Daily Journal education reporter Dillon Mullan rounded up some information parents and students across Northeast Mississippi need to know as they head back to school this year.
1. New diploma paths
The Mississippi Department of Education is implementing a new diploma system for the high school class of 2022. Rising ninth graders must now select one of three diploma endorsement options – career and technical, academic or distinguished academic. The first gives students the skills to immediately find a job or seek more training at a community college. The last two provide automatic enrollment in one of the state’s public universities. Students can still graduate with a traditional diploma instead of one of the endorsements, but must start off down one of the three paths.
2. Protect your tech
In the Tupelo Public School District, students receive their own laptop starting in second grade. In New Albany, every student receives his or her own iPad starting in third grade. Across the region, modern curriculums rely on these technologies to connect students with material. To save school districts money and a student from embarrassment, protecting laptops and iPads is incredibly important. Buy a case, keep it away from full cups and remind your student that just because it can play games, these devices aren’t necessarily toys.
3. Kids and their apps
Kids aren’t note passing and doodling anymore. Despite the rules, at middle and especially high schools, smart phones have become a leading catalyst of school-day distractions. From procrastinating on homework to ignoring a teacher to bullying on social media to cheating, smart phones present a handful of obstacles to learning in the classroom and a healthy student experience. On most, parental controls can lock a smart phone during certain hours to cut students off from their favorite distraction.
4. Shelter from the Storm
Tupelo Public School District is aiming to officially open its new athletic facility and storm shelter on the high school campus in January. More important than basketball games, the new structure is built to keep the entire student body and faculty safe from a tornado. Elsewhere in the school district, Joyner, Carver and Thomas Street elementary schools also have tornado shelters.
5. Northeast after school
Over the summer, Northeast Mississippi Community College received a $982,772 grant from the Department of Human Services through the state’s community college board. With some of that money, Northeast will partner with the Alcorn, Corinth, Booneville, Prentiss, New Albany and Union County school districts to form Youth Development Academies. After school Monday through Friday, these academies will provide intensive tutoring in academic work, life skill and career development.
6. Testing task force
Students, parents, administrators and teachers all say that Mississippi’s testing practices can be improved. They just don’t agree on exactly what the problem is. In June, the Student Testing Task Force met for the first time. Rising high school seniors highlighted the meeting with personal anecdotes about how over-testing hampered their learning opportunities. The task force will continue to meet once a month in Jackson until it produces a report on its findings in December. Each meeting is live streamed on the department of education’s website, and public comment about testing can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. Simple common app
For high school students with their eye on Ole Miss and Mississippi State, the application process was made easier over the summer as both schools adopted the Common Application. In a “general application” section, applicants submit high school grades, courses and activities as well as entrance exam scores and parent or legal guardian information. This section of the application is accepted by every school. Beyond that, every school has its own list of college-specific requirements such as essays, letters of recommendation and application fees. So while the Common Application is not literally one common application for each school, it does make the process easier. After an applicant makes an online account, he or she can select schools and see relevant deadline and essay requirements. The platform also connects applicants to financial aid and scholarship tools that they otherwise might have missed.
8. New career coaches
The CREATE Foundation and the Toyota Wellspring Education Endowment Fund have partnered to bring career coaches to high schools in the eight districts in Pontotoc, Union and Lee Counties. The initiative will provide eight career coaches for 14 high schools. In the past, teachers, counselors and administrators all teamed up to provide career guidance to high school students. Now, students will have advisers whose sole focus is guiding students’ career aspirations, certifications, apprenticeships and workforce training.
9. Funding fight
When the state legislature meets again in January, another showdown over school funding is likely. Last spring, teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky – all states with similarly struggling public school systems to Mississippi – went on strike for more funding. Mississippi’s teachers have not gone on strike since 1985, but the state legislature has fully funded public school just twice since 1997. The Parents Campaign is a great resource for information on legislation and action pertaining to public education in Mississippi.
After another school year marred by deadly shootings, school safety is on the minds of many students, parents and administrators. Recently around Northeast Mississippi, the Amory School District approved the addition of four new school resource officers while Lee County is seeking federal grant money for six new officers. In Tupelo, a security consultant and critical incident response specialist assessed the school district’s security apparatus during multiple visits last school year. The district has also implemented an anonymous tip line for students to call or text to report suspicious activity.