Jacob Ball stands outside with a few students

Jacob Ball, a 6th-12th grade agriculture teacher at Carter G. Woodson Academy (Fayette County), was honored with a Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award this year.
Photo by Crystal Sicard

Being at the right place at the right time is a saying Jacob Ball, a 6th-12th grade agriculture teacher at Carter G. Woodson Academy (Fayette County), believes he is living.

“It’s just humbling because I know that I am fortunate and blessed to be here at the right place and the right time at Carter G. Woodson Academy. Our program is a unique program in the state and in the country,” said Ball.

Ball was recognized with a Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award in a surprise ceremony on Oct. 27. He was one of two Kentucky teachers presented with the award this year, which includes a $25,000 unrestricted cash prize.

Ball, who grew up on his family’s small farm in Nelson County, said he was shocked to hear his name called during an assembly that included his teaching colleagues and the entire student body.

“I am past shocked,” said Ball, talking to his students. “You guys are why we do this. We are fortunate every day to teach you, and we really mean that.”

Carter G. Woodson Academy is a boys-only school that provides an advanced and rigorous curriculum through the lens of African American history, culture and culturally responsive teaching and learning strategies.

“We are really blessed here with some really great kids,” said Ball.

Ball obtained his bachelor’s degree in career and technical education and agriculture education in 2011 from the University of Kentucky. He graduated from the University of the Cumberlands in 2015 with a master’s in education and obtained an education specialist degree in educational leadership from there in 2018.

“I started out in agricultural engineering,” said Ball. “That just didn’t click for me.”

Ball said his went to his advisors at the University of Kentucky not knowing what path he wanted to take when it came to agriculture, “I thought I was going to Law School, I thought politics and law were going to be in my future.”

It wasn’t until his senior year of college, during his last semester that he discovered his love for teaching, “My senior year, I student-taught and once I was in front of the classroom, I knew this is where I needed to be.”

Last year, his students participated in 140 different agriculture projects across the state, logging an impressive 3,000 hours of real-world experience that culminated in the trip of a lifetime for nine students who traveled to Ireland in the summer to tour farms in the country and see the farm-to-table journey.

Outside of his classroom doors, Ball has a large freight container that contains high-tech hydroponics where students can grow food for their school and community while also experiencing real-life and hands-on agricultural lessons year-round.

Jacob Ball and Robin Fields Kinney stand outside Ball's agriculture classroom

Jacob Ball shows Interim Commissioner of Education Robin Fields Kinney his modified freight container that features high-tech hydroponics where students can learn more about that part of the agricultural industry.
Photo by Jennifer Ginn

Ball said when it comes to both education and the agricultural industry the students will always be his drive to excel in his career.

“I always try to remember that any decision that I make, any lesson that I teach, any program that I create has to be done in a way that will benefit students,” he said.

Ball has held numerous positions and recognitions including being a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) in career and technical education, Kentucky Association of Agricultural Educators (KAAE) professional growth chair, Bluegrass Region KAAE vice chair and chair, and Bluegrass-area president.

In addition to teaching at Carter G. Woodson Academy, Ball also serves as an advisor for the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and Junior Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences.

Over the years, instead of being out in the field Ball has chosen to be in front of the classroom teaching his students a passion of his. Ball said some days can be harder than others, but he continues to share a message with his students and peers in hopes of encouraging others to pursue a career in education.

“Education is a tough career, but there are so many blessings that come along with being a teacher,” said Ball. “You have to switch your motivation factors when it comes to feeling valued as a teacher. If you keep them as your why, that will keep you motivated to stay in the classroom.”