Thursday, September 16, 2010
Wicker highlights successful education programs
By U.S. Senator
As students returned to school for a new year, some news coverage focused on the weaknesses of the American education system. While there is a critical need to improve our education system, it is important that we also recognize some of the successful programs in our backyard. Over the last several weeks, I have had the opportunity to visit several Mississippi schools and education centers working to improve the lives of students.
Early Intervention Key to Child’s Success
I visited the Magnolia Speech School (MSS) in Jackson, to see firsthand the work being done to help children with communication disorders. MSS prepares children with deafness and language impairment for integration into society. Recognizing the importance of early intervention, MSS offers hearing evaluations, hearing aid maintenance, and cochlear implant rehabilitation for children up to 36 months old. The school’s individual therapy and customized curriculum has helped provide a voice for hundreds of children in a verbal world.
The 3-D School in Petal, is another school changing the lives of students every day. The small-group dyslexia therapy and individual attention from teachers have enabled students to improve significantly their reading and comprehension skills. As a result, a number of students from the 3-D School have been able to return to mainstream schools. The work at both the Magnolia School and the 3-D School are just some of the examples of the programs our state has to offer to help address the special needs of children at an early age.
Investing in Advanced Education Programs
Recent studies have indicated that Americans are falling behind other countries in math and sciences. U.S. students rank 19th in math and 14th in science out of 31 countries according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Such results have placed an urgent need for improvement in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said, “If we’re going to be economically competitive and continue to innovate and create jobs, we have to get much, much better in STEM education.”
It is important that we focus on improving STEM education so we can develop a highly educated workforce to help us grow our economy. The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science (MSMS) is a remarkable high school that is meeting this challenge. MSMS provides students with innovative learning experiences and college extension opportunities to help them reach their highest potential.
During a recent visit, I could not help thinking that some of the children in the room may go on to develop the next groundbreaking health care technology that saves lives or invent the next type of computer that changes the way we do business. These students are the future leaders of Mississippi and our country, and it is critical that we continue to invest in STEM education.
Improving our Dropout Rate
Although our state is a leader in providing programs for children with learning disabilities as well as academically gifted students, we have had significant challenges with dropout rates among our mainstream schools. The Mississippi Department of Education recently announced that the dropout rate for the Class of 2009 was 16.7 percent. There are many prevention programs underway in Mississippi that could help us meet the state’s goal to reduce the dropout rate to 13 percent by 2013.
One exciting program is the Studio School Dropout Prevention Program developed by Mississippi State University. Studio schools are designed to get the attention of at-risk students and those who have failed grades or refused to attend classes. The concept of the studio schools is to have students researching projects of their choosing while instructors integrate key learning concepts. The pilot program has seen promising results among seventh and eighth grade at-risk students, and we hope to continue to expand it to more districts.
Investing in our Future
Early intervention programs for children with learning and communication disorders, advanced training for academically gifted children, and creative curriculum for at-risk students are some of the many diverse ways our state is working to improve the lives of our children. As a community, state, and country, we need to work together to ensure that we are providing the leaders of tomorrow with the skills and tools needed to succeed as citizens.
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