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CLAYTON— Students at Cleveland High now have access to more hands-on learning experiences in their agriculture education classes thanks to a donation from community member Durwood Stephenson.
Stephenson, the founder and president of M. Durwood Stephenson and Associates, donated the money and resources needed to build an agricultural building at Cleveland High in honor of Shelby Rose Bireley, a family friend and a Johnston County Public Schools teacher and alumna.
Students, school system staff, elected officials including former Gov. James B. Hunt and several community members came together for a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Shelby Rose Bireley Agricultural Building on May 14.
“I got to know Shelby several years ago, and she is a young lady of great achievement,” said Stephenson. “She’s overcome a lot of obstacles, and she’s a very successful young lady, so we’re honored to be able to name this facility after her.”
Cleveland High students were on hand at the dedication to talk about how the building will be used and how it will further their educational experience.
“This donation from Mr. Stephenson has really made a difference in the lives of our students. It’s something that I don’t think he’ll ever fully be able to understand,” said Brett Capps, Cleveland High agriculture education teacher and Future Farmers of America adviser. “The type of innovation and hands-on experiences we’ll be able to provide can change our students’ careers.”
At the dedication, Stephenson said it was more important for him to honor the special type of person Bireley is and to recognize her hard work and perseverance than to honor his philanthropic gesture.
“It’s not about my impact; Shelby Rose is the one impacting lives,” said Stephenson. “We hope that by putting her name on this building that we’re able to tell her story and inspire more students to do the same type of things she’s done.”
Bireley, who overcame great odds to become an agriculture education teacher at South Johnston High, said she was honored to have such an influential building named after her.
“My bucket is just so full, and my heart is overwhelmed,” said Bireley. “These students will get an opportunity that I didn’t even get. We’re inspiring the passion of agriculture.”
Capps said the new facility will change the way he and his fellow agriculture education teachers are able to teach their students.
“This building will be used by our students in a lot of different ways,” said Capps. “Animal science students will work with the animals and learn how to raise them. Horticulture students will learn pasture management and students in ag mechanics will work on facility maintenance.”
While hands-on learning has always been incorporated into Cleveland High’s curriculum, the new building will house livestock, including goats and cows, that were not previously readily accessible to the students.
“This building will change the way we’re teaching,” said Capps. “This is career-changing. It’s something I’ve been working toward for seven years. To be able to get this type of donation will change everything we do here.”
Not only will students in the agriculture education classes use the building, but the school’s FFA team will also be able to benefit from it.
“This barn will be an educational facility for our students to be able to learn more about animal science and our agriculture education program as a whole,” said McKayla Lewis, Cleveland High’s FFA president. “It will also enrich the lives of our FFA members and give them leadership experience in the animal science field.”
Capps said students and staff at Cleveland High will also utilize the barn during the summer months, caring for the animals and maintaining any needs that arise.
“I hope that they get educational opportunities that they never had before” said Bireley. “I hope they find their passion, work ethic and responsibility. I hope they find everything they couldn’t anywhere else in the school. I hope they find a safe place they can call home.”