Profile on AHS educators

Profile on AHS educators
Posted on 03/22/2019
Profile on AHS educators

Expanding minds beyond the classroom

Wilbanks bring real-world experiences to AHS students


By Toni Garrard Clay

AISD Communications Coordinator


It’s hard to find Ward Wilbanks in his office at Athens High School, not because he’s shirking responsibilities but because those responsibilities so rarely allow time to sit. And just down the hall from the office he hardly has time to be in, you’ll find the classroom of his wife, Caryn Wilbanks, who is also not one for down time.


In his sixth year with the district, Ward is the director of the Career and Technical Education program at AHS; teaches ag science classes, including ag mechanics; and co-sponsors Athens’ chapter of FFA. Caryn worked her first three years at Athens High School as the registrar, and is in her second year in the classroom. She teaches business; marketing and finance; equine science and small animal science; and has taken on the responsibility of training members of the FFA chapter in horsemanship and horse judging.


“The combination of horses and education excites me,” said Caryn. “When I find kids who are as into it as I am, I really enjoy that.”


A self-confessed “military brat,” Caryn attended 11 schools growing up in six U.S. states and Japan. Her father was a Bostonian with no agriculture background, but her mother was raised on a Wisconsin dairy farm and passed along a love of animals — particularly of the equine variety — to her daughter. Wherever they moved, Caryn was quick to join a 4-H or Pony Club.


“I always felt more at home in the barn and around people who had horses like I did,” she said.


Ward attended school in Athens through fifth grade, when his family moved to Waxahachie. He and his older sister were active in 4-H and then FFA for about as long as he can remember — starting with show rabbits and eventually including heifers, steers, market lambs and breeding sheep. From his seventh-grade year through his sophomore year in college, Ward, his sister and uncle raised, showed and sold lambs, traveling across the country to all the major shows.


“I saw there was an opportunity to pay for school,” he said. “The biggest reasons I was able to get into Texas A&M were my leadership skills and community service experience through 4-H and FFA. That got me into school and paid for it with scholarships.”


Both Wilbanks have a passion for wanting students at Athens High School have similar opportunities for growth and potential. And while neither discount the importance of the classroom, they are evangelizers of the need for real-life, hands-on experiences.


“This year I’ve watched our ag mechanics students build more projects than ever before, and it’s really hit home what an incredible opportunity it is for them,” said Ward. “They’re earning industry certifications, and they’re really good at what they’re doing. If they choose to, these kids can go straight out of high school and get a job. They’re not going to have any problem.”


On one of the last days of the Henderson County Livestock Show this past week, the couple sat on the side of the arena and watched shop project students interact with a judge.


“What they’re doing here isn’t extracurricular,” explained Ward. “It’s co-curricular; it’s a supervised agriculture experience they have to have, and it’s unique. We’re taking the skills they’ve learned and applying them on the outside. How many kids can say they built a trailer in high school? We’re about to finish our fifth. That’s awesome.”

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