Agricultural education at the high school level is an important component of preparing young people to be leaders and professionals. Some state programs have been around for more than 100 years, while others are just getting started. But whether pilot programs or storied traditions, agricultural education plays a crucial role in maintaining a vibrant agricultural economy in Mississippi. “The No. 1 job in the state of Mississippi is still agriculture,” says Dr. J.J. Morgan, superintendent of Forrest County Agricultural High School (FCAHS) in Brooklyn. Founded in 1911 and declared a historic landmark in 1996, FCAHS occupies 320 acres and serves 600 students. In addition to regular school buildings, FCAHS’s agriculture program has its own learning center – the Davis Barnes Agricultural Building – which houses classrooms, a computer lab and a shop outfitted with tools. Additional buildings include a livestock barn, poultry house, hog barn and greenhouses. “It’s a rich history and tradition here,” Morgan explains. “We are basically our own vocational department, as well as a high school, so we have everything offered right here on campus. We have tractors, sheep, goats, chickens, hogs, horses and cattle.” In fact, the cattle are part of a school-managed commercial cow-calf operation that provides one of many hands-on learning opportunities for students in the ag program. The school also boasts one of the largest and most active FFA chapters in the state. “FFA is the club that enhances ag education in the classroom,” says Mississippi State FFA President and college freshman Kayla Walters. “In 2012, we had 113 ag programs in high schools across the state. Of those, 106 had FFA chapters.” Hands-on learning and leadership development are key components of FFA, which plays an integral role in bringing classroom instruction to life through workshops, competitions and supervised agricultural experiences. “I started in FFA when I was in 4th grade. My dad was my ag teacher, so he encouraged me to do that,” Walters says. “I became a junior state officer in eighth grade. Now as state president, I get the opportunity to work as an intern with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce for a year, and I travel the state putting on workshops and visiting FFA chapters and students, talking about FFA and agriculture. In February, during FFA week, I will get the opportunity to speak in front of the Mississippi House of Representatives and Senate” Walters contemplates becoming an ag teacher herself. “There’s a big need for ag teachers everywhere,” she says. “Without ag education in the classroom, there is no FFA.” That’s not a problem at Loyd Star Attendance Center in Brookhaven. The school has had an ag program and FFA chapter since the late 1930s. However, its pilot Agricultural and Biotechnical Academy is brand new. Starting in 2013, the academy format integrates ag education into the core curriculum schoolwide. “We’re incorporating agriculture into English, math, science and history, and we’ll be doing at least one integrated project involving all four classes each semester,” says Billy Sumrall, agricultural sciences teacher at Loyd Star. “So many people have no idea how close of a relationship agriculture has to our everyday lives. What we’re doing is teaching these students and exposing them to opportunities in the world of agriculture that they had no idea existed.” Excitement over the new academy and additional ag and biotechnology-focused classes has already more than doubled the number of students enrolled in Loyd Star’s agriculture program. Sumrall hopes the exposure through core curriculum will recruit even more.