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‘Crazy in different ways’: Facebook group helps parents navigate the new normal of school during a pandemic

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(Photo by Karolina Grabowska/Kaboom Pics)

In the past, the words “back to school” typically brought to mind new notebooks, crayons and backpacks. Students normally concerned themselves with putting together the perfect first-day-of-school outfit and hoping their friends would be in their classes. Parents were usually busy packing lunch boxes and making sure children arrived at their bus stops on time.

The first week of the 2020-2021 school year concluded Friday, Aug. 21, for the Vicksburg Warren School District and for thousands of students, teachers and educators it was anything but typical, normal or usual.

Notebooks and crayons have become Chromebooks and Wi-Fi access. Visiting with friends has become Facetime and Google classrooms. Logging in on time has become the new catching the bus on time.

Kate Harthcock, a parent of two VWSD students, anticipated the need for a forum that would allow people to speak out, reach out and help out, so, two months ago she created a public Facebook group called VWSD Parents. The group’s purpose is “for parents to get information and ask any questions they might have.” The group has grown to nearly 2,500, including many teachers and administrators, and has become a place for members to share first-week experiences, good and bad.

“Our experience started out chaotic, but with a little more organization on my end and a little better understanding of the virtual requirements, I think we have it down,” said Kerry Howell, parent of a 13-year-old distance learner enrolled at the Academy of Innovation. “The only negative experience we’ve had has been with Grade Results.”

Grade Results is an online curriculum being used by the VWSD and is touted as research-based, differentiated learning. Its website claims the curriculum combines “the best of personalized learning with proven results,” but many posts to Harthcock’s Facebook group disagree. The posts say the content is not on students’ grade level and correct answers are not given on multiple choice questions.

“Grade Results needs a total overhaul, but that’s not the teachers’ fault,” Howell said. “They didn’t put passages about Roe v. Wade and cutting open chickens after killing them on there. That’s out of their control. There’s a whole lot of people unhappy with Grade Results, and people on Facebook are sharing the 1-800 numbers to contact the company. People are really trying to help each other out with all of the questions and uncertainties. Everything else has been pretty smooth.”

Harthcock mentioned the challenges teachers face this year as a motivation for starting the group.

“Teachers already worked so hard, and this year is requiring them to work two and three times as much to accommodate everyone’s specific needs,” she said. “I just wanted to come up with a way for parents to support other parents, share information and have a place we can all encourage each other in a positive way.”

As Howell put it, “The first week of school has always been a little crazy. 2020 just gave us a first week that was crazy in different ways.”

Education

Alcorn to hold in-person commencement Nov. 21 for 2020 spring and fall grads

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(Photo courtesy Alcorn State University)

Alcorn State University is proud to announce that it will hold in-person commencement ceremonies for the fall and spring classes of 2020 Saturday, Nov. 21, in the Jack Spinks Stadium-Marino Casem Field. The Golden Class of 1970 will also be honored Nov. 21.

Tickets will be required. Masks are mandatory!

“Commencement is a joyous time for the University to celebrate our students’ accomplishments and bid them farewell,” said Dr. Felecia M. Nave, president of Alcorn State University. “This year’s ceremony holds special meaning. As we continue to navigate the global pandemic, COVID-19, we are excited to honor our fall 2020 graduates and also celebrate our spring 2020 and Golden Class of 1970, whose opportunity to walk across the commencement stage was delayed.”

The University will continue to enforce safety protocols to protect the health and safety of the campus community. Hence, tickets will be required for each ceremony. Temperatures will be taken of every person entering the campus at each gate. Graduates’ temperatures will be checked at the assembly area.

Masks will be required for all attendees and participants. No one will be allowed to enter without their mask. The University will provide specific details on safety protocols in subsequent messages regarding the ceremonies.

Commencement ceremonies for the spring Class of 2020 and Golden Class of 1970 will be held at 10 a.m. Commencement ceremonies for the fall Class of 2020 will be held at 2 p.m.

“We are excited to celebrate this milestone in the lives of our graduates,” said Dr. Ontario S. Wooden, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs. “I am elated that we are also welcoming back the spring 2020 graduates in order to celebrate them appropriately.”

Wooden noted that the university will hold two commencement ceremonies in the football stadium to promote social distancing and meet arena guidelines. Additional details related to the commencements will be forthcoming by separate communications, and updates will also be posted on a “Commencement” page on the university’s website as they are available.

“Alcorn State University is looking forward to celebrating the many accomplishments of the fall Class of 2020 and spring Class of 2020 with their invited, ticketed guests,” Wooden said.

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Micah’s Mission: providing support and resources for home-schooling

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Emily Harber Williams (photo by Matt Williams)

In the last 20 years, the educational option to home-school students has seen significant growth. The reasons that people home-school are as unique as the people making the decisions, but some of the common things that drive families to this option include:

  • Bullying
  • A child’s specific educational needs not being met within their current school
  • A child’s social or psychological needs not being met
  • The difficulty of getting a student’s disability recognized and accommodated
  • A desire to instill a specific worldview or belief system
  • To provide the flexibility for a child to pursue his or her passion
  • Concerns over school safety
  • And now, because of COVID-19, concerns about students’ health.

For parents considering transitioning their child from traditional school to home-school, the process can be quite stressful. Common concerns include which curriculum to use, financial feasibility, lack of socialization opportunities, and uncertainties of students being admitted to and prepared for colleges.

For many of those families in the Vicksburg area, the answers lie with Emily Harber Williams and a place called Micah’s Mission.

In 2016, Williams was a physical education teacher at Bowmar Avenue Elementary School and pursuing a doctorate degree in education from Walden University.

“I was asked to create an innovative model (of a nontraditional school) and make a proposal for my International Educational Law and Policy class assignment,” Williams said, “and then my professor told me my plan could be implemented. So I began (Micah’s Mission) out of my house in 2017.”

Williams said that during that time, she was led to read the Book of Micah from the Bible. That book tells the story of Jesus walking on water and examines the faith one needs to follow Christ with unwavering faith.

“I knew God was telling me to ‘step out of the boat’ and do something to help children succeed,” she said.

Micah‘s Mission School now operates as an independent entity located inside Crawford Street United Methodist Church near downtown Vicksburg. Its mission is to provide home-schoolers in grades K-12 a place to learn and work in a safe, stress-free environment without the rigor and boundaries found in traditional schools. They also offer a resource center for independent online learners.

“Our students are able to learn life skills that will increase their preparedness for the real world after graduation with a faith-based foundation,” Williams said.

“All students are working toward a high school diploma or certificate to be prepared for college or the workforce. We provide a way for students, with or without disabilities, to learn full circle,” she added.

Micah’s Mission has grown to employ three full-time teachers, one full-time volunteer and Williams. They currently serve 27 students. For most students, they utilize Time4Learning.com, a complete home-school curriculum. They also serve students from other private and public schools with their Dyslexia and Dysgraphia Program and offer after school tutoring.

For more information, interested parents can visit www.micahsmissionschool.org or email Emily Williams at [email protected].

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MIBEST program at Hinds CC adds up to success for Vicksburg woman

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Mayra Gomez (photo courtesy Hinds CC/April Garon)

Mayra Gomez has always felt comfortable with the language of numbers.

“I’ve liked numbers my whole life,” Gomez said, agreeing that they have been something of a security blanket for her since coming to the United States from Mexico with her parents when she was already 20. “Numbers are just universal, plus I just have a square head like that!”

Gomez, now 41 and a working mother of three, attended high school in Mexico, but said an education there doesn’t translate well toward obtaining a good job in the U.S., particularly when a language barrier is factored in.

“For my husband and me, it was hard learning the language,” she said, adding the internet played a big role in her learning the basics of communication to help support her family along with her husband, who works in construction. “I learned English just based on reading, software I could learn by myself and experiences we would have, such as going to the doctor. I would just look up words I was going to say.”

Gomez still works a restaurant job by day but will soon be broadening her horizons beyond all expectations. This past spring, she earned a career certificate in Business Office Technology from Hinds Community College after having completed the MIBEST program. The program allows adult students to train for a job skill while earning their High School Equivalency certificate at the same time. Students are prepared to be job-ready in six months to a year, training in high-demand areas and earning national certifications.

“I found the program while online, and I called to find out more about how it helps people get a high school diploma,” she said.

This fall, Gomez is enrolled in classes at the Vicksburg-Warren Campus that will land her a technical certificate, then a full Associate of Applied Science degree. After Hinds, she wants to pursue a career in accounting, a goal she said gained steam while working a seasonal job as a tax preparer with a Vicksburg accounting firm. She also counts membership in the campus chapter of Phi Theta Kappa honor society as another plus in her social development.

“I still have to take English Composition next semester, but I’m excited,” she said. “I still need to learn more about the language.

All participants in MIBEST have access to support staff, or navigators, whose job it is to help students focus on their studies by advising them on a wide range of life issues – which often include everything from child care to transportation to ways to find rental assistance for those in such a situation.

“My navigators and instructors are my angels here,” she said. “Whenever I feel lost, they guide me and make me feel welcome.

“I consider them more than just instructors – they’re my friends. I was afraid to come back to school mainly due to language. I was wondering what would happen if I said something wrong or wrote something wrong. But they told me, ‘No, don’t be afraid. Just ask and we’ll see what we do to fix it.’”

Instructors and navigators in the program even go so far as to say Gomez is the best MIBEST student ever.

“Mayra entered into the Adult Basic Education program with definite goals set for herself,” said Vanessa Shiers, navigator in the program at the Vicksburg-Warren Campus. “Upon entering the program, she began working hard and showing a kind of determination that was a delight to see in a student.”

Ramona Latham, her instructor in Business Office Technology, found it refreshing Mayra was willing to help fellow students as she herself needed help with class assignments.

“Mayra is the type of student every instructor loves to have in their class,” Latham said.

“When she required assistance, she reached out so that she could get a better understanding of the subject matter. When her classmates required assistance, she was always willing to help. In her three semesters with me, she proved to be dedicated, diligent and filled with compassion.”

As inspiring as she might be for her instructors, her biggest driving force is her children.

“I want my kids to feel proud of me,” she said. “I want to show them it’s not about age to be successful. You can go out and get something that you really like and dream about it. One of my dreams for me is to finish school, get a good job and show they can do it if they decide to do it.

“Recently, I was working on my school work at home and my kids saw my grades. They were like, ‘Mama, you got a 98 or a 100.’ So, I can say if I can get good grades, you can do it, too.”

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