WHILE MISSISSIPPI high school students enjoyed their recent summer vacation, many of their teachers themselves became students.

That was the case with eight high school agriculture teachers who trained at the new Agricultural and Environmental Science and Technology Laboratory on the Mississippi State University campus.

The lab, funded by the state Department of Education's Office of Vocational and Technical Education through special funding from the Mississippi legislature, is the only one of its type on a university campus. It is a high-tech, octagonal environment that consists of a central project work area surrounded by state-of-the-art computer workstations. Because of its design, the lab has been dubbed “Agripod.”

The teachers in the three-week summer program gained the endorsement to their license required to teach the Agricultural and Environmental Science and Technology curriculum.

Bill McGrew of the Mississippi Department of Education said the curriculum is designed to move students from a very basic knowledge of agriculture to what it takes to run an agribusiness. “The first course of the curriculum introduces students to basic information about agriculture,” he said. “If they are interested, they can move into the more advanced courses in following years, including ones on managing an agricultural enterprise.”

The courses are geared to Mississippi agriculture. “Mississippi teachers developed the curriculum with input from the agricultural business community,” McGrew said. “A similar computer-based instructional system had been developed by Applied Technologies of Calhoun, Ga. Our teachers presented the curriculum they developed and Applied Technologies made changes to their modules to meet the Mississippi curriculum.”

There are currently 154 agriculture programs in Mississippi, 48 of which have Agricultural and Environmental Science and Technology labs, and more are planned.