Springfield Public Schools unveils its new AgAcademy on MSU campus

Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 11:52 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 6, 2022 at 4:54 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (Edited News Release/KY3) - When school starts Aug. 22, Springfield Public Schools’ newest magnet school, the AgAcademy, will open on the Missouri State University campus to 100 fourth- and fifth-graders.

The project, which is a collaboration of SPS and Missouri State University, is made possible by a generous donation from William H. and Virginia Darr and the Darr Family Foundation. The Darr Family Foundation’s investment in the AgAcademy represents the largest known gift in Springfield Public Schools’ history. Today’s VIP Reception offered an exclusive preview of this exciting new learning experience.

“In 2002, the Darr Family Foundation was established to perpetuate the legacy of giving set forth by founder Bill Darr. Twenty years later, we cannot think of a better way to celebrate this milestone than in conjunction with the grand opening of our flagship project, the AgAcademy at the William H. Darr College of Agriculture,” said Heather Zoromski, executive director of the Darr Family Foundation.

Located at MSU’s Darr Agricultural Center, 2401 S. Kansas Expressway, the AgAcademy will offer an innovative, hands-on learning experience that empowers students to explore agricultural sciences and related career paths. The $6.7 million project will include classroom space, greenhouse, and garden and will eventually serve up to 150 students in grades 4-6.

“This wonderful facility is the result of a unique partnership. For years in the future, SPS students will benefit from the generosity of the Darr family and the strategic vision of MSU,” said Dr. Grenita Lathan, superintendent. “It is especially meaningful that our newest choice school focuses on agriculture considering the important role agriculture plays in Missouri’s economic vitality.”

The AgAcademy building was designed by Tyler Hellweg, Darr Family Foundation board member, principal architect at Arkifex Studios, and grandson of Bill Darr.

“This building is a tribute to the history of farming in America, a monument celebrating his grandfather’s life’s work, and represents the future of agricultural opportunities in Missouri as our local students will soon fill the hallways for a learning experience like none other,” Zoromski said. “We are so grateful for our partnership with Springfield Public Schools and Missouri State University that allowed this dream to become a reality.”

The geometric building incorporates design elements that maximize access to the outdoors and natural light while creating references to the earth and agrarian culture.

A courtyard sits in the center of the facility and offers daylight and views of the outdoors from many spaces within the building. Light corridors flood classrooms with natural light, featuring windows that align with important solar events. One corridor window points to where the sun sets on the first day of school, while one point toward where the sun rises on the date recommended for planting crops by Farmer’s Almanac.

The agricultural academy is the newest choice magnet program to be offered by SPS. Students who will spend the 2022-2023 school year at the AgAcademy were selected in December through a random lottery process.

Other SPS choice programs currently available include the Health Sciences Academy, Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, Academy of Exploration, and Wonders of the Ozarks Learning Facility. These are housed on the premises of community partners and enable students to become immersed in studying a specific area of interest.

As part of the partnership, MSU will own the AgAcademy building and SPS will provide teachers, curriculum and other educational supplies.

Many dignitaries were on hand Wednesday for a chance to tour the almost-completed facility including Missouri Governor Mike Parson, Springfield Mayor Ken McClure, Missouri State University President Clif Smart and Lathan, who told the gathered crowd why it was so important to offer an agriculture-based curriculum.

“The average age of a farmer is 59 years-old,” she pointed out. “We’re introducing agriculture to 9 and 10 year-old students and we’re excited that we can instill in them at a young age a love for agriculture and the benefits of going into the field not only in elementary school but middle school, high school and then going on to college.”

Lathan and Parson both talked about their experiences growing up on farms and how much the traditional family-run industry has changed.

“Now you need information in accounting,” Lathan said. “You need to understand how the financials work, how organizations work and how to treat employees. Most farms were owned and operated by families but now farmers are hiring employees. So our students will be introduced to every concept related to agriculture.”

“Today it’s not just about walking the land and having cattle or row crops,” Parson added. “There’s the business side of it. There’s the science and technology that’s far outreaching just the farm. When you talk about the commodities around the world Missouri is in the top 10 in almost every category.”

Missouri State President Clif Smart joked that not have the farming background of Parson and Lathan.

“I went to law school so I didn’t have to work outside,” he said to a big laugh from the crowd.

But he echoed their point that agriculture-related jobs extend far beyond just farming.

“Agriculture is the number one industry in our state,” he said. “It’s agribusiness that’s centered in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield. And we want kids to understand that. Kids think, ‘Well, my parents or grandparents don’t own a farm so I’m not going to be a farmer.’ But there’s so many other important ways to be involved in agriculture. It’s technology like developing anti-resistant seeds or grapes that can grow in a certain type of soil. It’s technology to help you get more out of the ground or more out of your animals. And that’s what this is all about. Creating a pipeline to grow your own talent so they can be involved in this critical industry in Missouri. There’s so many levels of what is now a very sophisticated business.”

To report a correction or typo, please email digitalnews@ky3.com

Copyright 2022 KY3. All rights reserved.