We check in regularly with our friends at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science (MSMS). They’ve always got something new and impressive to report. They always spur us to think big-picture about the young people of today, the potential of education, and even the state of Mississippi.
Here is what we’ve learned recently and are sharing through two short podcasts. One is about and by an MSMS student on what the Jackson MS water crisis means to young people living through it. The other about and by an MSMS teacher on how he approaches teaching fraught topics in American history.
A quick recap: MSMS is a Governors School, a two-year tuition-free residential public school, drawing students from all over Mississippi, assembling a true melting pot of kids from privilege and hardship and in between. Here’s an overview of the school from an early visit.
At MSMS, the curriculum that comes from the name – a school for mathematics and science – is equally matched with stellar courses in humanities and social sciences. We’ve written for nine years about English teacher Thomas Easterling, and about his compelling literature classes, writing classes (along with creative writing teacher Emma Richardson), and podcasting projects.
We’ve also written about Chuck Yarborough, and his civic projects of Tales from the Crypt and The 8th of May Emancipation Day Celebration. These are two hands-on efforts that reach into the home community of Columbus MS, attracting hundreds of residents to performances by MSMS students in two of the town’s cemeteries. We were honored to have Chuck’s students on stage at the Hall of Philosophy at a summer program of the august Chautauqua Institution in 2019. Not surprisingly to us, the students captivated the audience.
What’s new for you right now is the 2023 NPR grand prize high school student podcast winner from among 3000 entries in its 5th annual Student Podcast Challenge. This was Georgianna McKenny, recognized for her story about the water crisis in the state capital of Jackson and what it means to the lives of young people. In this recording, you’ll hear Georgianna talk with NPR about some of the background on the podcast and you’ll hear her winning podcast as well.
What‘s also new is a podcast between Chuck Yarborough and poet Dwayne Betts, for an Emerson Collective podcast program. This isn’t just another podcast. We are particularly moved by the candor and vulnerability voiced from these two acclaimed, celebrated people. Chuck talks about how he has been teaching American history, right now, right here in the American South. “I try to create spaces where students can engage with difficult topics, in an environment where they can be honest and where all they are going to be met with is love,” Chuck says.
These are just tips of the MSMS iceberg of inventive programs that guide kids to heights they never even knew were there. MSMS is a gift from Mississippi to the country, and a lesson and model for secondary education.
There’s another model just down the road from MSMS. That is the Communiversity, the workforce technical training campus of the East Mississippi Community College (EMCC). During one of our early visits Raj Shaunuk of EMCC talked about world-changing educational opportunities for students who were “just one flat-tire away” from lives and life-plans imploding. His comments entirely disarmed Jim and me and the HBO crew during filming for the documentary, Our Towns. His wind up was a challenge to the rest of the country: “If it can happen here, in the poorest of all states …” You can see his HBO clip here.