When Chip Bridges left his first job out of college at Lumpkin County High School, he wasn’t sure when he would come back. He certainly wouldn’t realize the impact he would have on the agriculture program when he did.

One year after returning to the high school as Agriculture Director and FFA advisor, Bridges has not only made a difference in the school, but in the students. Abigail Ware, a sophomore and member of the FFA chapter for two years, says Bridges is, “a good leader… he helps us reach our full potential.” This semester, Ware’s show pig Shiro was the first amongst the team to win grand champion at a local show. When asked, Bridges said Ware, “could do anything,”

One of Bridges’ goals when returning to the school was to increase student involvement in the many FFA programs, especially the livestock show team. Of the roughly 125 members at the school, about 25 students show animals each semester under Bridges’ leadership. The students have even expanded their projects from cattle and hogs to goats, chickens and even a turkey. Bridges says he wants the students to learn more than just technical knowledge, including life skills such as, “work ethic, commitment to following through on a task, dependability, and responsibility.” The students who are participating in showing animals demonstrate these traits constantly, taking pride in what they do and working extra hours on their projects.

Another of Bridges’ goals when he returned to the school was to gain community attention and support for the FFA chapter. On Saturday, March 30, Bridges, seven of the students and eight of their animals set up at Anderson Feed & Supply for Customer Appreciation Day. Throughout the event, the students told visitors about their animals and the FFA programs and show their appreciation for the community’s support. Bridges called the day a success, especially after a local radio station talked about the team on the air. According to Bridges, the county and high school have always been supportive of the team and the program in general, but the customer appreciation day was part of his initiative to gain support from the community in general, for others to see the merit and success of the group.

No matter who you ask, they say Bridges is why the program has grown so much this year. According to Donna McKenzie, mother of two show team members, “He doesn’t like to give himself credit but he’s a great agriculture teacher.” Even after 30 years in education, Bridges is still humble as ever, citing the students and school support for the success of the program. It’s not difficult to see how much everyone involved cares about the team, putting in hours every day after school, even spending time on weekends with their animals and attending shows around the state.

Despite the hard work and long hours, Bridges says his original plan to retire after a few years returning to the position might change. “I’m having so much fun, I might could be here 10 more years.” So, as long as the students are as committed as he is, Bridges will continue to lead the program into success as long as they will let him.

Caroline Barnes is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. This story was produced during the 14th Annual Woodall Weekend Workshop in Dahlonega, Georgia.

 

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