Preparing urban students for the agricultural economy

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While Future Farmers of America (FFA) is a strong educational component in greater Minnesota, one metro area school stands out for its 100% FFA participation rate. In fact, students at the Academy for Sciences & Agriculture (AFSA) wear their FFA jackets with pride, like a letter jacket or a team jacket at other high schools.

That is not surprising since the Agriculture and Food Industry is Minnesota’s 2nd largest employer. In fact the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently issued a study entitled “Employment Opportunities for College Graduates 2010–2015” where it predicted a shortage of qualified workers in the Food, Renewable Energy, and Environmental fields in the United States.

Located in Vadnais Heights, the Academy for Sciences & Agriculture was founded in 2001 and serves over 250 students. AFSA seeks to prepare the next generation of leaders to manage this crucial sector of the Minnesota economy.

Students at AFSA take a college-prep curriculum of the standard high school classes, plus they select from additional agriscience courses in Food Science, Animal Science, Plant Science, Environmental Science and Engineering. AFSA also offers seven “College in the Schools” courses through the University of Minnesota.

Throughout their ten year history, AFSA students have managed to qualify for the FFA National Science Fair each year; 11 of them last year alone. All students at AFSA are required to complete an original science fair project each year of enrollment.

Thirteen current AFSA students have been recognized by and are active in the national honor society. Last year 78% of AFSA students went on to a post secondary program having received over $250,000 in scholarships. Two students have been awarded internships through the World Food Prize Organization. Two students have been recognized by the Minnesota Department of Education as Scholars of Distinction in Science and Leadership. Students at AFSA are in their fourth year of participation in the FIRST Robotics program also.

“We want to help urban and suburban students appreciate the importance of agriculture and science in everyone’s lives,” said Becky Meyer AFSA Director. “We want students to know there are great careers that go unfilled in agriculture every year and we want our students to be some of the successful leaders in agribusiness and research scientists of the future.”

AFSA has nurtured strong public-private partnerships. It has managed to recruit Cargill, General Mills and University of Minnesota employees to their board. These and other partnerships have generated over $145,000 in donations and support in the last year. The school’s greenhouse boasts a state of the art hydroponics system funded through corporate support.

AFSA achieved Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) last year in Reading and Math as required under No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

With Minnesota’s strength in the food and ag sector, schools in every corner of the state must continue working to increase opportunities in food, plant, and animal sciences to ensure a well-skilled workforce for this critical state asset.