New era in agricultural learning about to begin at Springfield Public Schools
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Classes for Springfield Public Schools begin on Monday, August 22, and when they do, one of the essential aspects of Missouri’s economy will finally be offered as a magnet program to elementary students for the first time.
“We do have an environmental sciences pathway at Hillcrest with an FFA chapter,” explained SPS Director of Choice Programs Kelsey Brabo. “We also have a really robust farm-to-school program where we teach maintenance and upkeep of our school gardens. But this will be the first fully-immersive elementary agricultural program.”
Located at Missouri State’s agricultural facility just off Kansas Expressway, the new AgAcademy is shaped like a giant silo and built at $6.7 million, most of which comes from the Darr Family Foundation.
The circular-shaped building gets taller as it curves, and everything, right down to the angles that the sun shines through the building, is done with agriculture in mind.
“The angles you see are not arbitrary. They’re informed by the sun,” pointed out Tyler Hellweg, the building’s architect. “Where the sun rises at certain times of the year corresponding with the first day of school. Or where the sun might be setting on the day, you need to be planting a certain crop.”
The building includes classrooms, a greenhouse, specially equipped kitchens, a chicken coop, and a courtyard. And while Missouri State owns the land, Springfield Public Schools will run the magnet program as a way to interest elementary-age students in pursuing agriculture as a career.
The AgAcademy will be offered to 100 4th and 5th graders this year and expanded to 50 6th graders next year.
“This year, those students will be learning everything they should be learning as fourth-grade and fifth-grade students in Springfield Public Schools through the lens of agricultural education,” Brabo said. “They’re going to have connections to plant and soil sciences, animal husbandry, animal sciences, plus all those incredible life skills that agriculture brings to students such as leadership, service learning, and positive contributions to our community.”
The AgAcademy is part of five Choice programs within the state’s largest school district where focused themes and aligned curriculum provide students access to unique learning opportunities driven by their passion.
“We have WOLF (nature and outdoors), the Academy of Exploration (science and exploration), the Academy of Fine and Performing Arts (theater, drama, dance, vocal, etc.), and the Health Sciences Academy (health care),” Brabo said. “And now the AgAcademy.”
When he visited the AgAcademy for a visit recently, Governor Mike Parson, a farmer himself, spoke about the changing times in the industry and how important this school is.
“This is not about the way my grandpa used to farm, or my dad farmed, or the way I farm anymore,” he told the crowd. “You have to be much smarter than we were. It’s not about being out in the field checking the cows and feeding the hay. It’s about the business side of agriculture all over the world and how Missouri can compete. Almost every commodity in the state of Missouri is in the top 10 in the United States. These kids need to know about how agriculture works and why it’s the heart and soul of this state.”
“You need information in accounting,” added SPS Superintendent Grenita Lathan. “You need to understand how the financial aspects work and how organizations work. Most farms were owned and operated by families, but now farmers are hiring employees.”
“There’s technology to help you get more out of the ground or more out of your animals,” pointed out Missouri State University President Clif Smart. “There are so many levels of what is now a very sophisticated business, and the Darr College of Agriculture (MSU’s college program) is a big part of that. And this feeder school is going to help that college grow.”
“Agriculture is probably the oldest industry in humankind,” Brabo said. “It’s also the most changing and technical industry as well. So when students come to the AgAcademy they’re really going to be exposed to a robust industry. That could mean everything from the sprawling acres of land to having complete farming experiences in your backyard with alternative growing methods.”
On Wednesday, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new AgAcademy allowed the general public, civic leaders, and school officials to tour the facility and the very first class of ag students to get a look along with their parents.
“You are giving us an opportunity like none other,” Barbo said as she addressed the new students at the ceremony. “It is for you that we have spent years working to create this program. And it is with you that we will learn and grow this program together.”
A new era in education planting the seeds for future leaders in agriculture starts on Monday.
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