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Back to School Week Two Arrives in Mississippi

“To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.”
- William Faulkner

Students across the country, for generations, have taken back to schoolhouses as the air begins to chill, and leaves begin to turn and fall to blanket the dirt below. Even though the Southern Magnolia’s leaves are known to turn and fall in the late spring, students in Meridian, Mississippi, also find their way back into classrooms in the early autumn.

Week 2 of NEA’s Back to School tour finds NEA President Lily Eskelsen García in the Magnolia State where we began our week at breakfast with educators at Crestwood Elementary School. Mississippi Association of Educators members Kimberly Kendrick (Crestwood’s principal), lead teacher Rosalind Operton, and Meridian local Vice President Shaletha Oneyekwuluje met President Eskelsen García at breakfast and were joined by many MAE members as well as a journalist from Meridian’s WTOK Newscenter 11. Following Breakfast, MAE President Joyce Helmick and Associate Executive Director Beverly Brahan provided Lily with a tour of the school.

"To me the book is the important thing, it don't matter who wrote it."

-William Faulkner

During the tour Lily popped into Nicole Gamble’s class to read Caroline Jayne Church’s Digby Goes Down to Ms. Gamble’s first grade class. Students learned from sheepdog Digby’s escalating tactics that saying “please” is often the best way to get your friends to cooperate with one another.

Lily also stopped by Kiera Ezell’s fourth grade class to read an excerpt from Christopher Paul Curtis’s Newbery Award wining Bud, Not Buddy. Through every interaction at Crestwood, Lily found educators and students engaged and excited for a new school year packed with learning.

“A fellow can see ever now and then that children have more sense than him.”
-Tull in As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner

Lily and the NEA team left Crestwood Elementary for a morning visit to Meridian High School. Meridian High is a fantastic example of educators going above and beyond to serve the needs of every student. With a population of approximately 1,500 students, MHS offers 11 different Advanced Placement courses, from English Literature to Music Theory, more than any other school in the area.

Lily received a guided tour from Student Government President and MHS Senior Chelsea Grissett, along with Meridian association president and education support professional Kimberly Wilkeson. Ms. Wilkerson serves as MHS’s media specialist and has been a member of MEA for three years. Ms. Wilkerson noted that having the Back to School tour visit MHS was “really exciting,” and that “the association is for everyone who is in education, and the things we’re doing impact everyone, not just classroom teachers.”

“Art reminds us of our youth, of that age when life don't need to have her face lifted every so often for you to consider her beautiful."
-Dawson Fairchild in Mosquitoes, by William Faulkner

Arts were the highlight of the MHS tour, where Ms. Wilkerson and Chelsea showed of an arts program that would be the envy of most public schools in America. Jennifer Davis’ choral class was one of a handful across the south that was recently invited to preform at Mississippi State University. MHS also offers courses in ceramics, a piano lab where students can hone their music skills, and many other studio and performance art courses.

The MHS tour wrapped up the NEA team’s time in Meridian, and we headed to Jackson where we were introduced to the Books in Barbershops program at Champions Barber Shop. Jackson area Eagle Scout Kennedy Owens worked with MAE, the Jackson Council Parent Teacher Association, Jackson Public Schools and local barbers around the City of Jackson to build the program, which promotes literacy for Jackson’s students. Books in Barbershops’ goal is to close the reading achievement gap for African American males in the area by engaging them as young readers with age appropriate books. Books are distributed to local barbershops in a pilot program that will soon be expanded to over 50 additional barbershops in the Jackson area. Lily brought additional books to contribute to the program and thanked the local Books-a-Million store that donated the books.

"The federal government, I imagine, will do whatever the most folks hollering the loudest at it insist on."

-William Faulkner

Our day in Mississippi wrapped at a Back to School Meet and Greet with Jackson area members and local dignitaries at the Eudora Welt Library. As the featured speaker, Lily discussed the importance of closing the opportunity gap that exists between Mississippi’s, and America’s, most affluent and most challenged public schools. Lily noted that the best public schools in any state should be the model for how we should resourced the schools in other zip codes where children do not always receive the same opportunities, yet deserve them just as much.

Lily’s speech ended with a rousing call to action for MAE members. As educators across the nation look towards a final vote later this year on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Lily informed the room that she never wants to hear anyone refer to themselves as “just an educator.” The voices of educators are trusted and should be loud as they inform elected leaders of the need to reign in toxic testing and create the kind of schools that we know every student deserves. Lily encouraged every educator to call their members of Congress and Senators, and encourage them to support offering opportunity to every child, regardless of zip code.


See more NEA Back to School Tour 2015 Highlights

2015 NEA Back to School Tour Visits Mississippi

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