More than 1,500 Lawrence County students gathered in Moulton April 11 to discover how to get a slice of the $70.4 billion agricultural pie in Alabama.
Students rotated every 20 minutes among speakers stationed throughout the school, ending the afternoon strolling through rows of booths in the coliseum.
“It started with a discussion one day about where our county was, and what our county had to offer,” said Johnny Yates, Lawrence County Board of Education assistant superintendent. “We are an agricultural county. A lot of our offerings are related to farming, and if we want our students to return home, they need to begin looking at careers in agriculture.”
Attorney Mitch Henry of Montgomery County was one of 30 speakers who used his time to plant a seed about the importance of continued innovation during the third annual Ag Career Initiative Day (ACID).
“We’re very blessed to live in a country that has stayed on the cutting edge of technology, but this generation will be called upon more and more to develop new technologies, means of production and relationships between producers and consumers,” Henry said.
Because of their farming expertise, Lawrence County farmers and Alfa members Clinton and Barbara Hardin were asked to serve on the AICD committee.
“A few of the ag-savvy folks in the community were asked to be on the committee,” Barbara said. “We all met up with Johnny Yates and suggested speakers, topics and things of that nature.”
The Lawrence County system has worked so well, educators across the state are taking note.
“I came to the first one, and I would not miss it because of what I see it providing these students and broadening their perspectives about what their careers could be,” said Tommy Bice, state superintendent of education. “I have learned something every time I come and have actually taken this model to other school systems that are beginning to do the same type of thing. It just shows what a local school system can do when it focuses on something important to its community.”
Lawrence County Board of Education Superintendent Heath Grimes said his goal is to connect ag in all subject in every grade. He said most students are raised on farms or know someone who has a farm, so it helps students relate to the material.
“The whole perception of the school (has) changed, and I’d give a lot of credit to the ag initiative – tying it into all of our courses, but this day is what gives it special attention,” Grimes said.
While serving as a role model for other school systems to take on the ag initiative, Lawrence County is excelling academically as well.
According to the Moulton Advertiser, graduation rates in Lawrence County climbed 7 percent, from 79 to 86 percent in 2013. Rates are currently at 89 percent for 2014, well above the state average of 80 percent.
Riley Greene, a Moulton Middle School eighth-grader, said her biggest take away was the impact farmers have on her community.
“We learned how to make money and buying from your local farmers puts money back into your community,” she said. “It’s more trustworthy to buy from local farmers because you know how it’s grown and you have a real connection with them.”