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Keeping 8,000 Chromebooks working and connected for Vicksburg Warren County students

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(Photo by sharpemtbr from Pixabay)

Schools across the country have kicked off what can only be called an unconventional school year, and administrators and faculty are under immense pressure to make it work. With 24 years of information technology experience under his belt, Vicksburg Warren School District Director of Education Technology Wade Grant is determined to be successful.

In an early survey, families indicated that just over 50% of students would begin the 2020-2021 school year as distance learners.

“Those numbers were actually higher than that at the beginning of the year,” Grant said, “and because of the flexibility the district is offering families, the numbers are constantly fluctuating.”

Vicksburg Warren School District Director of Education Technology Wade Grant (Photo courtesy Wade Grant)

The district offers students the choice to participate in person, via distance learning or a hybrid of both.

Naturally, a huge concern when thinking about online learning is reliable equipment and available connectivity. “At any given time, the district has at least 8,000 Chromebooks available for students and staff,” said Grant. “For many years, we have provided one device per student to access online resources.”

High school and some middle school students have long been able to take their Chromebooks home. With the mandatory closing of school doors that occurred in March 2020, they were made available for every student in the district.

Keeping approximately 8,000 computers functioning is not an easy task.

“Currently we have contractual agreements to repair devices on-site, and we take advantage of extended warranties to the fullest extent,” Grant said, “and with the EDLA funds, we are purchasing all new devices.” EDLA is the Equity in Distance Learning Act which provides $150 million to school districts to pay for computer devices for students and teachers, software to deliver instruction and enhanced internet connectivity.

“There are not that many homes who cannot access the internet, but we are working closely with the few families who are having connectivity challenges,” he said. “Providing a way for every student to be successful is our top priority.”

Grant said the district is working with families on a case-by-case basis to eliminate connectivity obstacles. “If a family is having any problem with connectivity, we ask them to contact their student’s principal immediately. Principals will then contact us, and we’ll work with them until we have found a solution,” he said.

“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. But we will find a path forward for that student’s family.”

Some solutions have been extending Wi-Fi access to areas surrounding school buildings, including internet access to school buses for remote areas and helping families with affordable internet services.

“As the year is progressing, we are seeing a steady increase in our students learning in person. I pray we continue seeing this trend,” Grant said. “We (the technology department) are committed to helping every student have the means to be successful, but I think everyone will be happy when life just gets back to normal.”

Education

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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Education

American Lung Association invites Mississippi to join the Vape-Free School Initiative

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(Photo by Sarah Johnson, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82597570)

Tuesday, the American Lung Association announced the new Vape-Free School Initiative, a comprehensive program to help school administrators and educators address the surge of youth vaping across Mississippi.

“In Mississippi, 21.4% of high school students used e-cigarettes in 2019. Vaping harms developing lungs and overall health and may place people at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. We must do more to protect our youth from a lifetime of addiction to deadly tobacco products,” said Rochelle Thompson, senior manager of health promotions for the Lung Association. “Through our Vape-Free Schools Initiative, the Lung Association is helping schools navigate this public health emergency with tools to protect and support both schools and students.”

The Mississippi Vape-Free Schools Initiative includes a comprehensive toolkit of resources, trainings and guidance for schools, including:

  1. INDEPTH: The Intervention for Nicotine Dependence: Education, Prevention, Tobacco and Health is a four-session program facilitated in either a one-on-one or group setting for students who violate school tobacco policies. Instead of focusing on punitive measures, INDEPTH teaches students about nicotine dependence, establishing healthy alternatives and how to kick the unhealthy addiction.
  2. Not On Tobacco (N-O-T): N-O-T is a tobacco cessation program designed with teenagers in mind. It takes a holistic approach with each session using different interactive learning strategies based on Social Cognitive Theory of behavior change. This encourages a voluntary change for youth ages 14 to 19.
  3. Vape-Free School Policy Assessment: Through this brief school policy assessment, educators can see how their school can improve their policies to provide students, employees and visitors with clear guidance.

The INDEPTH and NOT facilitator trainings are done virtually, and the programs for students can be held either in-person or virtually through an online meeting platform.

School administrators and educators interested in getting involved in the Vape-Free Schools Initiative can contact Rochelle Thompson at [email protected].

For more information about the Lung Association’s work to end youth vaping, visit TalkAboutVaping.org.

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COVID-19

Vicksburg Warren School Districts reports nine new COVID-19 cases and 64 in quarantine

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The Vicksburg Warren School District reports nine new COVID-19 cases in its schools for the week of Oct. 12 through Oct. 16.

In addition, 64 students, teachers and staff members are newly quarantined due to possible exposure to the virus during in the same time period.

Cases and quarantines were reported in the following schools:

Academy of Innovation
10 quarantined – students

Beechwood Elementary
2 new positive cases – staff
1 new positive case – student
5 quarantined – student

Bovina Elementary
1 new positive case – student

Dana Road Elementary
1 new positive case – teacher/staff
1 new positive case – student
12 quarantined – students

Warren Central High School
1 new positive case – student
20 quarantined – students

Warren Central Junior High
2 new positive cases – teachers/staff
7 quarantined – teachers/staff
10 quarantined – students

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