Brent Newport found out only a month ago that he would fly to Indianapolis to the Future Farmers of America national convention to accept the Honorary American degree. It is one of the highest non-academic recognitions an educator can receive from the national organization.
"It was a very, very big surprise," he said of the nomination from his state supervisor. "That makes it even more rewarding that someone thought I deserved this."
Newport and four agriculture students from Lodi High School traveled to the 81st National FFA Convention last week, where he received the plaque and medal before a crowd of 48,000. When his name was called and he walked across the stage to accept the award, his wife and 10-year-old daughter, who wants to be an ag teacher, were there.
Only five Californians were nominated for the degree this year.
"I'm still in awe that I was recognized," said Newport, who was still getting back into the swing of school this week after the two-day, midweek trek to Indiana.
Newport, a 1982 Galt High School graduate, started teaching at Lodi High in 1995. Today, the school's agriculture program boasts more than 200 students and is less focused on animals and more on plants and life and soil sciences, due to state testing mandates.
As the longtime department chair of the school's agriculture department, he is also the lead teacher in the school's Sun Academy, a California Partnership Academy that caters to students who have indicated an interest in entering careers working in the environment, Lodi High Principal Bill Atterberry said.
Future Farmers of America Honorary American Degree at a glanceThe award is bestowed upon educators who advance agricultural education and FFA through outstanding personal commitment. To be eligible for this award, a teacher must have 85 percent FFA membership in their classroom in the last year and have completed at least 10 years teaching agricultural education.Source: National FFA Organization
Newport is also responsible for the work experience students, the environmental and spatial technology and pre-engineering labs and the agricultural mechanics class. He also coaches vine pruning, farm records and job interviewing. He currently teaches ag mechanics and ag computers, but has also taught ag biology, ag physical science, ornamental horticulture and ag business.
Last year, he won an outstanding adviser award from the state FFA organization.
His interest in agriculture comes from his days of showing animals in county fairs while an FFA member in Galt. Lodi High ag teacher JessaLee Goehring, who had Newport as a teacher when she came to Lodi High during her sophomore year, said he helped turn the school's agriculture program around.
"Many people in our profession put in countless hours to educate our youths and to give them a high quality and challenging curriculum. Brent is one of those teachers who stand out in agriculture," she added. "He truly deserves this award."
Atterberry echoed Goehring's sentiments.
"He has sacrificed time away from his wife and three daughters for the improvement of our agriculture department and to his FFA students," he said. "He is a team player who does what he can to support the school. This honor is a fitting testament to his contributions to teaching and to agriculture."
Also at last week's national convention, sophomore Josh Larson was commended for his achievements in engineering and the school's chapter was recognized as a three-star team.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.