Alabama Forestry Foundation Improving Rural Alabama Education

education2A recent news article doesn’t provide very promising news for our education system. Mike Cason, with, writes in his article Alabama students trail national averages in ACT results (found here) that Alabama public high school graduates in 2015 received an average composite score of 18.8 on the ACT while the national average was 21.

He goes on to say that things are even worse when broken down by subject matter. In particular mathematics (22% vs. 42% nationally) and science (23% vs. 38% nationally) were not very impressive.

The Alabama Forestry Foundation is working to correct that trend.

Through its Blackbelt Initiative, the Foundation is completing its third year of supporting two rural schools in order to improve math and science skills among K-6 graders. The Foundation sponsors a teacher “coach” at J.U. Blacksher in Monroe County and Thomasville Elementary in Clarke County. These teacher “coaches” provide training and support to other teachers to emphasize math and science excellence in all aspects of the curriculum.

We recently received some results from Thomasville Elementary that are very exciting.

After three years of immersion in the program, third graders exceeded the national averages (measured as a % of “readiness”) in mathematics (63% vs. 50% nationally) and science (35% vs. 29% nationally). The fourth graders were just a little behind in mathematics (32% vs. 45% nationally) but ahead in science (38% vs. 35% nationally).

What are the initial conclusions from this data?

It’s still very early in the process as we are only three years into the program, but two conclusions are emerging.

First, the program is working. Consistent testing has only been going on for three years, but we are able to determine that the third graders that were tested three years ago were far below the national averages and now the third graders that were tested this year are ahead of the national averages. The only change has been the Foundation’s program.

Second, the difference between the third grade and fourth grade data indicates that success is better achieved the earlier a student is exposed to the program.

If you would like to learn more about the Foundation and its Blackbelt Initiative view an informational video here.

The AFA Annual Meeting will be held at the Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach, Alabama on September 13th – 15th. If you have not already registered for the conference, you can easily do so by going to

This year we will have the inaugural Alabama Forestry Foundation Breakfast on Monday, September 14th. Attorney General Luther Strange will be our keynote and will discuss the critical need we have for improving math and science skills in rural Alabama.

“Spirit” & “Nova” to appear at AFA Annual Meeting

tigerAuburn University’s famous eagles “Spirit” and “Nova” will be in attendance at the Opening Reception of the Alabama Forestry Association’s Annual Meeting on Sunday evening September 13th.  The birds will be available for photographs and are sure to be a hit with the children (both young and old!)

The birds have been invited by AFA to provide a highlight for the great work done by the Southeastern Raptor Center housed with in Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

If you have not done so, you can register for the Annual Meeting by going to  You better hurry!  Rooms are filling up fast.  We expect record attendance this year.

In the mid-1970’s, Dr. Jimmy Milton founded the Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service brought six injured birds to the College of Veterinary Medicine and asked that the school become a rehabilitation hub for the Southeast. Dean Jimmy Greene, Dr. Greg Boring of Radiology and Dr. Milton arranged for Auburn University to become a regional center and accept injured birds of prey.

spiritDonations and volunteer work provided materials and labor to build a raptor barn behind the Small Animal Clinic in the late 1970’s. Birds were still treated in the hospital before being moved to small flight cages next to the barn. Later a hospital area was incorporated into the raptor barn.

In 1998 the Elmore Bellingrath Bartlett Raptor Center Hospital was opened off of Shug Jordan Parkway behind the College of Veterinary Medicine. The facility was made possible by a $300,000 donation from Dr. Woody Bartlett ’64 in honor of his mother, Elmore Bellingrath Bartlett, a noted Alabama philanthropist.

In 2002, the College of Veterinary Medicine opened the Carol Clark Laster/W.E. Clark Jr. Raptor Training Facility, which was made possible by Carol Laster of Birmingham. Laster, a retired junior high science teacher, donated $500,000 to the raptor center. Her husband, Dr. Russell Laster, is a 1951 graduate of the veterinary college. Mrs. Laster selected the Raptor Center for the gift after the death of her uncle W.E. Clark Jr., who left his estate to her care.

The Raptor Training Facility consists of 24 state-of-the-art mews and an office building. Non-releasable raptors are kept and trained at the facility for use in the educational programs. The Laster’s also contributed to the rehabilitation unit with the construction of six large flight aviaries for aerobic conditioning of releasable raptors.

In 2004, the Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center (SERRC) was renamed the Southeastern Raptor Center (SRC) to reflect its multiple missions of rehabilitation, education and research.

Since its modest beginning, the Southeastern Raptor Center has treated and released thousands of birds of prey back into the wild. The educational unit has provided educational programs for thousands of schools, civic groups and churches in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky.

The Alabama Forestry Foundation utilizes the services of the Raptor Center to provide a meaningful hands on experience for rural school children to understand the benefits forests provide to these amazing birds.  See-

For an interesting story about the history of Auburn’s first eagle involving one of AFA’s members, see-

Attorney General Luther Strange to Headline Alabama Forestry Foundation Event

The Alabama Forestry Association’s Annual Meeting is scheduled for September 13-15, 2015 at the Perdido Beach Resort in beautiful Orange Beach, Alabama. Time is flying by and the conference will be upon us soon. If you have not registered yet, it’s easy to do so by registering on-line at


A new event is planned this year in conjunction with the conference. The Alabama Forestry Foundation will be highlighted at the Monday morning breakfast and sponsorship proceeds from the breakfast will go to the Foundation’s scholarship fund.

Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey will provide introductory remarks and then turn it over to Attorney General Luther Strange for his keynote presentation.

ivey2Ivey, a well-known and respected Association member, has been a tremendous supporter of forestry in Alabama. As a timberland owner, she well understands the importance the timber industry brings to rural Alabama. Ivey was born in Camden, Alabama (Wilcox County) and is a proud graduate of Auburn University. She has worked as a high school teacher, a bank officer, Assistant Director of the Alabama Development Office and with the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

She was elected to be the State Treasurer in 2002 and 2006. As Treasurer, Ivey put the sources of the state’s revenues on-line for public viewing. She updated the office’s technology, cut administrative costs by over $5 million and oversaw the Prepaid Affordable College Tuition Plan (PACT).

In 2010, Ivey was elected to be Alabama’s Lieutenant Governor, beating Democratic incumbent Jim Folsom, Jr. She was re-elected in 2014 and serves in that capacity today.

luther2Luther Strange is the 49th Attorney General for the State of Alabama. First elected in 2010, he beat incumbent Troy King in the Republican Primary. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama and received his undergraduate degree from Tulane University where he also graduated from law school.

Re-elected in 2014, Attorney General Strange is a national leader in advancing the causes of federalism and limited government by combatting the increasing unconstitutional overreach of the federal government and its assault on individual liberty.

Strange serves as Coordinating Counsel for the Gulf States in the historic Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Litigation in New Orleans where he has been actively involved in trying the case against BP and other defendants. He recently announced a settlement in the case with BP that will bring over $2 billion to the state.

The Alabama Forestry Foundation’s scholarship fund provides resources for the education initiatives managed by the Association that provide for enhanced educational opportunities in rural Alabama which lead to advancing the prospects of a well trained work force for the future of the timber industry.

The Foundation’s Black Belt Initiative provides funding for teacher coaches in rural Alabama schools to assist K-6 students in improving their math and science skills. To learn more about the Foundation’s activities, visit A short video presentation on the Black Belt Initiative can be found at

Alabama Forestry Foundation- Blackbelt Initiative (VIDEO)

The Foundation-LogoAlabama Forestry Foundation was founded in 1978 to advance the knowledge of the management and utilization of Alabama’s forests, to promote stewardship and sustainable management of Alabama’s forest resources, to protect the private property rights of Alabama landowners and to promote markets for Alabama forest products.

Education is a key component of the Foundation’s activity. Annual projects include Project Learning Tree, Teacher Conservation Workshops and the Architecture Student Tour in conjunction with Auburn University’s College of Architecture.

Another important educational project is the Blackbelt Initiative. The Blackbelt Initiative was instituted to promote career opportunities in rural Alabama’s forest industry by involving local public officials, educational professionals, business leaders, teachers, students and parents. Alabama’s timber industry offers a unique opportunity for rural students to learn a profession and return to their home communities to pursue employment. Too many of our good students are leaving rural Alabama and we will begin to feel that impact in the not-to-distant future.

In order to prepare these students for careers in forestry related employment, the Foundation recognizes the need for improvement in math and science skills.

To address this, the Blackbelt Initiative funds an Excellence in Math & Science Program at two rural schools; J.U. Blacksher in the Monroe County community of Excel, and Thomasville Elementary in Clarke County.  The Initiative also provides training support for teachers at McIntosh Elementary in Washington County.

forestThis program funds teacher “coaches” at the schools to provide support to teachers; assisting them to incorporate math and science skills within all aspects of the curriculum. Working closely with the Alabama Department of Education’s AMSTI professionals, the teacher “coaches” receive enhanced training and support to provide the best possible education and learning environment for these rural school children in grades K-6. Learning these important foundational skills will encourage the students to appreciate the future employment opportunities that are provided by Alabama’s forests.

Watch this video to learn more about the Foundation’s Blackbelt Initiative:

The Foundation’s critical work will be used demonstrate to public policy officials the need to better fund math and science skills at the earliest possible stage of a child’s education. The results the Foundation determines from this program will be communicated to these officials and will hopefully be used to encourage increased funding for AMSTI throughout the state.

This work would not be possible without the generous contributions that our members have provided to the Foundation. We gratefully acknowledge the generous support provided by The Sybil H. Smith Charitable Trust, The Ben May Charitable Trust, Boise, International Paper, John Estes Land Company, Louisiana Pacific Corporation, Scotch Land Management and the Weyerhaeuser Foundation.

The Foundation anticipates receiving a $250,000 grant for the FY16 school year to continue the Blackbelt Initiative. This grant, however, requires a dollar for dollar match. So we need your help.

Please consider making a tax deductible contribution to the Foundation’s Blackbelt Initiative in order for us to maximize the opportunities that this grant provides.

For more information on the Alabama Forestry Foundation, please visit

Raptor Warning! Birds of Prey Invading Monroe & Clarke Counties

eagle2Next Wednesday, January 28th, representatives of the Southeastern Raptor Center housed within Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine will be making a special visit to two schools in Monroe and Clarke counties. See:

Sponsored by the Alabama Forestry Foundation as part of its Blackbelt Initiative, students at J. U. Blacksher (Uriah) and Thomasville Elementary (Thomasville) will see live birds of prey including eagles, falcons and owls up-close. As they hear about the impressive adaptations and behaviors of these remarkable birds, students will learn habitat, conservation and ecology of Alabama’s forests.eagle3

Yes…Auburn’s Eagles will be there! Nova (“War Eagle VII”), a golden eagle hatched in 1999, and Spirit (“American Emblem”), a bald eagle weighing nine pounds, are well known as part of one of the greatest football traditions in the country. See

“By bringing the Southeastern Raptor Center to our Black Belt Initiative schools, we hope to pique the interest of students in the outdoors and in Alabama’s abundant forests,” explains Alabama Forestry Association Executive Vice-President Chris Isaacson.

The Alabama Forestry Foundation was founded in 1978 to promote the stewardship and sustainable management of Alabama’s forest resources. The Foundation develops programs that focus on K-12 students, teachers, landowners, and loggers with the goal of sustainably managing Alabama’s abundant and diverse forest resources.

Designed as a multi-phase program, the Alabama Forestry Foundations’ Black Belt Initiative strives to provide job opportunity awareness and enhanced math and science skills while providing a path to future employment in the forest industry for residents in Alabama’s rural communities.
eagle1“Through such interactive educational experiences as the upcoming raptor program at J.U. Blacksher and Thomasville, we encourage student dreams to soar to new heights,” shares Isaacson.

The presentation at J.U. Blacksher will begin at 9:00 am and the presentation at Thomasville Elementary will be at 1:00 pm. The presentations are anticipated to last an hour. AFA members are encouraged to come and visit and participate in the event. If you have any questions, please contact Ashley Smith at (334) 481-2133 or