Local Schoolchildren Connect Through LOU Pen Pal Project

More than 800 students helped write letters in literacy-based event

Edy Dingus of the LOU Reads Coalition explains the Pen Pal Project to children at Lafayette Lower Elementary School. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – More than 800 children across Lafayette County received handwritten messages from other local children recently as part of the first-ever Lafayette-Oxford-University Pen Pal Project.

Co-sponsored by multiple organizations – including the Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading at the University of Mississippi, the Lafayette County Literacy Council and the United Way’s LOU Reads Coalition – the project connected K-4 classrooms in the Lafayette County School District, Oxford School District and Magnolia Montessori School.

It kicked off March 2 as part of Read Across America Day and ended March 6, when the final letters were delivered.

“The Pen Pal Project was a way to engage children in a literacy-based activity that helped to expand their world,” said Edy Dingus, AmeriCorps VISTA for the LOU Reads Coalition and coordinator of the event. “What I think is so important for all children to realize is that their school is not an island to itself. Each student is part of a greater community.”

In each participating class, teachers received a packet with a form letter and instructions starting on Read Across America Day, which is the birthday of American writer and cartoonist Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. Many classes celebrated by reading a book aloud before writing a group letter to another classroom in the community.

In Rhonda Hickman’s second-grade class at Lafayette Lower Elementary School, children kicked off the event by reading “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” As part of their group message, the children created their own classroom mascot, an orange cat named “Mr. Whiskers” who always wears a jersey.

The group sent the letter, along with their drawings of Whiskers, to children at Magnolia Montessori School on the other side of town, who received the surprise package the following Monday and then wrote back.

“Thousands of classrooms across the nation celebrate Read Across America Day, but Edy Dingus with United Way had this wonderful idea to take it all a step forward,” said Ashley Parker Sheils, director of the Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a new initiative that promotes community-based literacy programs. “These children live in the same county but may or may not collaborate with each other. The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading wants to highlight programs like this.”

Each class that participated in the LOU Pen Pal Project prepared a group letter to a class at another school. Submitted photo

The Mississippi Campaign is part of a national network designed to support community engagement in literacy efforts by helping local organizations align their strategic goals. The program offers a framework centered on school readiness, summer learning and school attendance.

The campaign’s initial goal is to attract at least 10 Mississippi communities to join and adopt its framework.

“Our goal is to recognize and celebrate groups that are promoting literacy in schools and in community settings,” Sheils said. “I hope children who participated in this event capitalized on the fun of reading and writing, but also that it planted a seed in them to learn that you may have friends in unlikely places, even in a small community.”

UM Hosts State Robotics Competition this Weekend

Center for Mathematics and Science Education prepares for fifth annual FIRST Tech Challenge

Mississippi middle and high school students compete during the 2016 FIRST Tech Challenge at UM. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Middle and high school students from across the state will compete in Mississippi’s fifth annual FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition Saturday (March 4) at the University of Mississippi.

Hosted by UM’s Center for Mathematics and Science Education, judging begins at 7 a.m. in Tad Smith Coliseum. Public events begin at 10 a.m., and the competition runs through 5 p.m. Admission is free.

Two dozen teams of students, ranging from seventh to 12th grade, will pilot their robots with the hopes of qualifying for FIRST’s South Super Regional competition in Athens, Georgia, later this month. This year’s game is dubbed Velocity Vortex, a challenge where robots are programmed to push or lift different sized balls in a specially designed arena.

“Our goal is to inspire students into learning because we are losing our engineering group,” said Mannie Lowe, FIRST program manager at the Center for Mathematics and Science Education. “Our engineers are aging out and no one is coming up to fill the void in this country.”

The For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, nonprofit organization was founded 25 years ago by inventor Dean Kaman in an effort to build interest in STEM fields.

Teams comprise up to 15 people, and any organization can form a team, not just schools. Students are guided by teachers, coaches, mentors and community members. Teams must design and build their own robots, keep an engineer’s notebook and do some kind of outreach to promote STEM careers.

“I guarantee you, part of my group would not have otherwise thought about a STEM career beforehand,” said Holly Reynolds, team mentor for Bigweld’s Bots and associate dean for the UM College of Liberal Arts.

Bigweld’s Bots is an all-female team featuring members of Girl Scout Troop 33016, one of two Girl Scout trrops in the state that does robotics. The two troops soon will be featured on “Mississippi Roads” a PBS show.

During the competition, teams of two face off against each other. This allows teams to learn how to work with other teams and enjoy healthy competition at the same time.

Each match plays for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. For the first 30 seconds, the robots operate autonomously, then they are operated by the students through handheld driver controllers for the final two minutes.

The robots can be built out of virtually any material as long as teams follow regulation rules. In the past, some teams have built their robots out of PVC pipe, wood and aluminum. However, the competition is about more than just robots.

“The fun in my job is watching and working with the kids,” Lowe said. “When you see their ‘aha!’ light come on, it is amazing. It’s the realization that they can do this. They can build, they can program, they can design.

“Once they realize that, the world is theirs. They can do whatever they want.”

In the past, Mississippi teams have done well at FIRST Super Regional competitions. Last year, a Mississippi team won the Inspire Award, the highest given in the competition.

Some 5,000 teams participate worldwide, and the program has grown tremendously in Mississippi, where only four teams took part in the challenge five years ago.

Students begin designing and building their robots in September when the theme is announced. Last-minute changes are normal, and teams keep working to improve their robots until the competition begins.

“FIRST events are part rock concert, part NASCAR race because of the sponsor logos and team numbers on the side of each robot,” Lowe said. “They are also part chess tournament, due to each team’s different strategy, and just general fun. It’s a big party.”

$3 Million Grant to Provide Pre-K Prep for Mississippi Educators

Consortium, UM prepare 'bundle' of strategies for teachers, administrators

OXFORD, Miss. – A three-year, $3 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will help University of Mississippi faculty provide educators across the state with specialized training to use new research and meet upcoming training demands facing the early childhood education workforce.

The funds will be awarded in $1 million increments over the next three years to the North Mississippi Education Consortium, or NMEC, which is housed on the university’s Oxford campus and will host a variety of training opportunities with faculty support from the UM Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning.

“We are creating a system of training to build certain capacities in school districts,” said Cathy Grace, the Graduate Center’s co-director. “Different training opportunities will allow both teachers and principals to get information that is appropriate to their role. We also want to inform teachers of what will be expected of them by the state as it changes its requirements and evaluations.”

Starting in 2018, the Mississippi Department of Education will require all the state’s public school teachers to hold a special license endorsement to teach in any public early childhood classroom. Training opportunities to be provided with the new funding will provide multiple options for teachers to meet this requirement.

Grace describes the initiative as a “bundle of strategies,” with the aim of supporting high-quality pre-K classrooms. The focus will be exposing both teachers and administrators to the latest research in neuroscience and professional practice related to the rapidly evolving field of early childhood education.

The training programs planned in conjunction with MDE will benefit assistant teachers, teachers, principals and school superintendents working with pre-kindergarten students. These opportunities, scheduled in various locations across the state over the next three years, can train hundreds of early childhood teachers and school administrators on the most effective teaching practices for young children.

Online staff development courses designed for teachers seeking to receive their pre-K endorsement will also be offered. Interested individuals are encouraged to contact NMEC or visit the Graduate Center website to get specific training information.

These opportunities will utilize state resources, as well as bring in national experts in early childhood education and school administration, and will be based on proven strategies that have yielded increased student outcomes and engaged families in communities.

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, several studies show that quality preschool programs can produce lasting gains in academic achievement, including gains in reading and mathematics. The studies also indicate that every $1 invested in public pre-K education generates a $7 return in the form of long-term cost savings.

The School of Education also offers two programs that can help teachers earn a pre-K license endorsement from MDE, including its online Master of Education degree in early childhood education, as well as 12-hour undergraduate endorsement program.

“We, at the North Mississippi Education Consortium, are excited to be a part of this grant opportunity,” said Susan Scott, program coordinator at NMEC. “As educators, we see the value of early childhood education and the impact it has on the educational achievement of Mississippi’s children.”

UM Launches Online Master of Arts in Teaching Degree

Program offers alternate route to 7-12 teaching careers

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Education has launched a new online Master of Arts in Teaching degree designed for people who want to be licensed teachers in public 7-12 schools across the state.

Through the online, alternate route program, graduate students can qualify for a Class A teaching license from the Mississippi Department of Education after the completing the program’s first three courses, which will be offered beginning this summer.

Program graduates can qualify for an advanced, Class AA teaching license after completing the 36-credit program. Applications for the program’s first cohort are due by March 1.

“Our ideal candidate is someone who is looking for a second career in teaching or a college student who is already a senior and has decided that he or she wants to teach,” said Joe Sweeney, coordinator of the MAT program. “Having the MAT degree online helps us expand our potential student base across the entire state.”

The MAT program is designed to be completed in two years of part-time study and begins with a summer term where students complete the graduate level education courses required to earn a state teaching certificate. After the first summer term, students will complete two courses per semester.

The curriculum focuses on providing future teachers with skills for effective 7-12 teaching and can be combined with undergraduate training to prepare graduate students to teach in multiple fields, including English, mathematics, science (biology, chemistry or physics) and social studies.

This is the sixth online program offered by the School of Education, which is ranked among the nation’s top institutions for online education programs by U.S. News and World Report. Other online education programs at UM include master’s degrees in early childhood education, elementary education and higher education. The school also offers an educational specialist degree in play therapy and a graduate certificate in program evaluation.

“We believe our expanding repertoire of online degrees provides the most flexibility possible in allowing students to fit coursework into both their work and personal schedules,” said John Holleman, director of graduate studies at the School of Education. “The Ole Miss reputation is built on a century-and-a-half of providing outstanding education, and our online programs accommodate the needs of working adult students whom can’t rearrange their obligations to study at the Oxford campus.”

Admission into the MAT program requires an undergraduate degree with sufficient coursework in the field the applicant wishes to teach. Other requirements include a 3.0 undergraduate GPA, a writing sample and a passing score on the Praxis Core and Praxis II exams. However, a 21 on the ACT (990 SAT) may be submitted instead of Praxis Core results.

Priority will be given to applicants who have passed the Praxis II before March 1.

For more information about the online MAT program, visit http://education.olemiss.edu/ or email jsweeney@olemiss.edu.

Streets Endow Scholarship to Honor Longtime UM History Professor

Education fund named after Harry P. Owens, professor emeritus and Civil War scholar

Dr. Harry P. Owens. Photo by Robert JordanPhoto by Robert Jordan

Harry P. Owens. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A recent gift from two University of Mississippi donors will provide scholarship opportunities for future UM secondary education majors while honoring Professor Emeritus Harry P. Owens, who taught history at the university for more than 35 years.

The Dr. Harry P. Owens Secondary Education Opportunity Scholarship Endowment was created with a $25,000 commitment from Bill and Ginny Street of Alabaster, Alabama.

Bill, a senior vice president at ServisFirst Bank, started his post-college career as a social studies teacher in DeSoto County in 1978 after receiving his undergraduate degree in secondary education from UM.

“The thing that I got from Harry was learning how to listen,” Bill explained. “Even if someone is on a different side (of the aisle) than you, you should hear what they have to say because you might learn something useful. I credit him with my ability to do that.”

Bill was a nontraditional college student. After initially losing interest in his studies at UM in 1969, he left the university to serve in the U.S. Navy, where he became a submarine petty officer. After being discharged in 1975, he returned to the university with two new things: a new resolve for his studies and tuition money from the G.I. Bill.

During this time, he was highly influenced by the Civil War historian. According to Bill, he and the professor just “clicked” and they bonded over their extensive interest and knowledge of Civil War history. The professor became a mentor for the sailor-turned-teacher.

Owens and his wife, MaryLou, still live in Oxford.

Bill and Ginny Street of Alabaster, Alabama (Submitted Photo)

Bill and Ginny Street. Submitted photo

“The most telling thing I can say about Bill is this: The first time I met him, I was teaching a new course that I had never taught before about the military history of the American Civil War,” Owens said. “I remember that there was Bill and one other student, who, if ever I had a single doubt in my mind about a particular fact, I could look at Bill for confirmation. He knew that much.”

Owens recently attended a meeting with Bill, Ginny and leadership from the UM School of Education, after finalizing the gift.

“Bill doing this in my name is a most gracious thing,” Owens said. “This reinforces the idea that teachers count.”

After college, Bill took a teaching and coaching job in Horn Lake, where he was named the school’s Star Teacher after his very first year in the classroom.

Although no longer a student, he kept in touch with his favorite professor. The two men often conversed via phone or would meet up when Bill and Ginny would return to the Oxford for sporting events.

To the Streets, this scholarship is also a way for the couple to help students who struggle with the tuition demands of college. Without the G.I Bill scholarship, Bill said would not have been able to afford his Ole Miss education.

A needs-based scholarship, each year recipients of the award will receive tuition support after being selected by the UM School of Education Scholarship Committee. The scholarship will support Ole Miss students majoring in secondary education.

“Harry had a profound impact on me and we want to put his name on this (scholarship),” Bill said. “We want to give someone an opportunity that they might not get otherwise. That’s what this is all about.”

Willie Price Playground Donated to Lafayette Elementary School

Play structure donation coordinated by local parent-teacher organization

(left to right) Pam Swain, Sarah Langley and Amanda Winburn worked together to coordinate the donation of the Willie Price playground.Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

(left to right) Pam Swain, Sarah Langley and Amanda Winburn worked together to coordinate the donation of the Willie Price playground.Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Willie Price Lab School, a pre-K facility operated by the University of Mississippi School of Education, has made a sizeable donation to the Lafayette County School District with the gift of its existing playground as the preschool makes plans to replace the play structure.

Coordinated by members of Lafayette’s parent-teacher organization, the playground soon will be used by children at Lafayette, which did not previously have a playground for its lower elementary school. Willie Price will upgrade its facility with the installation of a new playground later this winter.

“Our playground was better-suited for children who are a little bit older, like the children at Lafayette,” explained Sarah Langley, Willie Price director. “So, when we were approached by the Lafayette PTO, we thought it was a perfect solution. (That playground) still has a lot of life left in her!”

Willie Price administrators decided to upgrade the facility in preparation for the preschool to become accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The new playground will be purchased with funding from a grant from the Mississippi Department of Education.

Lafayette PTO members, including Pam Swain and Amanda Winburn, played key roles in the coordination of the gift by working with staff at Willie Price and Lafayette.

Workers from McGregor Industrial Steel Fabrication donated their time and resources to move the playground from Willie Price to Lafayette Elementary School. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Workers from McGregor Industrial Steel Fabrication donated their time and resources to move the playground from Willie Price to Lafayette Elementary School. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

“I have two daughters in the Lafayette School District, so when I heard Sarah talking about Willie Price’s new play equipment, I put two and two together,” said Winburn, UM assistant professor of counselor education and a Lafayette PTO member. “I think this is a wonderful example of how it takes a village to provide for opportunities our children.”

Oxford-based company McGregor Industrial Steel Fabrication donated the workforce and resources needed to move the structure from Willie Price to the Lafayette campus on Nov. 15.

The structure will be split into two pieces at its new location. Part of the playground will be used by Lafayette’s lower elementary school and part of it will be used by the district’s special education program.

“We started raising money a couple of years ago to build a new playground (at Lafayette),” said Swain, who serves as president of Lafayette’s upper elementary PTO.

“So now, this will allow us to use the money we’ve raised to build new fencing. This puts us light years ahead of where we thought we could be in the process.”

Willie Price’s new structure will be installed in the coming months and the preschool will host a silent auction fundraiser in January to raise additional money for additional playground features such as balance beams, conversation benches and shades to add to the overall design of the playground.

Implicit Bias Expert Benjamin Reese Jr. to Speak at UM

Duke University VP to lead frank discussion on subconscious attitudes

Ben Reese, senior vice president for institutional equity

Ben Reese Jr., senior vice president for institutional equity at Duke University, speaks Thursday at UM.

OXFORD, Miss. – Benjamin Reese Jr., chief diversity officer and vice president of the Office for Institutional Equity at Duke University, will speak to University of Mississippi faculty, staff and students Thursday (Oct. 6) to discuss the role of implicit bias in people’s everyday lives.

Free and open to the public, the event is set for 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Ole Miss Student Union ballroom.

“I think everyone is familiar with explicit biases, the conscious behaviors that are discriminatory,” explained Reese, a clinical psychologist with more than four decades of experience. “However, implicit biases refer to the ways in which we behave, or make decisions, that we are not aware of.

“We may think our decisions are fair and equitable, but there is still a subconscious bias.”

Implicit bias is a judgement and/or behavior that is rooted deep in subconscious attitudes and/or beliefs. Implicit biases can be either positive or negative toward a specific group with certain characteristics, such as age, appearance, race, sexuality or weight.

“We want people to be aware that we all have biases,” said Nichelle Robinson, UM School of Education diversity officer, who coordinated the event. “It’s once we are aware of these biases that we can begin to work to change these behaviors.”

During the event, Reese will define implicit bias and share steps that individuals can use to identify and decrease these subconscious judgements.

He will also discuss free implicit association tests that can help individuals identify their own implicit biases. One example is Project Implicit, hosted by Harvard University.

bias“I think it’s important to walk away (from this discussion) with an understanding of how bias develops within us,” Reese said. “There is some compelling research that suggests all of the different ways that implicit bias operates, and I will give some examples so people can gain an understanding of their own everyday decisions.”

Reese also will conduct a special session with students from the School of Education at 9 a.m. Friday (Oct. 7) at the Jackson Avenue Center.

For close to 40 years, Reese has consulted both public and private institutions on organizational change, conflict resolution, race relations, diversity and more.

The event is sponsored by the UM School of Education, Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and Office of Multicultural Affairs.

University Partners with USM to Expand Jumpstart

UM literacy center plans statewide expansion through collaborations

Jumpstart recruits college students from a variety of academic majors to teach language and literacy skills in pre-k classrooms. Photo by Nathan Latil- University Communications

Jumpstart recruits college students from a variety of academic majors to teach language and literacy skills in pre-K classrooms. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A new collaboration between the University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi will expand Jumpstart, a national organization that helps children develop the language and literacy skills needed to excel in kindergarten.

This ongoing effort to expand Jumpstart statewide is led by UM’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction. Last fall, the university announced a similar partnership when CELI staff helped expand Jumpstart into the Columbus area by partnering with Mississippi University for Women.

“We have a goal of having a Jumpstart presence at all IHL campuses statewide,” said Angela Rutherford, CELI director. “The University of Mississippi will be the ‘central hub’ for Mississippi Jumpstart as we help grow the program.”

Jumpstart opened its first Mississippi chapter in 2012 at Ole Miss. The program recruits undergraduate students from all academic disciplines and provides volunteers with specialized training and placement in pre-K classrooms where students provide support to existing education centers.

“Jumpstart is a great hands-on experience, and a lot of it,” explained Olivia Morgan, CELI literacy specialist and the state program manager for Jumpstart. “The experience is not just beneficial to education majors, but anyone who wants to work with children or have children of their own one day.”

Volunteers complete at least 300 volunteer hours in an academic year between training and teaching as part of the program. Students also receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award that can be applied toward education expenses.

“Children in Hattiesburg need this kind of exposure to rich vocabulary and social skills,” said Laura Beth Hull, the new site manager for the USM chapter and a graduate student in speech pathology there. “Jumpstart is here to help bridge that gap and our students want to be a part of it.”

As the site manager, Hull is working on recruitment and hopes to have 12 students working in two classrooms by the end of October.

Mississippi does not offer universal public pre-K education and state data suggests a significant need for it. A 2015 assessment conducted by the Mississippi Department of Education found that approximately 64 percent of Mississippi children do not possess the literacy skills needed for entering kindergarten.

As noted by Rutherford, literacy research suggests that children who experience quality early childhood education are more likely to be proficient readers by third grade.

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, multiple studies show quality preschool programs can produce lasting gains in academic achievement, including gains in reading. Studies also show communities could reap an estimated $7 return on every $1 invested in public pre-K education in the form of long-term cost savings.

CELI oversees more than 35 Oxford-based volunteers at three sites in north Mississippi, and the chapter serves more than 100 children. At the MUW chapter, more than a dozen volunteers serve more than 40 children in Columbus area. The new Hattiesburg chapter is expected to be operational by mid-October.

CELI hopes to identify new partnerships for the expansion of Jumpstart in the coming year.

Melody Musgrove Joins Graduate Center for Study of Early Learning

Former U.S. Department of Education administrator to serve as co-director and associate professor

Melody Musgrove is the new co-director of the UM Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Melody Musgrove is the new co-director of the UM Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Melody Musgrove, an accomplished public education leader and advocate, has joined the University of Mississippi faculty as co-director of the Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning and associate professor of special education.

Housed within the UM School of Education, the center was established in 2015 to provide research and collaborative leadership to advocate for more quality pre-K education programs throughout the state. The center is financially supported by the Phil Hardin Foundation of Meridian.

“The combination of working with the graduate center and the chance to teach at this university is a very appealing opportunity,” said Musgrove, a Mississippi native. “I believe that Ole Miss is on the move in the field of teacher education and I am excited to be part of that.”

Before joining UM, Musgrove served as director of the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education from 2010 to 2016. OSEP oversees the administration of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a law that ensures educational services and opportunities for children of all ages. The $13 billion program provides grants, monitoring and technical assistance to states.

Musgrove, who also served as state director of special education with the Mississippi Department of Education, started her career as a classroom teacher. This is Musgrove’s first major faculty appointment in higher education.

In her new role, she will teach undergraduate and graduate courses in education and work alongside the center’s other co-director, Cathy Grace. As collaborative leaders, the two will work to provide professional development for pre-K teachers, conduct research on the importance and impact of early learning, and provide public and political advocacy for the expansion of early childhood education statewide.

“I am thrilled that a person of Dr. Musgrove’s experience and long-term commitment to Mississippi’s children will be joining the center,” Grace said. “Her wealth of knowledge relative to meeting the needs of all children, especially those with special needs, will allow the center to broaden the opportunities we will offer.”

The Graduate Center was established as a continuation of the School of Education’s efforts to prioritize the training of pre-K educators in Mississippi.

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, several studies show quality preschool programs can produce lasting gains in academic achievement, including gains in reading and mathematics. Studies also show an estimated $7 return on every $1 invested in public pre-K education in the form of long-term cost savings.

Mississippi offers no statewide early childhood education in public schools.

Musgrove holds a doctorate in educational leadership and a master’s degree in special education from the University of Southern Mississippi and a bachelor’s degree in education from Mississippi College.

“We have a responsibility to raise awareness of the importance of early learning both in general education and in children with disabilities,” Musgrove said. “Dr. Grace has done a great job with this already, and I am excited to be part of that good work.”

Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program Admits 30 at UM

Elite scholarship program expands to elementary and special education, draws students from nine states

The fourth cohort of METP is composed of 30 freshmen from nine states and has an average ACT score of 29.7.Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

The fourth cohort of METP is composed of 30 freshmen from nine states and has an average ACT score of 29.7.Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The 30 outstanding freshmen who comprise the fourth class of the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program at the University of Mississippi posted an average ACT score of 29.7, making it the program’s largest and most academically accomplished incoming cohort yet.

Originally designed for secondary education majors, the METP scholarship program has expanded to accept students majoring in elementary education and special education. It also increased its maximum cohort size from 20 to 30 students, thanks to $600,000 in new funding from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson.

The freshmen, who come to Ole Miss from nine states, met with faculty and administrators recently during the program’s orientation at the Lyceum. This new cohort brings the number of METP scholarship recipients at UM to 75, and the first class of the program will graduate this May.

“I’m here to welcome you and to thank you for your commitment to go out and change the world,” Provost Morris Stocks told the group at the orientation.

“I am committed to our university and its efforts to transform lives. People who come to us as students go on to change the lives of others, so I am thankful that you care so much about education.”

The incoming freshmen are: Claire Alexander of Moorpark, California; Grace Cauley of Cairo, Georgia; Jessica Flach of St. Louis; Dakota Ford of Dawson Springs, Kentucky; Jordan Freeman of Bishop, Georgia; Claire Gershon of Oxford; Caroline Glaze of Hattiesburg; Zachary Goodrow of Southaven; Heather Grayson of Shawnee, Kansas; Arielle Hudson of Dundee; Kendall Kern of Hernando; Kayleigh Keyes of Monroe, Louisiana; Mary King of Brandon; Melissa McCann of Munster, Indiana; Ashley McDaniel of Corinth; Elizabeth McDowell of Ocean Springs; Jessa McEntire of Newton, Alabama; Holly McGinnis of Hernando; Morgan Moak of Clinton; Amanda Moore of Roanoke, Texas; Gregory Parker of Lucedale; Shelby Phillips of Corinth; Emily Rose of Southaven; Kalissa Rydeen of Frisco, Texas; Ashlign Shoemaker of Horn Lake; Kameron Shook of Ridgeland; Christopher Shute of Brandon; Sarah Sproles of Brookhaven; Sara Valentine of Oxford and Christianna Van Hooreweghe of Spring, Texas.

Established in 2012 with nearly $13 million from the Hearin Foundation, the METP scholarship covers up to four years of tuition, housing, living expenses, study abroad and more.

“There is no other program like this in the nation,” UM Dean of the School of Education David Rock told the students. “You are going to be challenged and start gaining experience in the classroom from freshman year.

“You will travel outside Mississippi and beyond the borders of our nation to learn how education is different across the world. We do all of this because we believe you can choose no greater profession than teaching.”

The program previously focused on recruiting top-performing students into teaching at the secondary level. The recent investment in METP will allow a broader mix of top-performing education students to enter the program.

“Our program that has grown rapidly in just a few years,” said Ryan Niemeyer, METP director. “Each year, the admissions process becomes more competitive and we’re seeing applications from as far away as California now.

“These are high-performing students who want to move across the nation, come to Ole Miss and stay in our state as a teacher. We’re very proud of this.”

METP held its first study abroad experience for seniors last June when it took UM students to different places in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. During the trip, METP students and faculty had chances to meet with educators in multiple Canadian schools and at the University of British Columbia.

For the past two years, the program has also taken its rising juniors on a trip to Washington, D.C., to study American education from a policy perspective, as well.

“I was most attracted to METP because of the opportunities it provides,” said Alexander, an English education major. “I never thought I’d be able to find a program that would send me on a study abroad trip, pay for my education and help provide a fulfilling job once I graduate.”

All graduates of the program make a five-year commitment to teach in a Mississippi public school following graduation. However, this service commitment may be deferred for three years if a graduate wants to pursue graduate studies before teaching.

“I was blessed to have multiple teachers in high school who went above and beyond for me,” said Glaze, who is majoring in secondary mathematics education. “I believe that teachers are some of the most influential people in people’s lives and I hope to be able to change students’ lives one day.”

For more information on programs in the UM School of Education, go to http://education.olemiss.edu/.