HOMEGROWN: Palatka High finds he has a talent in the agriculture field
Putnam County School District’s Career-Technical Superstar of the Year is a homegrown high school senior who hopes to finish his education and return to Putnam schools to educate others.
Matthew Westbury, 18, is a Palatka High School senior taking the animal track in the school’s directed studies agriculture program.
Although he didn’t grow up on a farm, Westbury said, he’s spent a lot of time on farms owned by family friends.
“When I went to the fair as a kid and saw them showing, I just thought it was the coolest thing,” Westbury said. “Then someone told me you can make a lot of money.”
In fourth grade, he started raising hogs for his 4-H Club.
Westbury said he’s raised two hogs each year, raising one to sell at the fair, and one for his family to butcher.
Last year, Westbury said, his family sold the land that housed his pins, so he took his hogs, Crinkle and Bootylicious, to Palatka High’s pins.
Bootylicious’ large backside proved to be beneficial in the Putnam County Fair this year, as Westbury won First in Class out of about 20 in his division.
“The ham is good,” Westbury said.
Crinkle, who has a crinkle on his ear, will remain at Palatka High with the agriculture program’s animals until it’s his time to visit the butcher.
As the school’s FFA chapter president and the agriculture teacher’s assistant through the directed studies program, Westbury has taken on many leadership roles, but he’s also had to step up in the absence of a regular school agriculture instructor.
During the last four years, Westbury said, Palatka High had three agriculture teachers and currently has a permanent substitute after the most recent teacher left after the first semester.
“I’ve done a lot of outreach,” he said. “A lot of events.”
For example, Westbury said, “The ag teacher would normally get a student to the career fair, but I had to just go ahead and plan all of that.”
The extra responsibilities didn’t seem to phase Westbury. Instead, he said, he’s realized his calling to education.
Westbury plans to attend St. Johns River State College to earn his associate degree before transferring to the University of Florida for a bachelor’s degree in agri-science.
Then, he said, he wants to return to Putnam County to teach agriculture.
“I like the education side of it,” Westbury said. “People say it doesn’t pay, but I don’t care. People don’t go into teaching for the money.”
Westbury was honored Friday, along with the district’s other 24 career technical superstar nominees, during the district’s annual Career Technical Superstar awards ceremony.
Career Technical Education Director Renee Hough said the annual Career Technical Superstar honor has been awarded for at least 17 years.
Hough said each of the district’s 25 career technical programs nominates a superstar. The district’s career technical education department chooses 10 nominees and a committee decides the overall career technical superstar.