Finally: the news gets juicy

No, I’m not talking about Sara Palin’s endorsement of The Don. However, there are loads of stories relevant to our mission here. We’ll deal with two right away. This morning, The Atlantic recapped a Vanderbilt University study of low minority participation in the nation’s gifted and talented programs. It’s an interesting read. I’m curious: does it reflect what’s happening in our predominately rural state? I suspect that Mississippi is tough to analyze because not all school districts offer gifted/talented sections, especially past the middle school level. (An anecdote: when I first moved to the Golden Triangle, my next-door neighbor was a retired basketball coach and high school principal who didn’t want anything to do with gifted and talented programs. “What those kids really need is to be in the classes with all the other kids,” he said. “They got to learn to communicate with everybody, and maybe bring a few up with ‘em. They might get a bloody nose every once in a while, but it won’t do ‘em much harm.”)

Do you suppose that bringing gifted/talented programs to underperforming districts would incentivize student performance effectively enough to turn them around? It’s an elitist notion; perhaps the neediest students—the poorest, the most at-risk, the least likely to have parents invested in getting real educations for their kids—would still get left behind by such tracking systems. However, it appears that what we’re doing now, and what we’ve been doing for the last fifty years, hasn’t produced results.

Closer to home: I treasure the diversity of the MSMS student body. What (if anything) needs to be done to make sure that our school at least maintains (or better still improves!) its diversity? Are there students in Mississippi who are bright enough to thrive here, but don’t feel encouraged to attend? What should be done?

Then there’s this from The Clarion-Ledger: a column that urges the state legislature to decide the state flag issue. In case you missed it, Mississippi is the last remaining state whose flag incorporates the Confederate battle flag. There seems to be a sentiment in the legislature to turn the issue over to the people in a referendum. I can only describe an act like that as cowardice. Legislators who don’t want to cast a vote on difficult or divisive issues should hand over their office keys and resume their quiet lives at home. Our system of government depends on electing people who can make wise choices on behalf of the electorate. This issue gives Republican and Democrats to find common ground on a very public issue—an attitude one hopes would spread to even more important things. However, a referendum on the state flag will turn Mississippi into as battleground state for all the wrong reasons. Do your jobs, ladies and gentlemen.

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16 Responses to Finally: the news gets juicy

  1. Tehya Collier says:

    Based off my experience, I believe gifted programs should be offered in all districts, but a correct test should be given in order to see who should be placed in these classes. I was not in the academically gifted class, but the art one. I was denied PEAK twice. From what I remember about the test, I was asked questions covering shapes, pictures, or a reading. I think the placement should be based off the grades you make in class and not this one test. The students that were in PEAK, were good students but the system was unfair. If the right method would be given, it will be beneficial to the students who can take on the challenge. The gifted programs should continue to high school as well. At my old school it stopped at 8th grade.

  2. Tia Wilson says:

    Adding Gifted classes to school districts at every level of school would definitely motivate students to do better in school. There is a large number of students who are smart but just do not want to put in the effort in Mississippi, and these classes would give them a reason to do better in class and strive to reach the top. In my old school district, we only had a gifted program at the elementary level, and as the years go by, those same students who were in those classes felt less and less motivated to do as well in school because there was no gifted class that showed their true potential. Having those classes would lead students to do better in their regular classes as well.

  3. Laurel Yarborough says:

    In response to gifted programs being brought to underperforming districts, I think that gifted programs would be useful in most (if not all) districts. As a student who was in SPIRIT (gifted program) from 2nd to 8th grade, I personally see the benefit it has for gifted students. I agree that gifted students need to learn how to communicate with everyone, but they also need a place where they can share their opinions with other gifted students. My SPIRIT teachers always challenged us to think outside the box and think of new solutions to problems. This really taught me to think critically about society and its problems. I think gifted students in underperforming districts really need that outlet and a safe place for them to challenge the norm and learn to think critically. Without gifted programs, those students may end up falling back to the level of other students because they have no motivation to do well.

  4. Savannah Wise says:

    I’d like to comment on your final observation–that of the failure of legislative officials to shoulder their defining responsibilities when it comes to controversial (and even trivial) issues.

    An ideal democratic republic is defined as a system by which all of its governed people are involved in the governing process–a notable characteristic of this being the election of representative officials to office. This last point is crucial for comprehension of the current state of things: where offices are commonly held by conformative, non-extraordinary individuals, through which coveted change is accomplished at a sluggish pace, if at all. Attempts to bolster this rate of change often experience an elastic recoil effect–if the metaphorical “political band” is stretched too harshly, it may reverse its course and snap back upon the instigator, if indeed it remains intact.
    Allow me to clarify: If one of these governing individuals were to contest convention, they would risk controversy–and controversy is a common catalyst for fiery political debates and reputational implosion. Such situations may have various outcomes–interested and collaborative parties may embrace this altercation and support the candidate, or potential supporters may flee this apparent, rabid bigot. The outcome is highly dependent upon circumstance–if harsh reparations had not been imposed upon a crippled Germany of the 1940s, it is unlikely that the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and its zealous figurehead would have attracted such immense support from the country’s people. Instead, a desperate nation turned to the most determined liberator presented, one affiliated with intentions that would have immediately disqualified the man from political standing if it weren’t for the urgency of the situation.
    To voice controversy is to gamble for your political standing–it is for this reason that many legislators fear the responsibility and the reputation associated with open opinions upon even trivial issues. If their supporters and/or fellow officials fail to receive such ideas in a conductive manner, the openly-opinionated individual may soon find himself out of office and the diplomatic loop.
    Individuals are not elected to political office out of the wisdom and diplomacy they may possess–but of popularity through the voting populace (or rather, their “representing officials”). Bernie Sanders may have the liberal support on many ‘pressing’, recurring issues, and Trump the conservative, imperialistic standing with his “wall-constructing” ideals–but the fact of the matter is, neither of these are ideal. Based upon their speeches and various media representations, one may glean some comprehension of these candidates’ intentions for the executive office… but how can we be certain of their sincerity? More importantly, how do these individuals intend to carry out these policies? People are too readily decisive upon candidates that seemingly express personally-compatible views, and many fail to investigate further than what is gleaned from their television screens–they are championing an individual for office without actually knowing the nature of their selected representative; the decidedly deaf electing the modern political Doilies.
    In summation: potential political candidates must appeal to the superficial values advocated by their supporters; if this is not achieved, such support will not be had, and neither will their intended political office. Once in office, however, the official must be wary of their vocalized opinions and actions if they are to attain another office or even complete their current term. Speaking out upon a popular and/or controversial issue, such as the “Confederate Flag”, is to risk losing support and generating a negative reputational trend that may cripple one’s political (and other occupational) standing(s). On the other hand, it may secure support by which a higher political position may be achieved–it’s all a matter of circumstance. Most individuals–including those of the Mississippi legislature–are unwilling to take that risk.

  5. Kate Shelton says:

    I feel that gifted students should have the opportunity to do work and learn in an environment that provides them with a challenge no matter where they are from or where they live. Sadly, we live in a world where not everyone can receive those privileges do to lack of people, poverty, or lack of support for those types of programs. With all that being said I am 100% a supporter of giving younger students the encouragement and support to students who strive to learn and excel in academics, live, and sports. I hope to see this grow and expand throughout our state, the one ranked on the bottom of the totem pole for education. I am truly blessed to have received the MSMS experience.

  6. Dustin Dunaway says:

    We bring gifted students to a supportive, challenging environment such as MSMS and they thrive. Talented students obviously grow better in a setting tailored for growth. However, the question is what happens to these students in a standard environment, or even a below average setting. The painful truth is that apathy is contagious, whereas passion is not. Putting an ice cube in a boiling pot of water does not cool it down, and no number of ice cubes will affect the temperature until the pot is off the stove. Bringing a few outstanding students to a low performing school will not positively impact anyone, and the negativity will infect these students until they are simply another underperforming student. If you want to bring up a low performing school, respect them as if they were average or brilliant students. Influence their lives through passionate teachers and an effective administration, and give them the environment they need. Get the pot off the stove, and give every student the opportunity for excellence. As for the noticeably gifted and passionate, MSMS is here to cater to students who believe hard isn’t hard enough, far isn’t far enough, and one challenge is not near challenging enough.

  7. Chinwe Udemgba says:

    In my previous school, a majority of the students there were African American. I’m sure plenty of them had potential, but the teachers didn’t work to bring it out of them. The teachers lacked the passion to teach so the students began to lack the passion to learn. My high school didn’t have a gifted program and the classes were basic. I often found myself drifting off into a world of my own because the teachers and other students did not care. The students were being passed through the grades without learning anything. Instead of gifted classes we had classes where you could learn a trade like building things from scratch and working on cars. I felt as if they were not expecting us to expand and reach out of my town. MSMS was almost unheard of in my town. I believe that someone came to our public library to talk about MSMS once over the summer, but it wasn’t publisized enough for people to go out and attend. When we took pictures at the beginning of the school year grouped by areas, I was the only person from my county to apply. The other students from my school were too intimidated by the curriculum because they have been told that they were dumb their entire life. The teachers told them that they were dumb. The state told them that they were dumb. If you’re told something so much, you’re going to start to believe it. I think that minorities from my area just aren’t encouraged enough, and ambition makes all the difference.

  8. Frank says:

    In addition to reaching out to smaller counties to increase MSMS’s diversity, I think that adding one or two more major competing sports such as baseball or basketball could persuade more sophomores to apply. Having major competitive sports will help spread the word about MSMS through the sporting activities with other schools. I knew some sophomores from my old school that discouraged them from attending was because of the minor emphasis on sports.

    • Jenny Nguyen says:

      I agree to this. Biloxi was a big 6A school, and many of the boys were discouraged from applying because there were no big sports. I know it is not quite possible for MSMS to use funding toward another sport, but it would be a good development for the future.

    • Frank says:

      Investing towards creating a major sport team will provide benefits. There may be an argument that sports would distract the students from school work, thus leading to lowered grades and performance. But, this can be countered by implementing a new rule such as limiting the amount of sports a student can participate or a student must keep a minimum of one C and above. This will allow the school to be more well known and train students in time management.

  9. Mayukh Datta says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Baili Zhong. Indeed, involvement of children in gifted programs should start when they are young, and that is exactly what MSMS and other schools in Mississippi are doing. As Dr. Easterling said in his blog, there are usually gifted and talented programs for children up to middle school. For example, my home school district, Kosciusko School district, has a program called quest into which students are initiated when in the 1st grade. Even though as a students gets to high school, the number of gifted and talented programs do diminish a little, these programs are often replaced by classes such as Honors English or Honors Calculus, and this is true for even the most remote schools. Additionally, schools like MSMS hold outreach opportunities like the Science Carnival or the Middle School Science Bowl.

  10. Jenny Nguyen says:

    There is a sure amount of bright students living in Mississippi; however, I think our biggest problem is that not many know about the school. When I mentioned to the student population of Biloxi High that I will be attending MSMS next year, they simply cocked their head and said, “huh?” Mr. Spike Harris does a great job traveling through the state and recruiting students, but I don’t think it’s reaching a large enough population. Reaching a larger audience would inevitably increase the diversity of our candidates.

    Also, I was afraid of attending MSMS because of the difficulty level. I assume that many others feel the same way, but they let their fear overcome them and decide not to apply. I think that we should promote our education — but not in a way that’s so intimidating to potential candidates of the school.

    • Mayukh Datta says:

      Jenny, although I agree with your and Dr. Easterling’s assertion that minorities must be included in gifted and talented programs, I do disagree with your argument that MSMS does not outreach enough areas. As you already know, one of the largest populations in MSMS is from the Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest and most remote regions in Mississippi. MSMS reaches its arms to students like Gregory Billingsly or Shamarcus Doty who come from towns that have populations of upwards of 2000.

      Secondly, I disagree with you second assertion about the intimidation that the difficulty level of MSMS causes in potential students. Students who apply here are, by no means, bounded to come to MSMS; they could remain in their home schools if they wanted to do so. That being said, I understand that the coursework and the residential aspect of MSMS is quite intimidating; however, the Office of Admissions includes all of this in MSMS advertisements. For example, the guests in the “Countdown Interviews” that Mr. Spike Harris and Mr. Wade Leonard not only mention the glamour and glory of this institution, but they also talk about the difficulty of adjusting here.

      Therefore, I would say that MSMS is an institution that pays more attention to students in areas that need it the most. Yes, the course work is intimidating and difficult, but the students who come here do so by choice. So, the ones who are scared of the difficulty of the coursework make the right decision by turning away from MSMS.

      • Baili Zhong says:

        Depends. For some gifted programs, like my Gifted English program in 10th grade, there was a test required to take the class, or you could have automatically qualified by having Spotlight. Therefore, being accepted into one gifted program (Spotlight) predisposed me to another. Having an earlier foundation helped.
        Moreover, I think that by focusing on kids from a younger age, say elementary school, a more significant difference can be made in the racial disparity. Children are more predisposed, curious, and influenced; however, as they grow older, they become less so. Therefore, having funding for gifted/talented programs more early on in underrepresented districts would be, in my opinion, the best solution.

        • Baili Zhong says:

          By the way, my reply was on the question: Do you suppose that bringing gifted/talented programs to underperforming districts would incentivize student performance effectively enough to turn them around?

      • Jenny Nguyen says:

        Mayukh,

        Talent is everywhere in Mississippi, and I don’t think there’s one county or city that has a denser population of “gifted students” than others. With that being said, I take delight in MSMS reaching out to regions such as the Mississippi Delta, and I do not doubt that gifted students are there. However, what about the kids on the Gulf Coast and the surrounding counties? I understand that the students on the coast are not the ones “that need it most”, but they have just as much potential as any other student. My argument was that MSMS simply needed more publicity in more areas, not that it is not doing enough outreach for those who need it. I assume that a good number of students are from the Golden Triangle area as well as the Mississippi Delta, but talent, like I said, is everywhere. MSMS should direct some of their energy into recruiting students from other counties as well– counties that typically don’t have students apply.

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