COVINGTON, Ga. — For Anna Bailey, it started as just a filler class to help her get through her junior year. Now the 17-year-old Newton College and Career Academy senior has found new love in all things farming.
His testimony, however, is not unique. In fact, Bailey was one of four students in the NCCA’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) program who recently shared with the local Kiwanis club the impact participating in agricultural studies has had on their lives.
“When I came in as a junior, I had never been in an AG class before, until I got into Career Academy,” Bailey said. “They offered it as kind of a foundation course, but my teacher, Dr. Cecily Gunter, got me super involved in everything, and I just started to like it.”
So much so that she easily went from a regular member of the class to an active participant who wanted more from the program.
“I actually ended up showing a pig last year with our breeding team, and now I’m also taking veterinary science as my major track with Animal Science and AG Mechanics,” Bailey said.
Andrew Pitchford, 18, is the NCCA FFA President. And for him, the program helped him start charting a course for a future career.
“The senior year has been the best so far,” Pitchford said. “It’s all practical and you have a lot of opportunities. For example, I am especially looking forward to the electrical wiring competition in January in Jackson and other CDE opportunities.
CDE stands for “Career Development Event”. And, according to Dr. Marcus Pollard, head of the Career Academy FFA, such hands-on events, competitions and learning experiences are exactly what sets his program apart.
“CDEs are the kind of things that when a kid really gets involved, it can become a real career for them or at least a strong hobby,” Pollard said.
All three Newton County high schools, Alcovy, Eastside, and Newton, have FFA programs. The same goes for Indian Creek Middle School. But the Career Academy program, along with Eastside’s, stands out nationally.
“In national competitions, they recognize certain chapters, and the Career Academy and Eastside programs are among the top 1% in the nation among agricultural education programs,” Pollard said.
But it’s not his favorite metric to use to measure the impact and effectiveness of his program.
“One of the testimonials that I always watch is at the end of the school year, when I get almost 40 requests every year from people wanting our kids to fill vacancies,” Pollard said. “When they come back to us and they still want our children, it’s to their credit. “I’m quite proud of our agricultural education program. I feel like it’s an exceptional program, which means we have exceptional children. »
One thing that brought 17-year-old Macey Jordan back was the program’s penchant for getting him to stretch beyond his comfort zones.
“A CDE I’ve been involved with in the past was beekeeping,” Jordan said. “And, well, the truth is, normally when I see a bee, I run the other way. So doing that was definitely a new experience. Stepping out of my comfort zone is one of the greatest things I’ve accomplished in this program.
The program also offers leadership development events (LDEs), and Jordan is excited to use them to expose her to another skill.
“The one I’m really looking forward to is public speaking,” Jordan said. “It teaches you networking and communication skills which are all things I will need for my career. I just enjoy every part of it.
Warner White, vice president of the Career Academy section, enjoys agricultural education so much that he has been coming back to it since eighth grade.
“But the last couple of years I got really involved,” White said. “Now I’m interested in wildlife management, metal fabrication, animal science, so many things. It’s my last year, so I really want to have fun in GA.
White says the program has had such an impact on him that he plans to follow in Pollard’s footsteps.
“I wanted to do AG education,” he said. “I want to be a GA teacher, but I don’t know if I want to do the college part.”
White’s statement elicited hearty laughter from the audience. But the imprint that agricultural education and, namely, the Career Academy’s FFA program has had on these four students, as well as dozens of other students, is serious business.
“Especially the teachers, they got me thinking,” White said. “Like, before, I was just saying this summer I’m going to graduate, join the union and work for the rest of my life. But now after volunteering for the AG academy, the (vet) camp and the wildlife camp, it’s opened my eyes to say that yes, maybe I want to work with some children and teach them and help them open their eyes to a whole other side of agricultural education.
And even for those who don’t want to make a career out of it, Bailey says there are still many ways getting involved in agricultural education can benefit a person.
“While it doesn’t change your career path, because it’s not for everyone, there are still so many opportunities and things to do that can help you make an impact in your community,” said she declared.
For Pollard, hearing the stories of his students only inspires him to go the extra mile and create the best agricultural education programs possible in Newton County.
“It’s energizing to hear these things from our kids,” Pollard said. “It goes without saying that the last two years have been quite difficult with everything that is going on. But now that things are starting to get a bit back to normal, these kids are hungry. And setting up a quality program, and seeing that they stick to it, makes you want to do even more.