Local ag academy first of its kind in state

Published 11:20 pm Saturday, January 25, 2014

Lincoln County School District superintendent Terry Brister is looking out for the future farmers of the county by helping them create a better, smarter, faster workforce through Loyd Star Attendance Center and the creation of a new brand of academy.

In cooperation with Copiah-Lincoln Community College, the school district created the first Agricultural Biotechnology Academy in Mississippi.

“It’s a pilot program that’s taking agriculture and combining those lessons with math, science and English curriculum,” Brister explained.

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Brister said farming today requires higher knowledge than in years past, because of things like equipment with computer systems and the biotechnology of feeding and seeding.

“Farming has become a technological profession,” Brister said. “Technology has saved farmers millions. If farmers don’t keep up with technology, they won’t profit.”

He said that in addition to adding the curriculum of math science and English, the academy will train students in areas like feedstock and crop chemicals, bioscience, medical equipment and research and computer literacy.

“It integrates vocational teachers’ curriculum with the other teachers’ curriculum,” Brister explained. He added that agriculture is still the top employer in Mississippi and that industry here will benefit from having a pool of trained personnel.

“We are trying to demonstrate that the future of America lies in our workforce,” he said. “We want to show how we can strengthen that through integrating vocational studies with scholarly studies.”

Brister said there will be internships, mentoring opportunities and field trips. He said that students who graduate Loyd Star with the agricultural and biotechnical emphasis will be ready for work or fields of study in agricultural or chemical engineering and microbiology. Students will be learning and working in the community and in agricultural businesses, too.

Loyd Star was featured in two recent magazines touting the advantages and possibilities of having an agricultural and biotechnological academy – “Connections,” a Mississippi-based magazine for educators, and “Mississippi Agriculture: A Guide to the State’s Farms, Foods and Commerce.”

In “Connections” the article “Cross-Discipline Learning” has an interview with Loyd Star teacher Billy Sumrall who pointed out that “many … students come from small farms and communities and sometimes do not see the potential that agriculture has of being a higher-level occupation. Bringing new technology into the classroom and involving the students in real-life experiences is one way to boost their awareness.”

The report said that last year Loyd Star only had 42 students in its agricultural program, but with the addition of the new ag and biotech academy, the program now has 100 students. Brister said he believes this number will grow even more.

“We need more emphasis being put on workforce training,” Brister said. “Businesses and industry are starving for qualified personnel. Not everyone is going to grow and be a doctor, a lawyer or a teacher. The workforce is the backbone of America.”