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Attracting agriculture students

A first-of-its-kind agricultural magnet school is ex­pected to open in Springfield, Mo., in August 2021, thanks to a $6.5 million gift to Missouri State University by the Darr Family Foundation. The magnet school is expected to serve up to 150 elementary students—likely grades 4 through 6—and will be operated by Springfield Public Schools.

Springfield Schools Superintendent John Jungmann said the “historic investment” will allow the state’s largest district to provide an intense, hands-on experience for students inter­ested in agricultural-related careers. Up to $4 million of the donation will be earmarked for the school structure, which will be constructed on university property at the William H. Darr Agricultural Center. Plans call for a 16,500-square-foot building with six classrooms, a commercial-grade kitchen, greenhouse, laboratory space and gardens. The gift will also allow the uni­versity to design and build a 12,500-square-foot small animal education facility, including laboratories, indoor and outdoor runs and an observation hall.

The Darr Family Foundation was established in 2002 by William H. (Bill) Darr and his family to “empower at-risk youth to overcome barriers to opportunity.” The Springfield business­man is the founder of pet food ingredient providers American Dehydrated Foods and International Dehydrated Foods.

Darr, the namesake of MSU’s College of Agriculture, has been a staunch supporter of public education, said the university’s president, Clif Smart. He said the university and the Springfield area will benefit from exposing students to the wide variety of agriculture and agribusiness careers.

“Gifts from the Darr Family Foundation have completely transformed our College of Agriculture,” Smart said. “This gift will allow us to further expand our programs to better serve the needs of southwest Missouri.”

Springfield Public Schools will pay for instructional and support staff. The district currently operates a string of magnet programs outside of traditional school buildings, but none of them are focused on agriculture, a top industry in the Ozarks, Jungmann said. The district plans to partner with the univer­sity so students attending the new magnet will have access to resources within the College of Agriculture.

“The addition of an agriculture magnet school is an important part of a broader effort to enhance workforce development by ensuring our students are better prepared for a variety of college and career opportunities,” Jungmann said. “It’s just a natural fit.”

The Darr Family Foundation will give the money over a five-year period with the final installment made by the end of 2023.

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