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Big boost for ag ed

South Boston News
Mecklenburg County School Superintendent Paul Nichols looks on as Farm Bureau President Jim Jennings announces a $50,000 matching grant the Farm Bureau has established for the school division.
SoVaNow.com / June 26, 2019
The Mecklenburg County Farm Bureau is making a major contribution to the future of agriculture with a $50,000 matching grant it is giving to Mecklenburg County Public Schools.

The money is not earmarked for any specific project beyond agriculture education. How the money will be used will be decided by Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols, in consultation with Farm Bureau member Steven Rose and others.

Mecklenburg County Farm Bureau President Jim Jennings announced the creation of the grant Thursday night at the organization’s annual picnic at Rosemont Winery and Vineyards in La Crosse. Jennings said local farm bureau members spent the past few months pondering how they could promote Mecklenburg County’s ties to agriculture while also supporting the school division as it begins construction of a new consolidated high school campus and a reform of the curriculum offered to students.

Jennings said they discussed Nichol’s vision for six career academies, one for students interested in future careers in environmental science or agriculture. Members also discussed the design plans for the new consolidated secondary school, which include construction of a barn and greenhouses.

It was Rose and another farm bureau member, Billy Wilkinson, who came up with the idea of establishing a funding stream for an agriculture project at the new school.

“The objective is to become a long-term strategic business partner with Mecklenburg County Public Schools to help it secure strong educational opportunities for Mecklenburg County students in the area of agriculture and agribusiness and in doing so, make a difference not only in the students’ lives but also in the future of agriculture in Mecklenburg County,” Jennings said. He added that with the matching money, there will be $100,000 to go toward a yet to be determined agriculture project at the new high school.

Rose, who will work with Nichols to develop the project, said he was particularly impressed with Nichol’s grasp of the significant role agriculture has played throughout the history of the county.

He sees local farmers and the Farm Bureau becoming a strategic business partner, offering expertise and programming support that will “help kids develop and understand where they are going in life and hopefully how they can contribute to the county in the area of agriculture since that is the foundation of this county and has been.”

Glenn Barbour, Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors chairman during the protracted debate over whether to build one, two or four new schools to replace Bluestone and Park View high and middle schools, offered his praise for the Farm Bureau and its gift.



“I commend the Farm Bureau for their foresight in investing in the future of the county. Agriculture is like any other profession, it’s constantly changing, but I don’t have to tell you that.

“So, investing in this program will give the schools the opportunity to teach new concepts and get young people more involved in agriculture.”

He acknowledged the county’s move to unite students from the eastern and western ends of the county in a single consolidated campus has come with challenges. But said he viewed this focus on agriculture as a unifying force: “We haven’t had a consolidated program ever. I know everybody is going to get behind it and support it.”

While thanking the members of the Farm Bureau for their generosity, Nichols hinted at a few other ways members could support agriculture education. He said the school’s current FFA program needs expanding. He also wants to expand classroom opportunities that allow students to see agriculture as a farm to table experience.

With the move away from test-centered teaching practices, Nichols also said he would like to see opportunities for elementary students to develop an understanding of where their food comes from and the role agriculture plays in their lives.

At the high and middle school level, Nichols is particularly interested in finding mentors and advisors from various fields. “With every one of the [six career] centers there is a need for — like we are looking at with agriculture — for businesses to get directly connected and partner with the schools. This means that the school wants experts in the field who will give guidance and tell us what these kids need to learn [in an agriculture program] to succeed,” Nichols explained.

“This challenge to the community is huge,” Nichols said, adding, “We are having a barn built. We have connections with Virginia Tech and Virginia State that will help us determine the best options for the facilities on the new campus.

“That will continue to grow as we build the program. This connection [with the Farm Bureau] will be vital.”



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