At a one-room schoolhouse in Lamar County, students enrolled in farm physics learn how leverage can help even the smallest kid in class loosen lug nuts on a tractor tire.
“We believe agriculture is a way to educate through real experiences and learn things that stick – not just pencil-to-paper kind of work,” says Jed Leggett, a physics teacher who owns The Country Schoolhouse with his wife, Lauren, a K-8 teacher. “Any time someone has context in which to apply the information that they learn, they are much more likely to remember it in the long term.”
On their family farm in Purvis, the Leggetts operate The Country Schoolhouse, an education resource center that offers academic, homesteading and lifestyle classes to both homeschooled and traditionally schooled students. The courses intend to supplement – not replace – a student’s core education with a hands-on classroom that sprawls the 50-acre farm on which the one-room schoolhouse sits.
The Leggetts care for cows, chickens, pigs, goats and vegetables on the farm, yet the family views its farm’s purpose in a different context.
“I tell people, ‘We raise ag education,’” Lauren says.
More than 80 students took classes at The Country Schoolhouse during the 2019-2020 school year, resulting in the selling out of seats in most courses. Another 40 students enrolled in classes and camps there over the summer.
Course offerings vary by age, but generally include farm biology, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math), drama, music appreciation, sewing, crafts and world cultures. Families can pay by the class or through a membership that gives them access to courses delivered by up to seven certified instructors. Guest speakers include local professionals from the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, Mississippi State University Extension Service and Soil & Water Conservation District.
The teachers infuse agriculture into every lesson.
“Even though we have drama, art and music classes, we try to incorporate ag education into every aspect we can,” Lauren says. “For art, we scavenger-hunt for leaves, talk about native species and use those leaves to create art projects.”
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Jed and Lauren inherited their grass-fed beef farm, known as Beaver Creek Farm, in 2015 after Jed’s father died unexpectedly. Upon moving to the family farm, the licensed educators began to homeschool their son, Wylie. Lauren found that local homeschool families sought educational farm experiences for their kids, so she began to give mini-lessons on their farm.
Years prior, the couple lived in Montana where Lauren taught in a rural school of just 10 students, mostly kids from local ranches.
“Working with those children and seeing how much they had learned through their experiences working with their family ranches really gave us a perspective that more kids need to be actively involved in agriculture,” says Jed, who also works as a research scientist at Stennis Space Center.
Lauren found those students could more easily comprehend high-level math and science concepts, which they associated with machinery repairs and hydraulic work on the ranch.
After those observations and experiences, the couple decided to make a business of educating through agriculture with the added appeal of a one-room schoolhouse. Jed’s father started to build a home on the farm before his death. The couple finished it with a classic red schoolhouse look, complete with a vintage school bell. The education center opened in fall 2017, determined to deliver relevant education.
Farm biology ranks as The Country Schoolhouse’s most popular course during the fall and spring semesters, and even takes on the theme of a summer camp.
Students learn about the farm’s animals, experience composting, make worm beds and start a plant from seed. In a recent unit on pigs, students learned about pork byproducts in unexpected places, like shampoo, body lotion, breads and cheesecakes. Lauren says the lesson provided some “aha” moments for the students.
“If you find ways to teach people information that seems relevant to them, they will recall that information more often,” Jed says. “They will actually learn it instead of memorizing it for a short amount of time, passing a test and moving on.”