By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
VERONA – As he stood near the rim of a pond behind the Lee County Agri-Center and watched students grasp fish, feel snakes and test water samples, Torrey Mitchell hoped he was looking into the future.
The new director’s plan to reinvigorate the long-maligned center hinges upon his idea to draw more students to its grounds for what he calls agri-education field trips. Beginning in October, the center plans to host field trips on which kindergarten through fifth-grade students would tour corn mazes and cotton patches, learn about fruits and vegetables, milk cows and watch pigs race.
As he prepares logistics for that new vision, Mitchell had his first opportunity to host students at the center on Wednesday, when 600 second-graders from Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties attended a science, engineering and technology day on its grounds.
“This is headed in the direction we want to have,” Mitchell said. “We want it to grow and meet teacher needs and kid needs and be fun at the same time. When you have fun learning, learning is fun.”
Students rotated through 15 stations about wildlife and ecology at the event coordinated by the Mississippi State University Extension Service and sponsored by Toyota. In one exhibit, volunteers used a large net to seine fish out of a pond and talked to students about how biologists do that to examine a lake’s composition before returning the fish. At another, students interacted with a live owl and snake.
“Science is core to everything, and so many young people avoid it as a career,” said Linda Mitchell, 4H youth development professor at Mississippi State University. “We want to make it fun.”
Linda Mitchell is Torrey’s mother, and Wednesday’s event gave the new director a chance to begin to introduce the center to students and teachers. This event was free, but the plan will be to charge students about $8 for the future field trips as a way to bring new visitors and revenue to the center.
“We want to get the word out through teachers and schools,” Torrey Mitchell said. “When you think of the agri-center, we want it to be linked with education and our greatest resource, which is our young people.”
North Pontotoc second-grader Presley Coker, 8, said the best part was seeing snakes and owls.
“They get to be outside and learn about nature,” said Autumn McCormick, a second-grade teacher at Mooreville Elementary School.