/Greenville schools, Mississippi Valley partner to break down college access barriers

Greenville schools, Mississippi Valley partner to break down college access barriers

Nonprofit Mississippi News Greenville – Quincy Wilson says the daily 5:45 a.m. get up is well worth it. Wilson, a freshman at Greenville Public Early College High school, boards the bus at 6:45 every morning and is dropped off at Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena 40 minutes later. Wilson stated that the nearly one-hour bus ride was possible to do homework on the bus. Wilson is one of 26 high school students who will be spending their high school years on MSVU’s campus, taking college and high school courses. He could have up to two years of college credit by the time he finishes high school. “I chose it because it was a great opportunity. Wilson stated that she wanted to go to college early so that she could get a head start. Greenville Public Early College High School, one of two state-funded early college programs this year, is located at Tougaloo College. This partnership is the first between a local school district, and a public four year university. “I believe (the partnership is) very important because a lot our students leave and go to MVSU. Janice Page, Greenville Public Schools Superintendent, said that it was a great honor to be able partner with them and allow students to come out so they can enter Valley as a sophomore. These schools are part of the Mississippi Department of Education’s efforts to create innovative schools and districts. MDE Bureau Director for Innovation and Accelerated Programs Dana Bullard stated that these schools were established in areas where there was a need to provide innovative education and meet the needs of students. Bullard stated that if many of our students are not attending college, and they see a need for it [then] they will try to find innovative ways to get these students back in the education system. Most of these students are not involved in any kind of sports, band, or other activities and don’t feel connected to the school. They may be at risk of dropping out.” Greenville Public Schools had the fourth-highest dropout rate in the state during the 2017-18 schoolyear, with 22.7 per cent dropping out of its 4,877 student population. Title I funds are available to all schools in the district, which goes to low-income schools. Ten of the 10 district schools reported that 100% of their students are from low-income families. Akin Elementary School, Greenville High School, and Greenville High School report that 91 percent and 84 respectively of their students come from low-income families. The accountability score of the district rose from an F in 2016-17 to a D last year. The median household income in Greenville, a town of 32,600, is $27,344 according to Census data. Greenville is home to approximately 80 percent African Americans and 20 percent of the white population. The school district is 98% African-American. Bullard stated that this program is targeted at students who are first-generation college students. Bullard said that many times these students graduate high school but don’t make the transition to college. This is not because they aren’t prepared for it, but because they don’t know how to do so. Bullard stated that their knowledge of college campuses is limited, especially in rural areas. Rural areas are plagued by isolation and lack of access rigorous coursework. According to a recent Center for Public Education study, rural districts are often isolated and denied access to rigorous coursework. In 2015, 95 percent of suburban students had access, while 73 percent of rural students did not have the same access. Bullard stated that transportation is a major factor in this situation. “Those children have to travel a long distance to be able to access the same courses as those who live in suburban or urban areas. This means that transportation costs are a larger part of rural schools’ budgets, which puts additional pressure on rural districts. To determine how much state money each district will receive, the state’s education funding formula takes into account enrollment and local revenue. Rural schools have lower property taxes and students, so they are likely to have smaller budgets. In rural areas, nine of the top ten districts with the lowest overall funding were found according to state revenue figures for 2016-2017. According to Eddie Anderson, director of Delta Area Association of Improvement of Schools, this combination of lower transportation costs and smaller budgets makes accessing high-level courses more difficult for rural students. “Most of the districts in our region are currently on survival mode. When you are in survival mode, you take care of what is important to you. I will only do the things I have to, even if I don’t have the money. Anderson stated that schools are at a point where there are no dollars. He said that Cleveland students have Delta State right here to work with. But, if they’re from Humphreys County, where are their children going? MSVU covered the bus expenses in Greenville’s instance. The school district provides the bus for the children’s transportation to and from school, and the university pays the driver’s salary. Page stated that this agreement is a great benefit to the school district. Our bus fleet is one of the areas we are looking to improve. We are working to have the busses that we need to operate our regular route. We want to ensure that our bus route is still available. If we had to pull a bus to Valley, it would be possible but it would be too stressful and tight.” Page stated. Rural students are also unable to access high-level courses due to the critical teacher shortage, which is worsened in the Delta. Greenville Public Schools District had one uncertified teacher last school year. This made it one of the most uncertified districts in the state. However, this number can be much higher in other Delta school districts. For example, at Holmes County School District, 34% of the teaching staff wasn’t certified last year. The classes cannot be taught if the educators are not properly certified. Greenville Public Early College High School principal Pamela Ward said, “We have staff who teaches dual enrollment classes, but I would imagine in a lot more rural schools they might not have that chance.” Both properly-certified high school teachers are available to teach the students in the early college programs. They can also be able to direct college courses. Bullard stated that programs like these bring Mississippi students more options in their education. Bullard stated that “we want them to be able to choose what they do after high school.” “And they will have a meaningful experience in highschool.” This story was shared with Alexandra Watts, Mississippi Public Broadcasting reporter. Watts is a Report for America Corps. MPB member, who joined MPB this Summer to cover important issues in the Delta. Next week, MPB will broadcast a radio version of the story. Report for America, a journalism initiative, places young journalists in local newsrooms across the country. Mississippi Today’s ongoing series, Newsroom from The Taproom – Mary Margaret White, Executive Director of Report for America will moderate a panel discussion featuring Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons on Oct. 19, at 4:30 pm at the Mighty Mississippi Brewing Company. Mayor Simmons will be joined at the Mighty Mississippi Brewing Company in Greenville by Alexandra Watts, Mississippi Today reporter Kelsey Davis and Jon Dolperdang, Greenville Renaissance Scholars CEO. Doors open at 4:00 p.m.