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Educators honored by the Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce



Left to right: Mathew Austin Crabtree, Malissa Flowers, Theresa Bell and Marion Margaret Hern. (photo by Larry Walker)

No matter what your current profession may be, many can thank a teacher or an educator for getting you there in some way, shape, form or fashion. Today, the Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce honored educators during their 31st Annual Educators of the Year Awards Luncheon.

“This is a very special event because we get to celebrate one of the main components of what makes a community happen, and that’s our teachers,” said Pablo Diaz, Vicksburg-Warren Chamber director.  

Twenty-one amazing candidates out of both the private and public school sector were selected by their peers to represent their school at the luncheon. The candidates were split up between elementary educators (Pre-K through sixth grade) and secondary educators (seventh through 12th grade).

A runner up and a winner was announced for both divisions. Each runner up received a $500 prize provided by Mutual Credit Union, and winners received a $1,000 prize provided by Ameristar Casino. Chick-fil-A extended a caring gesture to all 21 candidates by offering them one free meal per week during the summer.

“Our chamber is committed to education,” Diaz said. “We want to be there as a business community, supporting education to make it the best that it can be for kids and our future.”

Buddy Dees, chamber education chairman, mentioned that during the months of October and November, each school is asked to hold an election at their school to nominate a candidate. Once nominated, candidates go through an extensive application process and a 10-minute interview with six retired educators. 

Diaz shared a special moment during the meeting.

“Teachers you have a huge job on your hands,” Diaz said. “It’s an important job that you have. You are crafting and molding the future leaders of our community. You are crafting and molding the workforce of the future.”

The $500 elementary runner up was Marion Margaret Hern from Bovina Elementary.

Winning the grand prize of $1,000 elementary winner was Malissa Flowers from Beechwood Elementary. Flowers is a special education teacher for 3 and 4-year olds.

“On my way back to Beechwood, I pulled off to my bank and cashed the check,” Flowers said.

Arriving back to Beechwood, Flowers said she gave money to both of her assistants.

“It’s a group effort,” Flowers said. “I cannot do what I do without support.”

The $500 secondary runner up was Thresa Bell from Warren Central High School. 

Winning the grand prize of $1,000 for secondary educators was Austin Crabtree.

The youngest nominee, Crabtree could not hold back excitement as he walked toward the podium pointing towards heaven and mouthing, ” Thank you, Lord.”

Crabtree graduated from Porters Chapel Academy in 2014.  He completed college and is now employed instilling the same core values at the school where they were instilled in him just a few short years ago.

The 2020 elementary nominees are as follows: Malissa Flowers, Beechwood Elementary; Marion Margaret Hern, Bovina Elementary; Christine Jones, Bowmar Elementary; Valerie Benard, Dana Road Elementary; Elizabeth Westerfield, Porters Chapel Academy; Amber Jones, Redwood Elementary; Cassandra Brown, Sherman Avenue; Cassandra Ringo, South Park; Martha Amborn,  St. Francis Xavier; Monica Williams, Vicksburg Intermediate School; Woodrow Price, III, Warren Central Intermediate School; and Jasmine Island, Warrenton Elementary.

The 2020 secondary nominees are as follows: Brittany Prowell, Academy of Innovation; Austin Crabtree, Porters Chapel Academy; Kayla Sorrels, River City Early College; Joan Thornton, St. Aloysius High School; Cynthia Price, Vicksburg Junior High School; Jessica Griffin, Warren Central Junior High School; Grangerette Hayes-Ivory, Vicksburg High School; Theresa Bell, Warren Central High School; and Eloise Ford, Vicksburg Warren School District Career and Technical Center. 


MS high school students encouraged to compete in cyber-security games



(photo by councilcle from Pixabay)

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced the state’s participation in CyberStart America Tuesday. CyberStart is an innovative, online cybersecurity talent search and competition sponsored by the National Cyber Scholarship Foundation and the SANS Institute.

Mississippi high school-aged students are encouraged to explore their aptitude for cybersecurity and computer science by participating in the program. Participants can win prizes, scholarships and recognition for their schools.

The CyberStart America program is a series of 100% online challenges that allow students to act as cyber protection agents, solving cybersecurity-related puzzles and exploring related topics such as code breaking, programming, networking and digital forensics. The program can be assigned as part of homework, can form the basis of an extracurricular club or students can just try it on their own.

Participating students and their teachers do not need knowledge or experience in information technology or cybersecurity to take part. Everything they need can be learned in the game. The program is free for schools and students, and all Mississippi students in grades nine through 12 are invited to participate. Building on the success of last year’s Girls Go CyberStart program, this year’s CyberStart Game is open to all high school students. Anyone who reaches level 5 in the game will qualify for the national competition to win scholarships. To encourage participation of young women and JROTC cadets, specific communities have been established for those groups, offering additional support and community-specific awards within the overall scholarship competition.

The National Cyber Scholarship Foundation anticipates awarding scholarships worth $2 million for use at any accredited college to 600 high-scoring students across the nation who participate in the competition in 2021. Students compete for state-specific and community-specific prizes, as well as national championship status. There will also be incentives for Mississippi high schools to encourage more students to reach the qualifying level in the CyberStart game, including exclusive access to additional cybersecurity education resources and recognized cyber skills mastery badges for their students.

“The CyberStart America Program is an excellent and fun opportunity for students who think they may be interested in cybersecurity to determine if they have the passion and aptitude to pursue it as a career,” Reeves said in a statement. “Mississippi high schools have competed and placed well in this competition the last several years, and I cannot wait to see our students go even further.”

Find complete details about the program at High school students can register for the program and invite their friends to join them through Feb. 28, 2021. Students will be informed if they qualify for the CyberStart National Scholarship Challenge Round as soon as they have achieved sufficient progress, but they can continue playing and learning to build skills that will be useful to them in the Nationals. To see the types of challenges students will face in the games, visit

“This program supports computer science education and its growing importance in our schools and our economy,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education. “I encourage all Mississippi high schools to share the CyberStart America opportunity with their students and to support their participation. There is no limit to what students can achieve when they are provided with challenging opportunities that give them the chance to excel.”

In a pilot test of CyberStart America targeted to young women during the last school year, 146 students from Mississippi high schools participated and seven succeeded in reaching the national finals. With CyberStart America now open to boys as well as girls, Mississippi hopes to triple the number of students participating and reaching the scholarship round.

“Cybersecurity is the new frontier for protecting infrastructure, personal information and financial data,” said Lora Hunter, interim director of the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security and state coordinator for the program. “The Mississippi Office of Homeland Security deals with these critical areas every day. Mississippi needs a pipeline of talented cybersecurity professionals to help protect our way of life.”

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MS treasurer announces Black Friday giveaway to encourage saving for college



Monday, Mississippi Treasurer David McRae announced a $1,000 Black Friday giveaway to encourage Mississippians to begin saving for college.

College Savings Mississippi, a division of the State Treasury, will be giving one lucky family a $1,000 scholarship when they open a Mississippi Affordable College Savings account between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

“With Black Friday as the traditional kick-off to holiday shopping, we’re hoping to remind Mississippians that the gift of a college degree is a gift that will keep on giving,” McRae said in a news release. “Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, consider making a contribution to a loved one’s college savings plan this gift-giving season.”

A tax-advantaged MACS account, which can be opened for as little as $25, offers families maximum flexibility. The money contributed to this account can be used for tuition, books, supplies, and certain room and board expenses, as well as elementary and secondary tuition expenses for younger students.

For the Black Friday Giveaway, any family who opens a new MACS account between Nov. 27 (“Black Friday”) and Nov. 30 (“Cyber Monday”) will be entered to win the $1,000 scholarship. The winner will be drawn at random.

To open an account, visit For complete rules for the giveaway, download this document (PDF).

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Project SEARCH provides internships for students with disabilities in Vicksburg



The Project SEARCH interns at Merit Health River Region are eager to learn new skills. (photo courtesy MHRR)

A national program designed to help students with disabilities obtain competitive community-based employment has expanded to Vicksburg through a strategic collaboration of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, Merit Health River Region and the Vicksburg Warren School District.

Project SEARCH Merit Health River Region is offering up to 12 students from the Vicksburg Warren School District an eight-month internship position during the 2020-21 school year. This opportunity allows the students to work on employability and functional skills in several areas including team building, technology, communication, job search skills and money management.

“We are proud to partner with the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services and the Vicksburg Warren School District to provide skill development opportunities for the Project SEARCH interns,” said Ben Richaud, CEO of Merit Health River Region, in a statement. “The interns have been a great addition to our team, and I’m impressed by their enthusiasm and work ethic.”

“Our District’s vision is to graduate all students college, career and life prepared — and all means all,” said Chad Shealy, superintendent of the Vicksburg Warren School District. “We are excited about this opportunity and appreciate the partnership with Merit Health River Region and Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services. Providing real-life work experiences for our students with disabilities will help build the foundation these kids need to be successful in the workplace. Project SEARCH positively changes the trajectory for these children by giving them a head-start on a meaningful career that they want and deserve.”

“Our mission as a state agency is perfectly matched with that of Project SEARCH,” said Chris Howard, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services. “Our goal is for these interns to gain full-time employment with benefits after they have completed this program. Our partnership with Merit Health River Region and the Vicksburg Warren School District is making this goal possible for these students.”

Project SEARCH first came to Mississippi in 2015 and now includes 11 sites across the state.

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