DOMINATE ART

Decatur Schools Superintendent Paul Fregeau talks about the creation of the Dwayne O. Andreas Ag Academy.

JIM BOWLING, HERALD & REVIEW

What do you want to be when you grow up? That’s a question asked of young (and not so young) people all the time.

For the very young, the answer comes without hesitation -- a police officer, a firefighter, a doctor, a teacher, a princess.

The reason for the quick response is simple. They are familiar with these jobs because they are exposed to them through books, cartoons and visits by these professionals to their school, among other ways.

And now, thanks to a $1.65 million donation from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the creation of the Dwayne O. Andreas Ag Academy and FFA program in the Decatur School District, the many opportunities that exist in agribusiness will be highlighted for high school students preparing to make immediate career-path plans.

“Upon my arrival here, one of the things that really caused me pause was why we don't have more ties to the agribusiness industry that Decatur's so proud of,” Decatur schools Superintendent Paul Fregeau said at a news conference announcing the programs. Fregeau started his new job in Decatur in July. “Everywhere I went, people were willing to help and step up with great opportunities for our kids.”

The Ag Academy will start classes in the fall. Two full-time teachers at MacArthur and Eisenhower high schools will lead formal academic and field-based National FFA Organization curriculum. In addition, there will be a living science farm on 15 acres owned by the school district on the campus of Enterprise School and 12-month container gardens at the two high schools.

If you live in Central Illinois, careers in agriculture are plentiful. And we’re not just talking about those hearty souls who plant and harvest the corn, soybeans and other goods, much of which finds their way to Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Tate & Lyle.

While usually associated with the factories that dominate the city's footprint, the job opportunities at ADM and Tate & Lyle – two of Macon County's leading employers – go beyond factory work. The agri-giants also need accountants, chemists, truck drivers, traders, office personnel, IT specialists and the list goes on and on. And there is a supporting cast of local businesses that fill in the gaps with a variety of services.

Long story short, your roots can stay planted locally, doing the work you love, if that is your desire. If not, these are global companies that offer chances for advancement to locations all over the world.

To be fair, there are and have been a host of programs over the years that emphasize these opportunities. Interested teachers have received additional training in ag education. There have been countywide events for students focused on agriculture. Some schools have ag classes or gardens. Most recently, students from Dennis Lab School and all of Decatur's sixth-graders spent a day at this year's Farm Progress Show at Progress City USA seeing all of the businesses that have some connection to agriculture.

But with few exceptions – namely the Decatur School District's very popular and growing internship program that puts students in the workplace – a lot of the efforts are geared toward younger kids. The addition of the programs in the high schools will reinforce any interest that has bloomed.

What do you want to be when you grow up? How a kid answers that question in a few years, after this program has been in place, might surprise you.

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