Springfield Public Schools adds AgAcademy to teach young students agricultural science

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The new AgAcademy magnet school at Springfield Public Schools will cater to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders for the first time in school history.

The Darr Family Foundation, whose $6.5 million donation helped fund the school, held its 20th anniversary on April 6 with the grand opening of the AgAcademy facility in collaboration with Missouri State University.

The generous donation, made possible by Bill and Virginia Darr, is the largest known gift in SPS history. The geometric silo designed-facility is located at Missouri State’s agricultural grounds off of Kansas Expressway, and cost an estimated $6.7 million.

The AgAcademy includes a greenhouse, classroom space, chicken coop and a raised garden. Students also will have access to William H. Darr College of Agriculture’s Pinegar Arena, which houses equestrian aspects along with updated electronics and audio-visual equipment.

Only 100 lucky students out of 350 applicants won entry into the AgAcademy via lottery. The program currently applies to fourth- and fifth-grade students, but SPS is looking to add 50 sixth-graders to the program in 2023. 

Its students come from 36 elementary schools spread across Springfield. If a fourth-grade student gets selected for the first year, he or she becomes automatically eligible for the program for a three-year run. 

“Imagine being a 10-year-old and leaving your home school and everything you know and are familiar with, taking a huge step and coming into a program and a school that is brand new,” SPS Director of Choice Programs Kelsey Brabo said. “Something we tell our kids all the time is how brave they are. It shows that they are really excited about the experience and opportunities that come from being in a program like this.”

Curricula at the AgAcademy will be centered around agricultural sciences in general, Brabo said, but students must still meet Missouri learning standards. 

“Everything they would be learning as a typical fifth grader, they are going to be learning that at the AgAcademy. But they will be learning that through the lens of agricultural sciences.”

Brabo says learning units will include plant and soil sciences, animal science and animal husbandry. In order to help students succeed, 4H will be incorporated into the program as well as natural connection skills such as leadership, problem solving and service learning.

Five choice programs are currently offered at SPS, Missouri’s largest school district: the Health Science Academy for health care, WOLF for nature and outdoors, the Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, the Academy of Exploration, and the new AgAcademy.

“It’s so important to know these magnet schools cannot happen without partnerships, without the Darr Family Foundation and Missouri State University,” Brabo said. “Knowing we are working to have a positive impact on our community is what our goal is here.

“You don’t have to be a farmer with sprawling acres of land to immerse in agriculture. You can do this in your back yard, use alternative growing methods and all of those different things. Also, showing our kids who have only seen the city side of Springfield [that] we live in an agriculture-based area – showing them what those working farms and ranches look like, and different opportunities and experiences that can happen in this robust industry of agriculture.”

SPS is looking at options to extend agricultural education sciences to its seventh- and eighth-grade students in the near future.

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