Guest from Mississippi First Motivates Students to Improve Their Schools

sanford-johnsonLast week during our Summer Youth Institute, students received a master class in the state of Mississippi education from Sanford Johnson, deputy advocacy director of Mississippi First, a non-profit organization specializing in education policy.

Johnson explained for the 27 high schoolers the negative impacts of unequal education, and how those impacts affect our state’s economy, the health of its citizenry, and the democratic process.

“Education is the civil rights issue of our era,” said Johnson, “and there are many lessons we can take from the civil rights movement to apply to the modern movement for education.” He encouraged students to set clear goals, use local and outside resources, and prioritize the movement as a whole over individual acknowledgment in their local efforts.

Mississippi must address school districts that are underfunded and chronically failing, Johnson said. In the past two decades, Mississippi has taken over 15 districts for causes including substandard academic performance and mismanagement of funds, and at least 50 additional schools have been flagged eligible for takeovers in the upcoming school year.

The majority of students enrolled in these conservatorship school districts are African American.

Johnson asked students to evaluate their schools. “Your schools are always grading you,” he said. “Why aren’t you grading them?” An SYI participant from Guntown, Miss., who attends Baldwyn High School, gave her school an “F” because the students do not spend enough time being taught in class and their textbooks are outdated.

Johnson encouraged students to ask questions of their school systems and to raise their voices. During a debrief session, SYIers discussed plans to reach out to their administrators and to begin grassroots efforts to improve their schools.

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