Kingsland and certain other area school districts are expanding their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focus to include agriculture in a format that is similar to the successful STEM programs.

The new venture started with an idea last November at a session of Rochester Area Math and Science Partnership (RAMSP), which meets monthly to promote math and science.

"Members of RAMSP were talking about how closely related math and science programs are to agriculture education," said Kingsland Superintendent John McDonald, "and that there are things that we can do to bring more ag education programs to the schools and expose more students to it."

RAMSP decided to seek a grant to create an ag forum like RAMSP holds each November for its STEM projects and send teachers for more ag education training, similar to how teachers are sent to training for Project Lead the Way (PLTW).

RAMSP received $30,000 from the Minnesota Agriculture Education Leadership Council (MAELC), which has 17 members, of which six are legislators.

The funds will be used to send one teacher from each of 10 schools to training in one advanced agriculture education course.

"There are two parts to the grant - first, the potential to create an ag forum, and second, sending teachers for sending one teacher to a two-week long training," said McDonald.

The funds are first for $2,200 to $2,500 per school to send one teacher, and the rest of the funds are for supporting the forum. The teachers will be learning about the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) model, which McDonald noted is not too dissimilar from Project Lead the Way, except it focuses on agriculture. The teachers go to training in areas of ag and come back able to teach different advanced courses and curriculum, and some students may be eligible for college credit.

According to the National Council for Agricultural Education's website, the eight courses available through the CASE program include Introduction to Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, Principles of Agricultural Science - Animal, Principles of Agricultural Science - Plant, Agriculture Technology and Systems, Animal and Plant Biotechnology, Food Science and Safety, Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, and Agricultural Sciences Research and Development. The site noted that CASE is not designed to replace traditional agricultural education programs. The goals of CASE are "to improve the retention of professional teachers in agriculture and generate interest in districts seeking an alternative model for agricultural instruction."

McDonald stated that RAMSP member school representatives have considered what would happen if an ag forum were to be held in conjunction with the STEM forum. "It's very similar to the STEM summit in November, and a lot of schools go to Rochester to explore STEM careers. We'd like to run something similar to that in ag sciences, bring vendors in agricultural education. The recent discovery was that we could run something separate in February or combine it with the STEM summit in the fall - there might be an economy of effort, more experience for the kids if there's an ag focus at the STEM summit."

Participation in CASE training will elevate the Kingsland school system, as the district is already certified in PLTW courses and was the first in the state to be certified in all three biomedical PLTW disciplines, a notable accomplishment. McDonald said Kingsland administration hopes to encourage students whose interests lie in agriculture and agri-business to pursue those interests through the addition of the CASE program in order to secure satisfying agricultural careers.