Jefferson City school academies get rolling

Diane Olson addresses Simonsen freshman students in the Agriculture, Foods and Natural Resources Academy. Olson is the director of promotions and education programs at Missouri Farm Bureau and talked to students about how much agriculture plays a part in their everyday lives. She brought a backpack with a number of items and explained what part of each item was a direct or by-product of agriculture.

Diane Olson addresses Simonsen freshman students in the Agriculture, Foods and Natural Resources Academy. Olson is the director of promotions and education programs at Missouri Farm Bureau and talked to students about how much agriculture plays a part in their everyday lives. She brought a backpack with a number of items and explained what part of each item was a direct or by-product of agriculture. Photo by Julie Smith.

After being discussed for months, the Jefferson City Public Schools kicked off academies with the start of school this fall, and Diane Olson, the director of education programs for Farm Bureau, was the first experiment.

“I feel like a guinea pig,” she told a student group at the Simonsen 9th Grade Center. “I’m the first person to speak from the outside business community. And, I wore green because I’m green with ninth-graders.”

Designed to break the school community into smaller learning groups, “academies” are meant to acquaint students with career paths they might be interested in and make their learning relevant to the real world. On Tuesday, Olsen spoke to students who are interested in agriculture and natural resources.

When Olson asked if students had any connections to farming life, many hands in the auditorium crept up.

Olson talked about life growing up in a small, rural town, and she told the student the path her own career had taken, from a job with University Extension to a position with Farm Bureau. Today, she helps promote Missouri agriculture for the non-profit organization.

“One of the biggest challenges we have in agriculture is that people don’t realize where their food is coming from,” she said.

Pulling an assortment of items out of her bag, she asked her listeners what sport socks, cheese curls, Coca-Cola, hand lotion, pizza, blue jeans, shampoo, snack chips and a plastic ice scraper have in common.

“What do you think?” she asked.

“They’re all natural resources?” one girl suggested tentatively.

“They all fit in your bookbag?” another boy said jokingly.

“They all have something to do with agriculture?” Caleb Morgan asked quietly.

Olson credited Morgan for hitting upon the answer for which she was searching. She explained that each of the items in her bag started as some other raw material grown from a plant or animal.

“So many of the things we interact with every day start on farms,” she said.

Olson also made the case that food in the United States is affordable. She said that, as a nation, Americans collectively spend less than 10 cents of every dollar to pay for food.

She also encouraged the teens to try hard at school.

“Be the best you can be at what you do, whether it’s grades or activities or a job,” she said. “When people see you’re going the extra mile, they’ll give you another opportunity.”

And she told them that job opportunities are plentiful in the ag industry, and many of them are highly scientific or technical.

“You don’t have to be a farmer,” she said.

Afterward, Morgan, the boy who answered Olson’s question, said he was interested in farming and he noted he’s enjoying being a member of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Academy so far.

“As soon as I get out of college, I’m getting my own farm,” Morgan said. “My grandfather was a farmer. I’d like to grow hay, cattle and corn.”

Jordan Dearman — an outdoorsy girl who likes to hunt and fish and wishes she lived on a farm — said she joined the Agriculture and Natural Resources Academy because she’s interested in animal science and would like to be a veterinarian some day. She was planning on signing up for FFA later that afternoon.

“I didn’t know what it (academy life) was going to be like at first,” she said. “But I like the academy I’m in.”

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