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Vicksburg’s youngest residents learn about the heroes of 9/11

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Vadin Flaggs works on her card for Vicksburg's local heroes. (Photo by Heather Williams)

If you were alive during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, there’s no doubt you remember everything about that day. You likely remember exactly where you were and can recall the emotions you experienced as you watched the planes fly into the towers and the devastation that followed. The events of that day are cemented into our collective consciousness.

But what about the generation of Americans who weren’t born yet? Children will undoubtedly hear about that day, but the events are as distant as anything else they will read in a history book. What can be done to teach children about the events of that day? Say the words “al-Qaida” or “Taliban” to a child, and you’re likely to be met with a blank stare. Say “hero” or “courageous” however, and you’ll be regaled with stories that will most likely include police officers and firefighters.

For elementary students at Agape Montessori Christian Academy, the Sept. 11 history lessons began last week. First grade teacher Jennifer Heldenbrand and kindergarten teacher Tina Sowells focused their lessons on the heroic men and women who rushed into the burning buildings that day.

“Remembering Sept. 11 gives us a great opportunity to talk to children about the heroes of our communities, those men and women who actually rush toward danger in times of emergency,” Sowells said. “Police, paramedics and firemen are important role models for our children.”

Added Heldenbrand, “It’s also very comforting for small children to know there are ‘good guys’ on our side that we can turn to when things go wrong.”

It was this knowledge that inspired the students to want to make thank you cards and pictures to be delivered to police officers, firefighters and other first responders in Vicksburg. The youngest Agape students spent time this week coloring red, white and blue ribbons, cutting out stars, and pasting golden letters that spell out “Thank you, Hero!”

When asked why she was working so hard on her card, 5-year-old Daphne Lotufo said, “Because the firemen and the policemen are very brave, and they should have fancy cards because they care so much about keeping us safe from bad stuff.”

Vadin Flaggs, 6, proudly displayed her card and said that it was for her “Papaw Jack.”

“He always helps people and is brave and good at keeping people safe,” she said. “He makes sure I’m safe before he does anything else. He’s very courageous. He deserves to have a bunch of cards and stars!”

When discussing the importance of learning about Sept. 11, 2001, student Belle Townsend said, “Everybody should learn what happened that day. All of those Americans got killed, and they were important. And the policemen and firemen got killed because they ran into buildings that were on fire! I mean, who does that? We can’t just forget about them.”

That’s an important lesson no matter what your age.

Education

Karla McHan experiences the unique challenge of leading her school in 2020

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Karla McHan and her colleague and mentor Mary Arledge on the first day of school this fall. (photo courtesy K. McHan)

When Karla McHan was looking for a challenge last year, she had no way of knowing exactly how challenged she would be.

McHan spent 22 years teaching social studies (mostly U.S. history but also world history, government, psychology and sociology) at Warren Central High School when she was offered the lead teacher position in 2012.

“I really enjoyed seeing education from a different perspective and loved the opportunity to work more directly with teachers,” McHan said.

The experience motivated her to go back to school for her master’s degree in educational leadership, something she had put off when her children were young.

“I decided it was time to venture out and knew I could bring my perspective as a longtime teacher to educational decision making,” she said.

A rare history position opened at Vicksburg Catholic School in 2016, and McHan could not pass up the chance of working with a man who had been the principal of her elementary and junior high schools when she was a student: Dr. Buddy Strickland.

“It seemed like everything just fell in place,” she says of making the move to St. Aloysius High School. VCS also offered McHan a unique opportunity to advance her career and more openly share her faith.

“As a practicing Catholic, I was excited about being in a school environment that so beautifully incorporates faith and love of God and neighbor in its daily activities.”

St. Aloysius is much smaller than Warren Central, and McHan said it was a great place to step into the role of principal last year. “The smaller setting helped create a stronger sense of family, and I got to know everyone better,” she said. “That’s important when taking on an administration role.”

As far as finding the challenges she was searching for, McHan got what she wanted in more ways than one in her position as the school’s principal. She experienced the typical new-principal challenges such as gaining the faculty’s trust and learning how to best utilize each staff member’s individual strengths, but then life threw her a curve ball.

”Hands down, the biggest hurdle I have faced has been COVID-19,” she said. “I think all new principals spend their first year in survival mode, but that moves into a whole different level when a pandemic hits three-quarters of the way through.”

McHan said that creating a distance learning program and putting it into action effectively was one of the most difficult tasks she has faced on any level of her education career, but it has been especially trying when coupled with the responsibility of every student and faculty member in her school.

“I considered all of the typical administrator duties when I was deciding to move,” she said, “but helping teachers and students adapt to distance learning while identifying the academic gaps that come with extended time away from the classroom was never on my radar.”

McHan credits her faith, the support of her family and the “fabulous faculty and staff at St. Al” for her success. She also credits the great relationship she has developed with Mary Arledge, principal of St. Francis Xavier Academy. “She is just an incredible mentor and supporter,” McHan said of Arledge.

McHan is clearly not a person to relax when the going gets good. In addition to constantly trying to better the distance learning processes, she plans to continue her education and pursue a specialist’s degree. Her plans also include more time with family and traveling with her husband, David.

“It may sound crazy considering the current state of educational practices, but I definitely foresee being able to relax a little soon,” she said, “and I can confidently say that because I know I have the backing of such a hard-working, supportive staff.”

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Education

For Cooper Jamison, his Bovina Elementary ‘family’ is everything

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(photo by Tiffany Jamison)

Growing up, most of us dreaded hearing a teacher say, “I’m going to call your mother,” because that call usually ended in some form of punishment. For one child at Bovina Elementary School, that sentence turned out to be a very good thing.

For 10-year-old Cooper Jamison, it may have saved his life.

“When Cooper was in second grade, his teacher (Tina Cochran) called and said that something with Cooper just didn’t seem right that day,” said his mother, Tiffany Jamison. “He had trouble understanding very simple directions. We had already started noticing his balance seemed off when he played baseball and that one of his eyes turned in a little.”

Cochran’s keen observation helped start a long journey for the Jamisons.

“I know God used Mrs. Cochran to help us that year because it all led to discovering Cooper had a very deep tumor in his brain and was having seizures,” Jamison said.

Their journey included a grueling process of visits to pediatricians, ophthalmologists, neurologists, and learning disability specialists and multiple trips to a leading team of specialists in Boston.

Jamison said that the faculty and staff at Bovina have been a blessing, and the love they’ve shown her family is overwhelming.

“It’s more than just a school,” she said. “It’s a support system that came together to help our family through a very scary time.”

The Jamisons have three children attending Bovina and the school banded together to make sure all of them were surrounded with love and prayers.

“We have all been shown so much love by them (faculty and staff of Bovina). They collected money, made homemade muffins, created #SuperCooper T-shirts and even arranged to have meals delivered to us after Cooper’s surgery,” Jamison said.

Beth Harbin, an assistant teacher at Bovina, organized a prayer vigil to surround the Jamisons the night before Cooper’s surgery.

“My mother had the same kind of tumor that Cooper had, and I know the emotional strain it can put on you. And the Jamisons are such a beautiful, Christian family,” Harbin said. “I knew it would help if they knew we were surrounding them in prayer.”

Nicole Gilmer organized a supportive send off the day the family left for his surgery in August.

(photo by Tiffany Jamison)

 

“We had people lined up from his house all the way to Clinton with balloons and signs. There were fire trucks and cars decked out on the side of the roads and on the overpasses cheering Cooper on,” Gilmer said. “I just wanted them to know how many people were praying for them and hopefully add a good memory to a very scary day.”

Cooper’s family is amazed and grateful for the outpouring of support from his school family.

(photo by Tiffany Jamison)

“I hate to leave anyone out because we really felt the love from every single person at Bovina,” Tiffany Jamison said. “It’s overwhelming when you think of how they all came together for our family. The sweet cafeteria ladies even tell us how much they love Cooper and are praying for him.

“Even now, while Cooper is recuperating, the whole school is still showering us with love and support. There is not one person at Bovina who hasn’t shown us love.”

As Cooper continues to improve, his mother feels blessed to have the connection to his school.

“Bovina is family,” Jamison said. “It is an incredible feeling to know that when you drop your children off at school, they’re receiving so much more than academics. At Bovina, they are receiving genuine love.”

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Education

Good things in small, identical packages at Bovina Elementary

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Amanda Gordon and Alisa Harvey (photo courtesy)

It’s long been said that good things come in small packages, and at Bovina Elementary School this phrase is proven true.

Amanda Gordon and Alisa Harvey are identical twins who both teach at Bovina. Amanda is a first grade teacher and her sister Alisa teaches kindergarten. They both stand a diminutive 4 feet, 7 inches tall.

“Teaching lower elementary was perfect for us considering we aren’t much taller than the average 6-year-old,” Gordon said with a laugh.

“Our mother was an assistant teacher and my mother-in-law, Candis Harvey, was a life-long educator,” Harvey added. “The importance of education and good educators has always been ingrained in us.”

As for the sisters teaching at the same school, it was somewhat intentional.

“Alisa started at Bovina when it first opened back up. That year, my daughter was the first student enrolled. Her lunch number was one,” Gordon said. “I wasn’t working that year, but when I saw how great Bovina was destined to be, I really wanted to go back to teaching and be a part of it.”

“When a kindergarten position opened up, I told Amanda, and she interviewed for the position and got it!” Harvey said. “Being together wasn’t so much intentional as it was a blessing. We never fight, and it’s great knowing that she’s close if we need each other.”

As for being confused for each other, “The kids find it very easy to tell us apart. It’s the adults that have the most trouble,” Gordon said. “For example, we have had parents of a child that is in Alisa’s room come to my room and ask where their child is, and I’ll tell them that I don’t have a child by that name in my class. This parent got very concerned until we figured out they were in Alisa’s room.”

Harvey added, “Out in public, we are getting hugs from parents [and] we have no clue who they are. We know that they have confused us with each other. Often we just hug and smile, so things won’t be awkward.”

Asked if they ever played tricks on people, “One time we went into each other’s classroom and pretended to be the other one,” Harvey said, .”The students were a little confused but figured it out pretty quickly.”

Gordon said working with her twin has many advantages.

“It’s kind of strange. I wouldn’t say that we can feel something the other person is feeling but if one of us is sad, upset or angry, we always know how to help the other out,” she said. “For example, we unintentionally got pregnant four weeks apart. We helped each other a lot during the pregnancies and after. It was such a blessing.”

“We often finish each other’s sentences and know what each other are thinking,” Harvey added. “We can just help each other without even asking what each other needs.

“When in college, we got accused of cheating, and we still would have the same answers. The teacher apologized later.”

Gordon agrees that being a twin is blessing.

“It means a lot that we can work, play, and go to church together and still never argue,” she said. “We love being able to walk across the hall just when we need advice or help without judgement. It is also nice to have someone to be able to just go to and hardly say anything, but they always seem to understand.”

The sisters are proof that the old saying should be changed to “Good things come in small, identical packages.”

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