Johnson's hobby leading to career in poultry science

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CORDOVA — The decision to move to distance learning for the remainder of the 2020 school year didn't disrupt Cordova High senior Emma Johnson's life as much as it did her peers.

"I really didn't go to Cordova during this senior year. I was mostly at Bevill," said Johnson, who took enough dual enrollment classes in high school to earn an associate degree from Bevill State Community College by the time of graduation.

Johnson took economics online during her senior year and only went to the high school to fulfill her obligations as a member of the band. 

With two parents who are educators, Johnson always had a clear understanding of what was expected of her academically (nothing below a B), and she rose to the challenge.

She is a member of the CHS Super 7 — one of seven students whose grade point averages put them in the running to be valedictorian and salutatorian.

After graduating from CHS, Johnson plans to attend Wallace State Community College and Auburn University for a degree in poultry science. A partnership between the two institutions allows students to take an introductory course for two years at Wallace before transferring to Auburn as a junior to complete the degree.

"I'm going to double major in poultry and food science. I want to go around and check the chickens to make sure they're safe to be killed for food," Johnson said.

According to a press release on the program, Alabama's poultry industry generates more than $3.1 billion each year and accounts for more than 65 percent of the state’s annual farming revenues.

Johnson's interest in poultry was sparked by participating in the Alabama 4-H Chick Chain Project, which has been open to Walker County students since 2014. 

Participants pick up pullets, or baby chicks, at the Walker County Extension Office in the spring and raise them until September, when a poultry show and auction is held at the fairgrounds.

After showing and selling their best three chickens at the fair, students have the choice of harvesting their remaining chickens for meat or keeping them for egg production. 

Several years ago, Johnson helped members of the Walker County Extension Office staff vaccinate the chicks before they were distributed to local 4-H students. She volunteered for the job in anticipation of one day having a career in poultry science. 

Johnson didn’t know the career field existed until she noticed poultry inspectors going about their work at the 2015 fair, where her Rhode Island Reds won Best in Show. 

She participated in the Chick Chain project for the first time as an eighth grader and still keeps 11 chickens (three different breeds) at her home in Cordova. 

Other than the time spent in her backyard with her chickens, Johnson's favorite high school memories all involve her time in band, where she plays the clarinet. She started in beginner's band in sixth grade. 

Though some seniors are struggling to cope with the ways that COVID-19 disrupted their final year together, Johnson is focused on the future.

"I'm really excited to move on," she said.