The MAGIE & MATE showcases the latest in the agriculture industry and this year, one of the exhibitors will be the Nelson Academy of Agricultural Sciences Online.
Agriculture education classes are not found in every high school, even in Montana and Wyoming. Yet LeRoy Nelson, an agriculture teacher with more than 15 years experience in the public schools, has made it possible for everyone to obtain the Ag classes they both need and want.
Nelson, who also worked as a superintendent of schools in Opheim, Montana, for five years, registered with Montana’s Office of Public Instruction (OPI) to start the Nelson Academy of Agriculture Sciences Online.
“I knew from my teaching career that there was this need. I would have kids tell me all the time how they wished they had access to more Ag classes in their school,” said Nelson.
He worked on the idea for a number of years but hesitated because of technology concerns. Now, however, broadband technology in the state as made his online classes possible. A year ago he retired as a superintendent to pursue his dream.
“We just finished our first semester and it went well, really well,” he said. The Fall semester started with an animal science I class and a plant science I class. Spring semester classes start on January 24, with those classes again offered as well as a veterinary science class and a farm business management class.
He works with high school students across the state giving them the approved courses. Nelson said local school policy decides how to place his classes in their graduation criteria. They also provide the time and place for the students to take his online courses.
“It’s like a regular class. If they have an opening during the day--like a study hall--then they can sign up for the class and the school generally pays the tuition. But some kids take the class on their own and pay the tuition on their own, too,” he explained.
The list of courses available to high school students is more impressive than anything that can be found even in schools with large Agriculture Education programs. Besides the four classes already mentioned, future courses will include Animal Science II, Farm Business Management II and III, Horticulture I and II, Agribusiness, Agriculture Mechanics, Agriculture Careers, Aquaculture, Natural Resources, Marketing, and Risk Management.
A glance at the Web site shows an impressive amount of course work covered in just the general Animal Science class, from livestock performance data, to reproductive physiology, biotechnology in the livestock industry, ruminant and non-ruminant nutrition, even quality assurance and show ring ethics.
Students do not need to buy books. All course materials are included but Nelson did note that, on occasion, students may need to obtain easy to find supplies for activities such as a pop bottle for a mini-eco system. Most supplies needed for projects will either be no cost or very low cost.
The courses are also ideal for homeschool students and the online format makes the course flexible enough to fit into any schedule.
“Currently I’m talking to a couple of colleges in the state to offer dual credit for the classes,” he said. That way, if a student takes an upper level course while in high school, it will also transfer to an approving college for lower level credits in agriculture or as an elective.
But Nelson realizes education isn’t just for high school students. He also offers agriculture classes for adults who want to continue their education or gain more knowledge in farm and ranch management or veterinary sciences.
“Many farmers and ranchers are busy with their operations. Even the kids are. They want to go to college but, for fall semester, they’re missing the harvest. In the spring, they’re missing calving and all the spring work. They can take these courses online,” he said.
The adult education program is intended for anyone who would like to improve their agricultural interests, he noted. The courses can be taken independently or to fulfill the requirements of the Academy’s certificate program. The courses are very flexible and students can complete the requirements on their own schedule within a three month deadline.
Nelson had a booth at the MAGIE in Great Falls, Mont., in January. During the MATE he will also have a booth so he can visit with parents, high school students, homeschoolers and any adult who is interested in learning more about agriculture. Some of the Academy’s students will also be there competing in KMON FFA competitions. The Academy has just been chartered by the National and Montana FFA Associations.
“That’s really important to these kids. Some of them wanted to be involved in FFA but didn’t have a chapter in the schools where they attended. So I talked to Bill Jimmerson and he worked on it for us and got us our own chapter, the Nelson Agriculture Academy Online,” said Nelson.
During the MAGIE, some of his FFA students will be competing in the FFA events, wearing official blue jackets that announce their special chapter—a chapter which has no geographical border but is formed by a universal passion for agriculture. So if you see one of those jackets, go up to the student and ask them about their special drive to learn agriculture.