/It’s Lit’ Jackson schools, Tougaloo team up to give high-potential students a head start on college

It’s Lit’ Jackson schools, Tougaloo team up to give high-potential students a head start on college

Mississippi News Nonprofit On Friday morning, Tougaloo College was quiet. Students huddled around their laptops as they searched for salaries for their dream jobs. A smattering future nurses, archaeologists and NBA players filled the room. They collectively gasped as they entered their salaries into an income tax calculator to find out how much Uncle Sam would take from their paychecks. This exercise was part a college- and career-preparation class that the ninth graders of the Early College High School program in Jackson Public School District participated in. The inaugural class was a partnership between Tougaloo College and the district. It has 44 students who can complete high school with either an associate’s or two-year college credit. Parents and students voted to name Michelle Obama Early College High school at an orientation session. However, the school board has yet to officially approve the change. Principal Chinelo Evans interviewed parents and students about their interest in attending the school. She said that students from wealthy families and those who were the first to go to college received priority. Evans and her staff have two goals: to provide high-quality education for all students and to help them realize their full potential upon graduation. Early colleges are a way for students to be exposed to higher education, both nationally and locally. “They are for students with a lot of academic potential, but may thrive in smaller settings and have additional supports,” Nathan Oakley, chief academic officer at the Mississippi Department of Education, said. Oakley stated that the state is standardizing the opening of these types of schools. The schools are showing positive results, according to supporters. Mississippi’s first graduating class from early college will be at Golden Triangle Early College High School in May 2019. This school opened in 2015. Both the Coahoma Early College High School and Natchez Early College Academy are younger and serve students from their respective districts. According to state testing data, some early colleges show a high percentage of students exceeding or meeting their grade level expectations. The state average is 15 points higher at the Natchez and Golden Triangle schools. 60 percent of students scored proficiently or advanced in English II assessments. On Algebra I, 41.5 % of students at the Golden Triangle and 46.5 % of Natchez were proficient or advanced. This is on par with the 46.6 % state average. Twenty percent of Coahoma Early College students were proficient in English or advanced, and 21.6 were proficient in or advanced with algebra. Like the other early college programs, Jackson will be taking the same assessments as traditional public school students. Evans says the school is a good option for students looking for a new approach to high school. Evans stated that these students might have reacted negatively to school, not knowing how they would fit in. They may feel like they are not suited for school or in danger of dropping out. “So it’s really a mechanism to determine if we offer the opportunity and increased support, can students who might not normally go to college go?” Freshman Carlin Nickels, 14, said that he was interested in attending the school because he wanted rigorous high school experiences. Nichols stated that “most of my life, most curriculums I have been taking, have not… met my brain power.” “I wanted something to challenge my brain, something which would make me smarter than using what I already know,” Delores Jackson, his classmate, stated. But, she was determined to go because she wanted to attend the school. To distinguish themselves from Tougaloo students, JPS students must follow the district’s dress code. They must also wear their identification badges everywhere. It would have been a great experience. Even though we wouldn’t get the typical high school experience, it would make us more successful in our lives. The 14-year old said that that is all that matters to her. Evans stated that the school accepts up to 50 students each year and the average class size this year is 11. Jackson stated that the school’s small class size makes it easier to ask questions and get answers. “It’s nine people, so it’s easy to make good relationships.” Jackson’s parents, who are teachers, said that they have noticed their daughter’s excitement about going to school. Her mother, Phyllis Sanders, said that while there are students who want to do more, sometimes they need a smaller learning environment to be successful. Douglas Sanders, her father, said that knowing that his daughter doesn’t have boredom is exciting. Students begin one college course per semester, starting with a class that first-year Tougaloo students take. Students take one to two college classes each semester in 10th grade. They also complete most of their high school coursework, so their final two years can be devoted to college. These requirements will be followed and a student will receive an associate’s degree from Tougaloo. Two years of college credit can also be used towards a bachelor’s degree. The program is staffed by four teachers, a counselor lead, and an intervention specialist. Bianca Garner is Tougaloo’s vice president of academic affairs and provost. She said that professors will teach the courses as usual, but that students in the early college have access to tutoring and mentoring. Garner stated that the fees for Tougaloo courses are paid by the early college in a memorandum. The program is housed in the Owens Health and Wellness Center, on campus. Tougaloo may provide a permanent location. Teachers decorate their temporary spaces in the same way as their colleagues from the district — they cover the walls with colorful construction paper, charts, and signs to keep students interested. A chalkboard in the English classroom features large block letters reading “It’s Liter!” A collection of books are available for students to borrow from the chalkboard’s ledge. Every morning, students ride JPS school buses to campus. Evans explained that students begin their day with a homeroom period, where they have breakfast in the classroom before socializing and learning about the school day. Students attend four classes per day Monday through Thursday on an alternate schedule. On Flex Fridays, students can hear from guest speakers and take field trips. Evans said that although such tasks might seem small to students, they help them think about their future goals. Evans stated that the time is flexible and it’s not about the book or the internet but about the real world. Evans said that she wanted to help students be better prepared for internships that could lead them to permanent jobs, or allow them to start their own businesses. Evans is a long-standing resident of the district. She saw the school as an opportunity to do what she loves and return to the classroom. “I love school! Evans stated that Evans truly loves school. This is what gives me my life. It was difficult for me to be away from school every day. Evans stated, “I believe education is a tool for improving economic development in Jackson and Mississippi.” “The more we can do with these students to help them understand how they fit into that economic development process, then the better our community will be.”