Georgia College Front Page

Under 30: James Bridgeforth

Age: 26 //

Occupation: Third Grade Teacher/Team Leader, Brookhaven Innovation Academy //

Major at GC: Political Science, Sociology


Tell me a little bit about why you came to Georgia College.

My brother was a sophomore at Georgia College when I was applying to colleges, and I thought it wasn’t the place for me because I didn’t want to follow him. I ended up coming down for the President’s Scholars Competition and that sealed the deal for me. The professors that I met, the students that I met— really just everybody—the campus was amazing to me. That day I decided: no matter what, this is where I’m going.


Favorite professor/class?

I had several. My top two professors that I worked with all throughout undergrad were Dr. Stephanie McClure and Dr. Veronica Womack. Dr. Womack is part of the reason why I came to Georgia College. She sat at my table at the President’s Scholars Competition, and I was amazed at who she was as a person and the things that she was saying. I said “I need to take her class.” Coincidentally, I ended up taking an honors class on community development with her the following fall as one of my first classes freshman year.

Dr. McClure, she’s actually the reason why I declared a sociology major. With her, I took social stratification, which essentially was a class that talked a lot about how we are sorted in society and all the different issues certain groups are dealing with. I truly learned what the field of sociology was and how our society plays a role in shaping our present and our future. It taught me to question everything, but also rely to on data. Without data, even a well thought out idea can seem like a conspiracy theory.

I have a better eye for understanding people now. Social stratification helped me understand different communities, how to work with people and how to interact. I’m able to be a more critical teacher because of that sociology and liberal arts background. I teach my kids all the time to question everything, but also to always be willing to try to understand others’ perspectives.


Favorite GC memory?

The fact that we were able to be so close with our professors and administration. Because I was on the Ambassador team, I got to know them really well. That’s almost unheard of. You don’t go to a school and get to see the president on a regular basis. Or, Dr. Harshbarger sitting outside on the front porch of Parks, there to answer questions any time. Everybody was so accessible and it made you feel like you really were part of the family. I wasn’t just paying money to go to school. I felt like I actually belonged to something.


What got you into education?

I never really thought I would become a teacher. I worked for two years in the Admissions Office as a recruiter for the metro-Atlanta area. A man came on a campus tour that worked for the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) foundation, a national charter school network. He said we should be partners, since Georgia College is a really great place. We worked it out and became a KIPP national partner. Because I was on their email list and was the liaison, I found out about a lot of different events and ended up hearing about a position as a partner teacher, which is much like an entry-level into teaching. I didn’t know how that was going to work out, but somehow I ended up getting a position as a first-grade teacher. Thankfully I was in a classroom with a more experienced teacher, so I had a mentor to work with throughout the entire year. I started off similar to a teacher’s assistant, and as time progressed, I got more and more responsibilities, so that by February I was essentially teaching all subjects with the exception of writing.


Best part about your job?

Students "bring government to life"

Being able to work with the kids and seeing how far they can go. In my class and in my school we try to push our kids to go way above and beyond. We try to give our students authentic, real-world problems to solve. I’m not just teaching you math, I’m not just teaching you the standards, I’m going above that.

For our first project, we were teaching the foundations of government. Well, my students took that in a totally different direction – they learned about it, but decided to create their own classroom government. They created an entire constitution that had a judicial branch, a legislative branch and an executive branch. They made a cabinet that advises me [the president]. It taught them how to solve problems and how to work together. They brought government to life. I think that’s what I love: being able to take subjects that might not be the most exciting and breathe life into them.


In your experience so far, has there been a particular moment that has been transformative for you as a new teacher?

Mr. Bridgeforth, students celebrating after project presentations

With project-based learning you have an exhibition night every two to three months that allows students to showcase their work and let the parents know what they have learned. Probably the best moment for me was our first project exhibition night – of course the entire school was nervous, it was our first time doing anything like this – and seeing all of my kids. They blew my mind and they blew their parents’ minds.

The moment that sticks out to me was this one student. Throughout the entire project she had been struggling. She knew the material, she understood it, but she was quiet, reserved and didn’t speak up. I was nervous to see how she was going to present. She blew her parents away. She came in and was so confident and so poised – just amazing. Seeing that transformation from how she was in August to where she had come by October… that’s why I’m teaching. I’m not teaching just to give them the information, I’m teaching to change their lives.


What does success mean to you?

I think success for me is making a difference. Leaving somewhere better than I found it. If I’m going to be successful, it’s not just about me. It’s about making sure that I’m doing well for myself, but I’m also doing well for my community and the people I’m interacting with. I want to make sure that wherever I go, wherever I’m working, whatever I’m doing, I’m making a difference.


If you had a time machine, where would you go?

I’m fascinated by all aspects of Native American history. I would really like to take my time machine back to pre-Colonial American to see what it was actually like and to really experience what those thousands of civilizations were like. We’ve lost so much of that, so it’s something I’d really like to see. 

…But I’d also have to have some type of translation device that would translate thousands of languages.



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