The smell of fresh-cut evergreen greets customers who walk through the door nearly as fast as teenagers working the front counter.
The space filled with hand-decorated wreaths, assorted velvet ribbons, and painted pine cones looks like a bustling holiday store, but it’s actually Bryan Smith’s horticulture classroom at Sylvania’s Southview High School.
Every November and December for the last 40 years, students have designed and personalized wreaths and more to help the community get in the holiday spirit.
The students sell the wreaths, grave blankets and pillows, centerpieces, and poinsettias to raise money for FFA, formerly Future Farmers of America. The money buys supplies, professional dress, and travel for competitions, but the fundraiser’s real value is the lesson it gives the students who run it.
IN PICTURES: FFA holiday wreaths
“Every student in here — there’s 12 seniors and 24 juniors — knows how to make a bow, knows how to talk to someone on the phone, knows how to ring up somebody on a register,” Mr. Smith said. “And those are not skills that you can just use here, but you can take to another job.”
Mr. Smith is in his second year as a career educator with the district’s horticulture program.
He’s carrying on the work of his predecessor, Rich Fredrick, who was Mr. Smith’s instructor when he was in the program.
The students used to hand-make all the wreaths. But now they come premade from Pawlaczyk’s Evergreen Landscaping, and it’s up to the students to customize each arrangement.
“This is the first time I’ve made a bow,” Conor Hill said, wrapping a royal blue ribbon around metal rods to help keep its shape.
The senior signed up for the horticulture class to get hands-on experience. He, like many of the students in Mr. Smith’s class, is thinking about studying veterinary science. But if his plans change, Mr. Hill said he’ll graduate with the skills he needs to get a job.
“It’s a good way for us to learn how a business actually works and how to run one,” he said of the holiday sale. “It helped me develop business skills and people skills too.”
Southview senior and FFA president Rachel Baer artfully snipped the balsam spruce branches on a grave pillow before adding pine cones throughout. She paused from her work to greet a customer at the door, check the woman’s order, and wish her a merry Christmas.
Her favorite part of the holiday project is the bow-making, but she enjoys interacting with the customers too.
“They’re amazed by the good quality, that we actually put time and effort into each individual order,” she said. “People are very impressed by what we do.”
The students received so many orders this season they had to stop accepting them in mid-December.
They worked right up to the end of the semester to complete the 150 blankets and pillows, and 175 wreaths that measure from 18 inches up to 60 inches across.
Dezeray Whitehead, a senior, said she was happy the sale has brought positive exposure for FFA. She is also proud that her hard work is on display throughout the community during the holidays.
“It’s kind of cool,” she said. “You can recognize, ‘Hey, I did that.’”
Contact Sarah Elms at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6103 or on Twitter @BySarahElms.