Education Edge

The official blog of the Ole Miss School of Education

Saturday Collaborations Unlock Possibilities for Marks Students

by UM School of Education on March 13, 2017

Ole Miss student-athletes mentor a group of fifth- to eighth-grade students from Quitman County Middle School during the weekend sessions on the UM campus.


OXFORD — Most students regard Saturday school with dread and contempt, but a group of middle schoolers from the Delta community of Marks looks forward to its weekend tutoring sessions at the University of Mississippi.  For some of these students, the sessions have become life-changing.

For six Saturdays between February and April, 53 students from Quitman County Middle School travel nearly an hour by school bus from Marks to the Ole Miss campus for a day of tutoring and fun activities.

Bryce Warden, the AmeriCorps VISTA working in the UM School of Education, coordinated the initiative after attending a meeting last fall about the Marks Project, a 501c(3) organization dedicated to restoring the Marks community. He previously had helped launch a program that pairs college students with North Panola High School seniors to help them apply for college.

“I saw the benefit of those interactions, where students – many of them potential first-generation students – could find out what college life was really like and I was eager to create such an environment for the kids from Marks,” Warden said. “Now, these middle school students get to receive tutoring on a college campus, which they may have never seen.”

The students, ranging from fifth to eighth grades, were chosen for the program based on test scores and their need for additional learning assistance.

In the morning, 19 Ole Miss students from the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program work with the students for two hours in reading, language and math.

Kendall Kern, a freshman in the METP program from Lewisburg, tutors the students in language arts. She was eager to become involved in the program when she heard about it.

“I went down to Marks and really got to see the school and realized I needed to give back,” she said. “If I can do anything for them and provide a positive impact, that’s going to mean so much.”

Kern added that she’s learned from the experience, as well.

“Getting to have our own classroom time with them has really helped me with my teaching experience,” she said. “We’re able to teach interactive lessons and experiment with different teaching methods. I love all the amazing opportunities that METP and the School of Education provide us with.”

Although the educational component is the core of the program, Warden realized that the students needed activity time, too. He sought additional partnerships with Ole Miss Campus Recreation and the university’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics for afternoon activities.

Each group is providing programming for three Saturdays, including physical activities in the Turner Center, student-athlete mentorship and a tour of the Field Level Club at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and the Manning Center.

Middle school students from Quitman County visit the UM campus as part of a spring program that provides academic tutoring and activities with student-athletes and Ole Miss Campus Recreation.

The Freeze Foundation, a charitable organization started by football Coach Hugh Freeze, has acted as liaison between the School of Education and the athletics department to provide student-athlete mentorships for the group. Alice Blackmon, the foundation’s executive director, serves as Marks Project co-chair of the tutoring and mentoring program.

After Freeze learned about the economic, educational and community issues in the Mississippi Delta, he wanted to become involved, Blackmon said.

“These issues weighed heavily on his heart,” she said. “He wanted to invest time in serving the children through building relationships and encouraging them in hopes of making a positive impact.

“We have served internationally in Haiti and Africa, but he was really passionate about shining a light into the communities that are right in our backyard in Mississippi.”

The program has been a double-sided ministry, also making a positive impact on the athletes, she added.

The Marks Project is an umbrella organization of all the volunteers within the Marks community. Jaby Denton, co-founder of the project with Mitch Campbell of Taylor, is working to revitalize the largest town in Quitman County by providing educational and recreational opportunities.

Denton, who owns a farm in Quitman County, moved back to the community from Oxford in 2015. He started a youth group that year and realized many students were behind academically.

“Marks was a town where a wagon pulled by mules led the Poor People’s Campaign in D.C.,” Denton said. “It was the epicenter of the civil rights movement.

“Dr. (Martin Luther) King visited Marks, saw extensive poverty and realized something had to be done. 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the mule train, and we are doing everything we can to fulfill Dr. King’s dream to provide opportunities for residents and students.”

Cortez Moss, an Ole Miss alumnus and principal of Quitman County Middle School, identified educational needs and approached the Marks Project for assistance in recruiting teachers and tutoring students.

When Moss became principal in August, he recognized that students at the school, which received an “F” rating last year, lacked exposure and academic support, he said.

“Our school’s motto is ‘Our Education is Freedom,’ and I knew I needed to give them liberating experiencing that would make our vision come true for scholars and families,” Moss said. “My original intent was for academic support; however, in the planning process I realized that my scholars needed exposure.

“This truth was evidenced one Saturday (at UM) when one of the scholars did not recognize an elevator and found joy in just being able to ride an elevator.”

After only a few trips to the Ole Miss campus, Moss has seen improvement in his students.

“We’ve seen a lot of success with our scholars – socially, emotionally and academically,” he said. “Many of our scholars come back from the Saturday experience seeing Ole Miss as an opportunity. Ole Miss and college is now their goal. Many of them feel empowered by the experience.”

By , University Communications

Local Schoolchildren Connect Through LOU Pen Pal Project

by UM School of Education on March 10, 2017

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

OXFORD — More than 800 children across Lafayette County received handwritten messages from other local children this week as part of the first-ever LOU Pen Pal Project, which kicked off March 2 as part of Read Across America Day and ended on March 6, when the final letters were delivered.

The event was co-sponsored by multiple local organizations—including the Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading at the University of Mississippi, the Lafayette County Literacy Council and the local United Way’s LOU Reads Coalition—and connected K-4 classrooms from the Lafayette County School District, Oxford School District and Magnolia Montessori School.

“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, a day which is also the birthday of American writer and cartoonist Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. Many classes celebrated by reading a book out loud 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!” and then wrote a group letter. As part of their message, the children created their own classroom mascot—an orange cat named “Mr. Whiskers” who always wears a jersey.  The group sent their letter, along with their own drawings of Whiskers, to children at Magnolia Montessori School on the other side of town, who received the surprise package the following Monday and wrote back to the children.

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

“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,” explained Ashley Parker Sheils, director of the Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a new initiative in the state, which promotes facilitation of 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.”

Led by Sheils, the Mississippi Campaign is part of a national network and is 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 and has the initial goal of attracting at least 10 Mississippi communities to join the campaign 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.

Who will join the SOE Hall of Fame in 2017?

by UM School of Education on March 6, 2017

The deadline to nominate University of Mississippi alumni for the School of Education Hall of Fame is March 17.

Each year, the SOE Hall of Fame honors alumni who have made significant contributions to the field of education throughout their careers.

All UM alumni are eligible for the honor and nominators must submit an online form to compete their submissions. All nominations will be considered for three years. Past honorees can also be seen online.

In 2016, the SOE inducted five outstanding individuals who have made an impact in education including:

Suzie Adcock (B.A.Ed. 77)

Dr. Jahnae Barnett (M.B.Ed. 67, Ph.D. 72)

Robert Depro (M.Ed. 70)

Dr. Cathy Stewart (B.A.Ed. 78, M.Ed. 81, Ed.D. 95)

Cecil Brown (B.A. 66)

CMSE Hosts FIRST Tech Robotics Competition on March 4

by UM School of Education on February 27, 2017

Mississippi middle and high school students compete during the 2016 FIRST Tech Challenge at UM.

Middle and high school students from across the state will compete in Mississippi’s fifth-annual FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition on March 4 in the Tad Smith Coliseum at the University of Mississippi.

Hosted by UM’s Center for Mathematics and Science Education (CMSE), 24 teams of students (from seventh to 12th grade) will pilot their self-designed and self-built robots with the hopes of qualifying for FIRST’s South Super Regional competition in Athens, Georgia in March. This year’s game is dubbed Velocity Vortex, a challenge where robots are programmed to push or lift different sized balls on a specially designed arena.

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

FIRST, an acronym meaning For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is a non-profit organization that was created 25 years ago by inventor Dean Kaman in an effort to build up STEM fields.

Up to 15 people are on each team and any organization can form a team—not just schools. Students are guided by teachers, coaches, mentors and community members. Teams are required to build a robot, keep an engineer’s notebook, and do some kind of outreach to promote STEM.

“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 which formed out of Girl Scout Troop 33016. There is one other Girl Scout team in the state that does robotics, too. The two troops will soon be featured on Mississippi Roads a PBS show.

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

Each match plays for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The first 30 seconds, the robots will be operating autonomously and during the final 2 minutes, the robots will be operated by the students through handheld driver controllers.

The robots can be built out of virtually any material as long as the 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 ‘A-Ha!’ 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, one team from Mississippi won the Inspire Award, the highest given in the competition.

With 5,000 teams worldwide, Mississippi had only four teams taking part in the challenge five years ago. Now there are 50 competing teams around the state.

Students begin designing and building their robot in September when the theme is announced. Last minute changes are normal, as well. Teams keep working to improve their robots until the morning of the competition.

Judging starts at 7 a.m. and the public should arrive at 10 a.m. The event will last until 5 p.m.

“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.”

By Alexandria Paton

SOE Hosts Play Therapy Conference at UM Law Center

by UM School of Education on February 16, 2017

The UM School of Education will host the Mississippi Association for Play Therapy Annual Spring Conference Feb.17-18 at the Robert C. Khayat Law Center.

Play Therapy is a specialized form of children’s counseling provided by licensed social workers and therapists who are trained in using play to help children process life experiences in a constructive way.

The therapy is used to help individuals process life experiences through their senses and emotions.

Conference attendees will come from all over the state and regional area.

“It is such a fun subject and it draws a lot of creative and interesting people,” said Mandy Perryman, assistant professor of counselor education.

75 people are registered to attend the event each day.

Play Therapists can help children process stress and trauma via play.

“I am really excited about the turn out,” said Perryman. “I was initially hoping that if we could just get 50 people here we would be doing good.”

The main speaker for the conference will be Sueann-Kenney Noziska, a licensed clinical social worker and registered play therapist supervisor who specializes in using play therapy with abused and traumatized children, adolescents and their families.

Faculty and graduate students in counseling will make presentations during the final session on Saturday.

“I always say that not everyone gets to sit around and play with toys all day, but we kind of do,” Perryman said.

There will be two different tracks for attendees to choose from—one for students and another for experienced teachers and professionals.

“I hope that for students this opens up doors of different ways that they can practice this type of counseling,” Perryman said.  “And, for professionals, I hope that this conference will invigorate them to get back into their practice or their school and maybe try new things that they have learned and keep the passion going.”

Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Friday and the conference will continue until Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

By Alexandria Paton