has given them a deep desire to be a NICU nurse.
“I love people and I think that came from my experience with animals,” Gussie said. “Bottle feeding baby calves in the freezing cold, knowing that they are counting on me to show up and make no excuses. People have always held a place in my heart and I know the two things are connected.”
Gussie is completing her CTE coursework through Montgomery ISD’s Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) program. Students that participate in CCMA clinical rotations through local doctors’ offices including physical therapy, assisted living, obstetricians, chiropractic and more, and are tested to receive their Certified Clinical Medical Assistant Certificate, allowing them to go directly into a career post-graduation. Gussie will attend Texas A&M University in the fall, participating in their bridgeway program with West Texas A&M’s Nursing school.
“For me, the medical assistant certificate will be a bridge of knowledge that makes getting my nursing degree a little easier,” Gussie said. “The preparation that this CTE pathway has provided has given me the confidence I need to start my degree plan in college.”
Shelby is not able to participate in MISD’s Health Science Practicum program because of her softball commitments, but she is attending The University of Central Arkansas in the fall to play softball and be a student in UCA’s nursing school, the number one ranked nursing school in Arkansas.
“These health science classes have taught me so much including medical terminology and learning all about diseases in pathophysiology this year,” Shelby said. “Some years my medical classes made me most excited to go to school every day and I absolutely feel prepared for nursing school.”
Shelby’s plan for being a NICU nurse touches close to home, as her family was touched by the support of NICU nurses when Shelby was a child. At the age of five, Shelby’s mother Alice gave birth to twins at just 27 weeks gestation. After weeks in the NICU, her sister Morgan came home from the hospital without her twin brother. Shelby remembers the impact that the nurses made for her family during that challenging time and feels the desire to do the same for others.
“My mom still talks about the nurses and the difference they made for her during that terrible time,” Shelby said. “I truly didn’t understand the power of it then, but the nurses made a difference that I hope to be able to make one day.”
The MISD Health Science and Agricultural Science CTE pathways are available at both Lake Creek and Montgomery HS and students can begin exploring their interest in this study with Principles of Health Science in 8th grade. Montgomery ISD will be opening the CTE and Ag-Science center in Fall 2025, serving all MISD students and providing barn space and a show arena for all students in FFA across the district.