Education Majors Captivate Local Students with Storytelling

Students read to fourth-graders for Week of Service, 60th anniversary of integration celebration

UM senior Jessica Crocker reads ‘Pass It On’ to fourth-grade students at Lafayette Upper Elementary School as part of Week of Service activities. This year’s event was tied to the 60th anniversary of the university’s integration by James Meredith. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Fourth-grade students at Lafayette Upper Elementary School listened attentively Tuesday (Sept. 27) as Jessica Crocker read a picture book about a janitor who became a college graduate.

The University of Mississippi senior read from “Pass It On!” (Two Sylvias Press, 2017) by Gloria J. McEwen Burgess as part of a Week of Service activity to celebrate the 60th anniversary of James Meredith’s enrollment and the desegregation of the university. McEwen Burgess’ book is the true story of her father, Earnest McEwen Jr., and his life-changing relationship with Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Faulkner.

As Crocker turned the pages, the students hung on every word she read and responded enthusiastically when asked questions about what they had heard.

“What’s going on in this picture?” asked Crocker, an education major.

Dozens of students raised their hands to be recognized and allowed to answer.

“Ernie liked to read books,” said Carly Smith, of Oxford. “He wanted to learn more about the world outside of Oxford.”

“That’s right,” Crocker said. “Good job!”

Crocker first heard of Meredith and what he did as a freshman while taking her EDHE 105: Freshman Year Experience course.

“I hadn’t thought much about him since then, but my interest was rekindled when I learned about this opportunity,” the Olive Branch native said. “I wanted to help these kids find out something about integration at an earlier age than I did.”

Fourth-graders sat completely still as Crocker read the book to the class in the school library. After the reading ended, classes were allowed to take a copy of the book back to their homerooms.

Jessica Crocker talks with students after the reading at Lafayette Upper Elementary School in Oxford. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“This was really interesting,” fourth-grader Jonathan Daniels said. “I’m glad I was able to hear Mr. Ernie’s story.”

The literacy project was developed by staff in the UM Division of Diversity and Community Engagement in partnership with School of Education faculty and local teachers and administrators.

“The Week of Service reading project was created to increase local elementary students’ understanding of the significance and legacy of James Meredith for our local community, higher education, Mississippi and the nation,” said Castel Sweet, the division’s director of community engagement.

Seven UM students are scheduled read to the elementary school students each weekday afternoon. Other readers are Anna Bailey, of Southaven; Caroline Cross, of Jackson; Brook Hodge, of Water Valley; Camryn Long, of Brentwood, Tennessee; Abrielle Martinez, of Southampton, New Jersey; and Kathleen Tune, of Chester, New Jersey.

Author McEwen Burgess and Cade Smith, assistant vice chancellor for community engagement, also are scheduled to read.