Kristy Lightbody is saying goodbye to West Orange High School’s FFA and agriscience program and returning to her love of numbers when school starts up in the fall. And while she won’t be participating in the world of agriculture and animals, she still will be a WO Warrior — teaching Math for College Algebra to seniors.
“If I could sum me up, my passion is helping my students succeed,” Lightbody said. “And that’s why I’m transferring to math. I feel like I’ve done a really good job of establishing this (ag) program and moving it on the right path, and I’m the strongest in math and feel like I want to go and help some of the students be successful in math and help them graduate.”
She also will teach Algebra I.
“I’m very visual, so I draw and illustrate all the concepts, and I feel like I deconstruct math very well,” she said. “Then I feel like I can put it back together for the kids more easily.”
Lightbody came to West Orange five years ago from SunRidge Middle School, where she also taught math. She also was tutoring high school students in math, and many of them were in the West Orange ag program and were discussing their desire to see it improved.
“After a couple of months of listening, my gears started turning and I talked to (principal Bill) Floyd when he was here and started studying for the agriscience certification test to teach this class,” she said. “They were not going to be retaining the current teacher. I took that on and decided I really wanted to do it for the students. There were a lot of opportunities I felt they weren’t getting to be a part of, and I wanted to come in and make sure they succeeded in everything they wanted to.”
Lightbody has steadily built the agriscience and FFA programs; she said there continues to be a high interest from students, and she’s proud of the legacy she is leaving behind. When she began her West Orange career, only six students — the FFA officers — were attending the meetings. Today, about 35 regularly attend.
“The West Orange FFA Chapter has an amazing officer team for the upcoming school year, and the advisers are excited to see the program continue to excel and grow into an even more dynamic organization,” she said.
In the five years, Lightbody taught agriculture foundations, animal science and agriculture communications and led the FFA program, which is part of the ag curriculum. She also took students to livestock shows, as well as state and national competitions.
This year, her food science team — Cate Solomon, Marissa Romeu, Sarah Lewis and Kaley Henderson — placed first in the state and will compete at nationals in October in Indianapolis.
This was Lightbody’s third state championship in so many years.
“The last time we had a state championship was in 1995,” she said. “The students got excited again. They had a lot more participation, more members.”
Lightbody has enjoyed learning about the different aspects of agriculture and passing that knowledge to her students. FFA is an intracurricular program, which means all aspects of it are connected to a classroom curriculum.
“Within the class, the club takes agricultural topics, and you can learn in-depth,” she said. “For instance, we teach a horticulture class, and then if kids are interested in that there are competitions (in which) they can future expand their knowledge, like forestry, citrus and floriculture.”
Last year’s floriculture team won first place in the state and competed to nationals.
“Agriculture also relates to far more than I ever thought,” Lightbody said. “Anything food-related, plant-related, fiber-related, housing structures — and it’s really fun helping the kids to see how much agriculture is really in their life when they had no clue to begin with.”
She said the assumption that FFA is solely about showing animals isn’t correct, although some students do that too. They have shown guinea pigs, rabbits, poultry, goats, sheep, swine, steers and cattle.
She admits winning the competitions and sharing the stage with her team as members accept a first-place trophy is memorable, but her favorite moments are more personal and touching.
“One of my favorite moments was when our calf (Polly) was born,” Lightbody said. “I got Buttercup when I knew I had this job. I brought a bottle-baby Jersey calf to an area that doesn’t focus so much on dairy cows. When she was 4, we bred her with an angus bull.”
Romeu, one of Lightbody’s students, worked with Buttercup, showing her at the state fair and participating in the breeding process. Both were there when Buttercup gave birth to Polly, who Romeu will show next year.
“(It was incredible) being able to share that with a student and letting all the other students see from start to finish the process of one of the topics we teach about,” Lightbody said. “The gestational period, the birthing and the calf nursing … watching the calf grow and teaching her how to be a little show heifer. That was my plan for Buttercup when I got her, but to see it come to fruition was definitely one of the most amazing moments of this whole job.”
Lightbody’s college degree is in early childhood education, although her teaching journey took her to a middle school and a high school. She had no agricultural background when she arrived at West Orange — just a passion for the subject, she said.
“I felt there was a need for me to come here and give the kids some opportunities … to the level they needed,” Lightbody said. “It was definitely an easy decision (to come to WOHS). It’s taken a majority of this school year to come to the decision to switch back over to math, but it just feels like this is just the right time to move back over and help some of these kids get the foundation they need to be successful in math.
“I am super excited for the new adventure and to get to work with a different set of students,” she said.