Children first: All day, every day

Published 4:30 am Sunday, August 6, 2017

By David Creel

You could just feel it in the air in Vicksburg all week. Something special was coming.

Wednesday night, under the light of the glorious chandeliers at Duff Green Mansion, with most of the glitterati of Vicksburg and a few folks like me assembled, I finally understood precisely what is coming:  a better day, a better life, for the children of Vicksburg and Warren County through an unprecedented new partnership with Ford Next Generation Learning.

I hated school and could very easily have been a statistic among those labeled “drop out,” were it not for the insistence of parents who would simply not allow that to happen. What, I ask myself and you today, about those masses of young people with absent parents or caregivers not as privileged or persistent as mine? I have always heard the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. This I know: Teach the same curriculum in the same old ways, keep telling students instead of showing them, and the somber statistics will continue to grow.

If that happens, here’s the hard truth. Our children will not have failed us; we will have failed them, as Mississippi’s K-12 educational system very nearly failed me many years ago.

No longer, not in Vicksburg anyway.

Before routine diagnosis of issues such as Attention Deficit Disorder, before teachers were taught that there is more than one learning style, before bullying was called out as the ugly thing it is and was instead celebrated as a way to make “different’ children conform, high school was a living hell for children like David Creel. We were truant when we could figure out how to be and, frankly, just as absent of purpose when we were there.

I listened Wednesday night as the executive director of Ford Next Generation Learning talked about something called “career academies,” and not to be melodramatic, for a moment I felt tears well up in my eyes. She described a method of teaching, putting the children and their interests at the center of their education, teaching them abstract concepts in hands-on ways with real-life applications to their career interests.

Folks, that’s how the game in changing here in Vicksburg. We have joined about 25 other communities chosen nationwide, the first in Mississippi, and we are going to kick into an even higher gear the educational reforms Chad Shealy and his team are implementing every day. I finally understood what I have been hearing about on the margins for a while now. Simply put, we are going to put our children first, and by doing so, we are going to transform this community from the inside out.

I know that Vicksburg is a mighty special place. We went away for a while, and how often does a community welcome you back with open arms, just as loving and supportive as if you never left? Not often, but that’s apparently how we roll in Vicksburg.

Count me among those who are proud and humbled to be here, and ready to roll up my sleeves to support this new approach to teaching and learning — children first, all day, every day.

David Creel is a Vicksburg resident and syndicated columnist. You may reach him at beautifulwithdavid@gmail.com.