River City off to a strong first year

Published 10:34 am Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Vicksburg’s newly formed third public high school received some high praise from two of its students Tuesday during a meeting of the Vicksburg Kiwanis club.

“We have so much more freedom. Our voices are heard. It’s made sure that we know we are being heard and that we matter—and that what we want and what we need matters,” River City Early College High School ninth grader Jacob Storey said. “Within the course of a week, I had a family. I don’t have friends there. I have a complete family.”

Ninth grader Bianna Hamlin echoed his sentiments.

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“Because it’s so new and the fact that she (the principal) was able to pick such wonderful people, you can make the decisions at the school but within reason,” she said. “I came this close to not doing it, but I’m so glad that I did.”

River City Early College High School, housed in a building on the Hinds Community College Vicksburg-Warren Campus, enrolled its first 60 students this year to create its first ninth grade class. The high school offers students the ability to take college courses as part of their high school curriculum at no cost.

“I would have jumped at this chance when I was in high school,” principal Tammy Burris said. “You’re taking college classes as a junior and senior, and it’s free of charge. That’s really really cool for them to be able to do that. Some of them may graduate with two-year degrees, some might have transferable credit, some of them might want to go into welding. Everything is open.”

The students will take all the typical classes of ninth- and 10th-grade students during their first two years plus one additional college class each semester, she said, noting the college professors come to their classrooms to teach the first two years.

During students’ junior and senior years, they will branch out and be able to take college courses along with community college students.

“The great benefit of our school is the power of place. You can’t do this if you don’t have a community college in your town,” Burris said. “The other great thing is my staff. I was able to hand pick my staff. That’s the best thing I have going for me—my phenomenal staff. And I get to hire additional staff. They don’t need a chemistry teacher yet but when they do, I’ll hire a chemistry teacher.”

Both Storey and Hamlin credited one of those staff members, guidance counselor Marian Richardson, with convincing them to take a leap of faith and enroll in the new high school.

“She changed my mind in five minutes,” Hamlin said.

“This school is full of people who want to do,” Richardson said. “Every single day is full of something that’s new.”

Richardson said she will work closely with those enrolled currently and each group of 60 that will be enrolled in the future to determine a student’s interest and what Hinds offers that is transferable.

“Let’s say Jacob wants to go into underwater nuclear science at Penn State. We’ll get the Penn State handbook and so will the Hinds guidance counselor,” she said. “We find out what he can take that will transfer, so Hinds is very much involved.”

Richardson also explained the Friday Focus days that make the high school unique.

Each Friday the school invites speakers in, takes a field trip or visits a local business.

“We try to give back to them a little of the extracurriculars they’re missing,” she said, noting they do not offer sports, band or other common extras such as art classes or music classes at the high school. “We’re out and about in the community.”

The students did note they are in the begining process of adding a few extracurricular-like groups though.

“If we do want to have something extra like running or art, Mrs. Richardson is always like, ‘Go for it.’ And I think that’s the way to go about it,” Storey said. “We are starting a mural committee for a large blank space behind our school, and we may even start a podcast. We can do almost anything. The sky isn’t even the limit.”