Mission Acceleration: Program helping Vicksburg children to excel in reading searching for college volunteers

Published 3:54 pm Wednesday, July 14, 2021

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, many students began to fall behind in school as they left the classroom to stay safe by learning at home.

Mission Acceleration is a program across Mississippi that was started to combat the gaps in children’s reading education and get them back on track following months of remote education. Five communities were selected for the pilot session this summer, including Vicksburg.

The in-person and virtual hybrid model program services children in Kindergarten through fifth grade. The students are partnered with an academic guide, a Mississippi college student, to be tutored using a scripted curriculum intended for tier-2 instruction within a classroom setting.

“We realize COVID-19 caused quite a disarray when it comes to schooling,” Director of Mission Acceleration Ashley Sheils said. “So many of our children left the classrooms in March of 2020 and some of them still haven’t returned.”

Sheils said the program had great success this summer and is expanding for the next session in the fall.

“In Vicksburg, many of our students were coming in below baseline, and we are already seeing many of these students start to connect the dots,” Sheils said.

The children within the program are identified through their school district partners by seeing which students are struggling in reading and, ideally, prioritizing those who would otherwise have difficulty securing tutors outside or within their home due to financial reasons. The program is meant to give them an extra boost for students outside of the classroom.

Michele Connelly, Director of United Way of West Central Mississippi, said this program was a Godsend for the community to provide another way to help students within the Vicksburg-Warren School District after Warren County’s language arts proficiency rating came back at a level three risk this year.

“I truly believe that anything we can do in collaboration with the Vicksburg Warren School District to fill any gaps that a child may have in the learning journey is of extreme importance,” Connelly said.

This summer, the program consisted of 30 academic guides each helping between four and five students. The program is looking to expand that number to 250 guides as it adds Hattiesburg and Gulfport to the already existing program communities of Vicksburg, Jackson, Tupelo, Starkville and Oxford. Once the 250 guides are added, the program will be able to serve 1,000 students in Mississippi.

For this to be possible, the program is asking college students to apply to be academic guides. Any college student in Mississippi with a GPA of 3.25 or higher can apply regardless of their school. The selected students will receive a $1,000 stipend for each semester. They will work 12-15 hours a week helping students with their reading.

Currently, eight Mississippi universities are represented in the program through the academic guides. One of them, Andrea Milton, attends the University of Mississippi and is a biology major. She is originally from Jackson and said in an educational video about the program that she personally came from a school that was often behind in reading levels.

“When I heard about a program such as this where they help students who may not have access to that help, I immediately knew that I should sign up to help,” Milton said in the video. “I absolutely love teaching them because it really reminds me of some of my classmates when we were younger.”

Sheils said the program is meant to not only help students with their reading skills but also to build in emotional and social aspects by keeping the academic guides paired with the same students every week.

“They can build those relationships with those students,” Sheils said. “It works to be mutually beneficial so they can both count on each other.”

College students who are interested can apply at this link.