The students enrolled in agriculture classes at Nettleton High School stay busy every day with different projects, all under the watchful eye of agriculture teacher Jesse Cornelius or Mr. Corn for short.

Cornelius’s agriculture classes are small, but lively. Most students jump right in where they left off on projects from past classes. Cornelius is always eager to see how his students tackle each project. He knows some will pursue a career in agriculture, but the ones who do not are still learning skills they can use the rest of their lives.

“The lessons you learn here – public speaking, leadership – they are so important,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you do in life. You have to be able to communicate. You have to be able to work with people that may or may not be like you. We get a pretty diverse group of students, and it’s a lot of fun.”

 

Cornelius uses the lessons he learned growing up on his family’s farm in Tippah County in his classroom every day.

“My dad always farmed. His parents farmed. It’s something I have always loved,” Cornelius said. “We grew up raising vegetables, fruit, cattle, goats, and we even had a small catfish operation. I tell my students all the time, ‘I think I know what I want to be when I grow up. A farmer.’”

Cornelius credits his agriculture teacher with influencing him to apply he learned on the farm to other areas of his life. By doing this, Cornelius went on to graduate from Mississippi State University with a degree in agricultural education, and then joined the Mississippi Army National Guard. In 2004, he was called up to active duty for a 19 month tour in Iraq, but still found a way to teach agriculture.

“I worked with farmers and farmer cooperatives to try to help rebuild the country,” Cornelius said. “We were there fighting, but we were also trying to rebuild. Whatever people may believe politically, I think what we did while we were there made a difference in people’s lives. Seeing the way people live in different countries gives you a different perspective on life.”

Today, Cornelius’s uses his experience from the farm and National Guard to teach his students.

“He’s always real honest with you,” said Laynie Dodson, Nettleton High School FFA President. “If I need advice, no matter what situation I’m in, I can come to him, and I know a lot of other students feel the same way. Even if he’s not completely sure of a solution, he still gives us some piece of advice to help keep us going. It’s just really nice to know that somebody has my back.”

Still, any recognition he’s received, Cornelius defers it to the students who were and are willing to learn and use what he teaches in their lives. He never grows tired of teaching.

“It’s an amazing feeling to know that you inspired someone,” he said. “I truly believe this is the best job in the world. There are bad days, but every once in a while, you get to see something click for a student, and that makes it all worth it.”

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