LOU Community Named All-America City Finalist by Reading Group

Results of literacy collaboration draw national recognition

LOU Reads volunteers deliver free books to children during summer learning activities. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The Lafayette County, Oxford and University of Mississippi community is among 27 places across the nation designated as an All-America City Finalist by the National Civic League and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national organization dedicated to improving reading proficiency among low-income children.

The finalists were honored in June at the campaign’s national awards ceremony in Denver. Also, 15 other cities were named All-American Cities, an honor that will be awarded again in 2020.

LOU’s designation is the result of work from multiple local leaders within the LOU Reads Coalition, a collaboration established in 2015 that works to improve outcomes for low-income children in four areas: grade-level reading (measure of outcomes), school readiness (measure of preparedness), school attendance and summer learning opportunities.

“Literacy is a measure of a community’s prosperity,” said Suzanne Ryals, the new LOU director of early childhood and reading development and leader of LOU Reads. “We have a lot of great resources and through LOU Reads, we are no longer working in isolation.”

Ryals, formerly principal at Bramlett Elementary School in Oxford, attributes LOU’s success to the work of several local educators and community leaders. In her new role, she hopes to help improve literacy outcomes for children via data collection, assessment and continued parent engagement and workforce development.

The LOU community has some hard numbers to back up its recent honor.

The number of children in the Oxford School District who have the reading skills needed to start kindergarten has risen from 29 percent in 2014 to 50 percent in 2016, according to data from the Mississippi Department of Education.

Some 95 percent of Oxford-area children are reading proficiently by third grade.

“I think there is a lot to be learned from the LOU community,” said Ashley Parker Sheils, director of the Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, which works with nine affiliated communities. “The LOU community has really brought people together and formed powerful subgroups around all four of the campaign focus areas.”

One example of the LOU community meeting the grade-level reading challenge can be seen in the attendance category. LOU Reads leaders have built relationships with local parents through outreach programs such as “Breakfast at the Bus Stop,” where LOU leaders bring breakfast foods to children and parents in the morning to discuss chronic absenteeism at local bus stop locations.

By building relationships and community partnerships, the impact for children has been a positive one. Some 47 percent of local second-grade students missed 10 or more days in 2011-15, but this number was reduced to 17 percent in 2016, according to locally collected data.

“(LOU Reads) has definitely moved the needle for outcomes for children in our community,” said Angela Rutherford, director of UM’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction, one of multiple Ole Miss entities that is part of the organization.

“We want to do whatever we can to support LOU Reads’ goal of increasing literacy achievement. In 2020, we want to be an All-American City.”

UM organizations that are members of LOU Reads include: CELI, College Corps, Dr. Maxine Harper Center for Educational Research and Evaluation, Horizons, Jumpstart and the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement.

Other community member organizations include: Boys & Girls Club of North Mississippi, Excel by 5, Lafayette County Literacy Council, Lafayette Country School District, Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library, Leap Frog, LOU-Home, North Mississippi VISTA Project, Oxford Park Commission, Oxford School District, Oxford University School, United Way of Oxford and the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council.

“This is a community that values literacy and values its children and is actively working to provide the best opportunities it can for its youngest members,” Ryals said.

‘This Book is Not About Dragons’ Wins 2017 CELI Read Aloud Book Award

Teachers help choose winner of UM children's book award

CELI Literacy Specialist Angie Caldwell reads ‘This Book is Not About Dragons’ to children at Willie Price Lab School. Photo by Andrew Abernathy

OXFORD, Miss. – Spoiler Alert: “This Book is Not About Dragons,” by Shelly Moore Thomas, is actually jam-packed with fire-breathing monsters. It’s also the 2017 winner of the University of Mississippi’s CELI Read Aloud Book Award.

Presented annually by the Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction at the UM School of Education, the annual award honors books designed for children ages 3 to 10. Established in 2010, this is the seventh time the award has been given by CELI, a center that provides curriculum support and training for Mississippi reading teachers.

“‘This Book Is Not About Dragons’ is an excellent book to read aloud to children,” said Angie Caldwell, CELI literacy specialist who oversees the award process. “This book piques children’s curiosity and creates an engaging reading experience.

“Teachers reported that the children bounced with anticipation, chanted phrases and echoed actions in the book while reading the book aloud. Teachers also stated that the children asked for the book to be read again and again.”

This year’s winner was selected from several titles, which were distributed to teachers at multiple north Mississippi schools, including UM’s Willie Price Lab School. Schools that field-tested the book were awarded free copies of the book.

“My class loved this book,” said Willie Price teacher Chelsea Walters. “They begged me to read it again and again and they talked about it all through lunch.”

The plot of the book follows a mischievous mouse narrator who leads the reader on a tour of a countryside that has obviously been ravaged by a fire-breathing dragon. The book is designed to ignite the interest of young students who can start to pick apart the narrator’s false claims that, amid all of the fire and smoke and destruction, there are actually no dragons hiding the background.

“As a teacher, I find enjoyment in observing my students actively engaged in the read-aloud process,” said Candace Gooch, a teacher at Bramlett Elementary School in Oxford. “While reading ‘This Book is Not About Dragons,’ my students were predicting, inferring and simply enjoying the text. They were excited and asked to have the story reread multiple times.”

The CELI Read Aloud Book Award program is partially supported from a grant from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation. The goal is to promote reading aloud to young children as a way to teach literacy, reinforce a love of reading and help children understand the deeper meaning behind books. Winning books receive the right to be published with CELI’s Read Aloud award seal on the cover.

Participating teachers were asked to evaluate how well the texts stretch children’s imaginations, capture interest and utilize a rich vocabulary. A committee of UM faculty, staff and literacy teachers considered the results to select the winner.

“This Book is Not About Dragons,” illustrated by Fred Koehler, was published by Boyds Mill Press.

School of Education Honors Practitioners of Distinction

Award recognizes young and mid-career education alumni

The charter class of the School of Education’s Practitioner of Distinction Awards is (from left) Jay Levy, Shelly Clifford, Jessica Ivy and Wanikka Vance. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Education has honored four outstanding alumni as part of its new Practitioner of Distinction Awards.

The school created the award to recognize mid-career educators who demonstrate exemplary work in their field. The 2017 honorees are: Shelley Clifford of Atlanta, Jessica Ivy of Starkville, Jay Levy of Canton and Wanikka Vance of Chicago.

The awards are a counterpart to the School of Education’s Hall of Fame, which honors alumni who have at least 25 years of service in education. The honorees were recognized May 12 at the school’s Hall of Fame ceremony at The Inn at Ole Miss.

Clifford received her bachelor’s degree from Ole Miss in 2003 and was named Graduate Student of the Year in 2004 when she earned her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. She has served as the head of the lower school at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School for six years in Atlanta.

She previously served as a third-, fifth- and sixth-grade teacher for seven years in Memphis, Tennessee, and Charleston, South Carolina.

“It’s really humbling to be celebrated like this,” Clifford said. “I hope that this will be an opportunity to reconnect with Ole Miss. I would love to come back and spend time with education students.”

Ivy earned three degrees from UM, including a doctorate in math education in 2011. She is an assistant professor of secondary education at Mississippi State University, where she also works with the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program.

“Receiving this award sends a message that people are starting to recognize the importance of teachers,” Ivy said. “I’m very honored to have received it and been a small part of the mission to support our educators.”

Levy graduated from the UM in 2011 with bachelor’s degree in English education. During his junior year, Levy was in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, but he did not allow that to prevent him from pursuing his passion of teaching.

During Levy’s first year of teaching at Pisgah High School, not only did his English students earn the highest pass rate in Mississippi on the state subject area test, but he was also selected as teacher of the year.

“I began wondering if the students would still respond to me the same way since I am in a wheelchair,” Levy said. “I think they respected me more after I told them my story and I was open with them and let them ask questions.

“That’s how I always start class on the first day of school, and I always tell them to wear their seatbelt. It gives me a teachable moment to let them know that life is hard, but it’s possible to move on.”

Vance, who received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from UM in 2003, has served as a Chicago elementary school teacher for 10 years. In 2011, she founded a school for pre-K to first-graders called Foundations 4 adVANCEment, which focuses on preparing young learners academically and socially to become college- and career-minded from their earliest stages of growth and development.

“This award is a great honor,” Vance said. “Most of the time when you leave your alma mater, you’re just gone. To know that they have actually been following me professionally is a big surprise to me, but also a great honor to be able to realize that the work I am doing is not in vain.”

World Class Teaching Program Offers Free Online Course

National Board Certification option accessible to all Mississippi teachers

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s World Class Teaching Program, which prepares teachers for National Board Certification, will increase its services this summer by offering a new self-paced online course.

The course will be free to all Mississippi teachers seeking National Board Certification. In Mississippi, teachers who certify receive a $6,000 annual salary supplement from the Mississippi Legislature.

The WCTP has traditionally offered face-to-face mentoring in Tupelo, Oxford and Southaven, but with the addition of the online course, the road to certification is available to all Mississippi teachers regardless of location.

“I first recognized the need for this program when I received a phone call from a teacher who badly wanted to complete the national board process but was unable to participate in face-to-face mentor meetings due to her husband working nights,” said Tammy Kirkland, WCTP director. “Also, we have numerous rural areas in the state that makes traveling to meet with a mentor not a practical option.

“It was important to me to find a way to provide candidate support to all teachers regardless of their location or situation.”

The course will serve two groups of individuals. It will be available as a supplement to face-to-face candidates and will serve as a stand-alone for teachers in rural areas or teachers who are unable to participate in face-to-face mentoring.

The course, called “WCTP 601,” consists of several modules, including an introduction to the national board process, a module for each of the four components of the exam process and a discussion board that allows candidates to connect with others of the same certificate area. The course also provides quality electronic feedback from National Board Certified Teachers.

The first group of national board candidates just wrapped up the pilot of the online course in May. Kirkland also worked with previous WCTP coordinators Jackie Parker and Cathy Stewart, along with candidate support providers, to receive additional feedback and further develop the course to meet the needs of candidates.

“The WCTP online course really gave me direction in pursuing National Board Certification,” said Lissa Doorenbos, a WCTP 601 pilot participant. “The course always helped me to know what to do next.”

Because national board candidates have the choice to complete the certification process in one, two or three years – as well as the order they complete the components in – the course can provide teachers with the resources they need to individualize their certification journey.

UM Inducts Third Class into School of Education Alumni Hall of Fame

Honorees commended for teaching, service and leadership

Ann Monroe (right), assistant dean of the School of Education, congratulates (from left) Thomas R. Burke, Robert C. Khayat, Laura Dunn Jolly, Jean M. Shaw, Jacqueline Vinson and Carole Lynn Meadows. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Education recently inducted the third class of alumni into its Hall of Fame.

Collectively, the six inductees have more than 200 years of wisdom, experience and commitment to education and public service in Mississippi and across the country.

The 2017 honorees are: Thomas R. Burke of Kansas City, Kansas; Laura Dunn Jolly of Ames, Iowa; Robert C. Khayat of Oxford; Jean M. Shaw of Oxford; and the late Theopolis P. Vinson of Oxford. Carole Lynn Meadows of Gulfport, the second recipient of the School’s Outstanding Educational Service Award, also was recognized during the May 12 ceremony at The Inn at Ole Miss.

The School of Education Alumni Board of Directors selected honorees from nominations submitted earlier this year.

“The School of Education Alumni Hall of Fame honors those who have made a significant and long-term impact on the education profession,” said David Rock, UM education dean. “These six individuals are the epitome of what the University of Mississippi and the School of Education represents.”

Burke began his educational journey at Ole Miss in 1969, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1970 and a master’s degree in 1972 – both in history – and a doctorate in higher education in 1981. From there, he embarked on a distinguished 39-year career at four community colleges.

Burke progressed in roles at Kansas City Kansas Community College from history professor to dean of instruction to vice president and then president of the institution in 1992, a position he served 19 years until his retirement in 2011. Burke is also a member of the Mid-America Education Hall of Fame and The Thomas R. Burke Technical Education Center was named for him.

“It is certainly a high recognition from the School of Education, which I am honored to receive,” Burke said. “In my career, I learned more from my mistakes than my successes.

“I think the real key is to learn not to make the same mistake over and over again but never be afraid to take action because you might make a mistake.”

Jolly, who is dean of College of Human Sciences at Iowa State University, received a bachelor’s degree from UM in 1977 before completing master’s and doctoral degrees from Oklahoma State University. She has a 38-year tenure with six different institutions of higher learning.

Jolly received a Taylor Medal from Ole Miss in 1977, earned Georgia’s Most Powerful and Influential Women Award from the National Diversity Council in 2011 and was named among “100 Graduates of Significance” by the graduate school at Oklahoma State in 2012.

“I am truly honored,” Jolly said. “As I think about it, Ole Miss was such an important part of my educational foundation. It’s really wonderful to be recognized in this way. I feel very honored and humbled.”

Khayat, the university’s 15th chancellor, earned a bachelor’s degree from the School of Education in 1961. He returned to obtain a Juris Doctor from Ole Miss in 1966 and then a Master of Law from Yale University in 1980.

As chancellor, he transformed the university by raising more than $900 million in gifts, establishing the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, attracting a Phi Beta Kappa chapter and hosting a presidential debate, among many other accomplishments. He also published a book, “The Education of a Lifetime,” which chronicles his life and times at Ole Miss.

“If teaching is what makes you happy, I doubt you could find a better thing to do that would be more rewarding than teaching,” Khayat said. “I’ve taught eighth-grade science and I’ve taught law school. I’m so thankful my road took me to education and higher education and being able to teach.”

Shaw, who is the first faculty member of the School of Education selected to its Hall of Fame, received an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Bradley University, a master’s degree in mathematics from Northwestern University, a master’s degree in education from UM in 1974 and a doctorate in education from Columbia University.

A math and science educator, Shaw taught students from pre-kindergarten to graduate school for more than 40 years, including 30 years – 1976 to 2006 – at Ole Miss.

“As a teacher educator, I had a lot of opportunities,” Shaw said. “I had the opportunity to meet people, to go to conferences, to speak at conferences, to be on editorial boards and work with very talented people. Working alongside dedicated educators and student teachers was an honor.”

Vinson, the first deceased person to be inducted to the school’s Hall of Fame, earned a master’s degree in 1982 and a doctorate in 1997, both from UM.

A former teacher, he joined the staff of the School of Education in 1989 by serving as director of undergraduate student advising and field experience and assistant dean. He also worked with the Mississippi Teachers Corps, serving in Mississippi’s most critical needs school districts.

Meadows earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Ole Miss in 1960 and a master’s degree in business education in 1964.

Meadows has completed 27 years as a teacher, 22 of those at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. She is co-founder of the nationally renowned Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, the first children’s museum in the state, in Gulfport.

From 2009 to 2012, she chaired the Mississippi Council on Economic Education board, which includes 40 top business executives and is a national leader in providing instruction and curriculum to K-12 teachers so they can teach students to think from an economic point of view.

“What could be better than to be recognized for what you have done all your life with passion,” Meadows said. “We have an enormous role as teachers and educators. We are molding what’s to be.”

The School of Education Alumni Hall of Fame was established in 2015.

UM Inducts Ninth Class into Principal Corps

Twelve women from across state begin career-shaping journey in educational leadership

The ninth cohort of the University of Mississippi Principal Corps is (front row, from left) Mandy Scarpulla, Sandra Oliver, Kewanna Riley, Angela Oliphant, Monica Meredith and Sharon Cooley, and (back row) Robin Auringer, Katie Nelson, Angel Carr, Christine Beeker, Lindsay Starbuck and Marrion Winders. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A dozen women from school districts across the state make up the ninth class of the University of Mississippi’s Principal Corps.

The Principal Corps is the university’s elite program for aspiring educational leaders, and over nearly a decade, it has produced 87 new graduates, 90 percent of whom are serving as a principal or assistant principal in school districts across Mississippi and beyond.

At a May 31 orientation, interim director Tom Burnham and other members of the School of Education faculty addressed the group of aspiring school leaders, the program’s first all-female cohort.

“One of the things we’re most proud of in the Principal Corps is the growth of this program throughout the state,” said Burnham, a two-time state superintendent of education and former UM education dean. “There are a number of you who are coming into the Principal Corps from districts that have never been part of our program before. We’re very proud of that.”

The new recruits are: Robin Auringer of the Gulfport School District, Christine Beeker of the Meridian Public School District, Angela Carr of the Nettleton School District, Sharon Cooley of the Lamar County School District, Monica Meredith of the Senatobia Municipal School District, Kathleen Nelson of the Rankin County School District, Angela Oliphant of the Harrison County School District, Sandra Oliver of the Jefferson County School District, Kewanna Riley of the Harrison County School District, Mandy Scarpulla of the Franklin County School District, Lindsay Starbuck of the Smith County School District and Marrion Winders of the Tupelo Public School District.

Designed to be a transformational journey toward school leadership, the 13-month program prepares teachers for K-12 leadership positions with a combination of graduate coursework and two full-time internships, set during fall and spring semesters, where program participants learn from experienced mentor-principals at internship sites.

The new cohort members possess impressive credentials. Many hold advanced degrees or national board certifications.

Oliphant, a biology teacher, holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and a master’s degree from William Carey University, but chose UM’s Principal Corps for its reputation.

“I wanted to learn how to be an effective leader in our schools, and I knew Ole Miss had the best program,” Oliphant said. “The Principal Corps has established a name that speaks for itself.

“The previous cohorts all speak very highly of the instructors and the program.”

The program offers one of the most valuable leadership scholarships in the country. All cohort members receive full tuition, books and housing while at Ole Miss.

It also enables participants to take leave from their home school districts without sacrificing their salary during the program.

Besides two summer sessions, Principal Corps participants come to Oxford one weekend per month for face-to-face instruction during the school year. Each graduate receives a Master of Education or Specialist in Education degree in educational leadership from UM, which, along with passing the School Leaders Licensure Assessment, will qualify them for a state school administrator’s license.

Meredith is a special education teacher at Senatobia Elementary School who started her teaching career 17 years ago via Teach for America. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a master’s degree from UM.

“I saw (the Principal Corps) as an intense and elite program where I could work closely with professors and my classmates,” Meredith said. “I would like to go back to my district and start impacting children’s lives there immediately.

“I’ve taught there, I live close to there – it’s where my heart is.”

Besides earning an advanced degree in educational leadership, graduates receive a $10,000 bonus from the program upon accepting a principal or assistant principal job in a Mississippi public school and beginning work. Each graduate makes a five-year commitment to stay in Mississippi.

The Principal Corps was established in 2009 with funding from the Jim and Donna Barksdale Foundation. The program is also supported with funding from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson.

“The opportunity that you have to impact the lives of children is going to expand tremendously through this program,” Burnham said at the orientation. “It will expand when you go into schools and start your internships.

“But along with opportunity, we must also embrace responsibility. Where much is given, much is expected.”

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.