Much of the news we hear these days about public education in Mississippi has been discouraging.
Fights over school funding, policies, testing, even desegregation — just last week, a federal judge ruled that the schools in Cleveland, Mississippi, still haven’t complied with federal desegregation laws passed more than 60 years ago.
Teachers are asked to do more with less and when the Mississippi Department of Education releases its “report cards” on our schools each fall, our anticipation is more dread than excitement. And, of course, we are regularly reminded that our state falls well behind the others in educating our children.
Yet each spring, something remarkably encouraging happens. Our local high schools graduate hundreds of students, and many of those will now head to college where they will continue their education, some with great distinction.
This year, we are pleased to note that our area has produced some of the most promising young scholars in the nation. It seems to happen every year — when prestigious scholarships are awarded, there always seem to be some “homegrown” scholars on the list.
This year, three areas students were awarded prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarships. The Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) Program, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was established in 1999 to provide outstanding students of color with an opportunity to complete an undergraduate college education in any discipline area of interest. Continuing Gates Millennium Scholars may request funding for a graduate degree program in one of the following discipline areas: computer science, education, engineering, library science, mathematics, public health or science.
Earlier this month, two Columbus High seniors — Taylor Carter and Shelby Jones — were chosen as recipients for Gates Scholarship, joining West Lowndes High senior Jay Little in that distinction. Nation-wide, the scholarships were awarded to 1,000 students.
This week, the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selected Nathaniel Barlow, a senior at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus. Barlow is among 160 high school seniors nationwide who were selected on the basis of their accomplishments in many areas — academic and artistic success, leadership, and involvement in school and the community — and represent excellence in education.
Created in 1964, the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program has honored close to 7,000 of the nation’s top-performing students with the prestigious award given to honorees during the annual ceremony in D.C.
Meanwhile, another former MSMS student, Ericka Wheeler, was named a Rhodes Scholar. The Millsaps College graduate is the first black woman from Mississippi to claim the prestigious honor and is one of one of just 32 U.S. men and women who will enter Oxford University next fall for postgraduate study.
Certainly, these young men and women have excelled, but they are hardly alone. This year, millions of dollars in scholarships will go to graduates from our schools throughout the Golden Triangle.
Hundreds of others will also pursue a college education.
They are reminders that, although serious challenges and obstacles remain, it is possible to achieve a quality education in our schools.
We should draw inspiration from these students and renew our commitment to making sure that a quality education is available for every student.
When the inevitable “bad news” about education resumes, we would do well to remember that so many of our young students have proven more than equal to the challenges.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.