- Associated Press - Saturday, August 9, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Agriculture students in two Louisiana parishes will be able to earn college credit and credit toward high school graduation with a course called Natural Resources Conservation 1001.

The Louisiana State University College of Agriculture is offering the classes in the rice country of Vermilion Parish and at a school in Livingston Parish, where suburban sprawl from Baton Rouge is slowly overtaking agriculture.

The course will be wide-ranging, including the food chain, erosion issues and how people affect the environment, said teachers Kelly Becnel of Walker High School and Danielle Newsom, who will teach an evening class at the LSU AgCenter extension office in Abbeville for Vermilion Parish students. The Vermilion course is open to public, private and home-school students.

It’s the pilot course in the LSU College of Agriculture’s dual-enrollment program and more courses may be added, said Assistant Dean Leslie Blanchard.

Such courses help cut class size for introductory courses and are a recruiting tool. “We feel that if students can leave high school with a good chunk of freshman year under their belt in agriculture, they’ll come to us,” she said.

LSU’s oldest dual-enrollment program, in math, has about 1,200 students, she said.

Becnel said the new class may convince students who don’t currently plan to go to college that they can handle the work. She said 24 students have enrolled, with eight to 10 planning to pay the $300 fee for LSU course credit.

“I hope that once they see they can do it, more will decide to,” she said.

William Kelso, one of their teachers at LSU, will be the professor of record for college credit, but Becnel and Newsom will do all the high-school teaching.

“We’re going to focus on a lot of the environmental ecology-type scenarios - basically what the trend of the environment is and what role we as humans play,” Newsom said. She said Vermilion Parish students have good reason to be interested, since their families deal regularly with issues such as hurricanes, habitat loss and coastal erosion.

“We’ll be touching on a lot of things dealing with sustainability - natural resources conservation, how the food web works, how climate affects food webs and natural resources, the ecology of natural resources,” Becnel said.

The course is the only one Newsome will teach this year - she’s taking a year off from Abbeville High School, where she has taught agriculture for the past two years. “I have a 2-year-old and a newborn, so I’m staying home and strictly focusing on the dual-enrollment program,” she said.

Both Abbeville and Walker are in urban or semi-urban areas. Many of the 170 or so students at Abbeville and the 180 at Walker enrolled in the agriculture program classes that have broader application beyond farming, such as welding, electricity, carpentry and small engine maintenance.

Walker, a 1,100-student school, hired its second agriculture teacher this year to expand its program from the current 90 students.

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