Get on feet, off seat, education chief urges
By Woody Woodrick
Changes needed in Mississippi’s education system can’t be made solely in the classroom, the state’s top educator says.
“Each of us must think about how we can go back to our individual congregations and spread the message that changing Mississippi won’t happen if we only do it in the classroom,” Dr. Hank Bounds told about 200 people who attended a Children’s Sabbath Oct. 15 at Anderson United Methodist Church.
Bounds urged those attending to get involved in the education of all children. “We need to have an off-seat and on-feet mentality,” he said. “Parents and communities who demand good schools have good schools.”
Bounds was the keynote speaker at the event, sponsored by Congregations for Children, an ecumenical child-advocacy group led primarily by the United Methodist, Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches in Mississippi. The service included participation of children and adults from a variety of faith communities.
“We all come together today to say under one God creator, we all love children,” said Angie Williams, children’s ministry coordinator at Parkway Hills United Methodist Church in Madison and a member of the service planning team.
“We give thanks that Dr. Bounds has been appointed at this particular time in the life of our state,” said Bishop Hope Morgan Ward as she introduced Bounds. “We give thanks for the leadership his is bringing around full funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Plan, around teacher salary increases, around pilots for pre-K in Mississippi so our children will be better prepared for entry into public schools and for redesigned high schools so we no longer have 30 percent of our students dropping out before they graduate.”
Bounds talked about the many statistics that place Mississippi as the worst in the nation. He pointed to how closely tied education and poverty statistics are. He said one other glaring issue is how children in poverty are the least prepared for school. He cited his own childhood as an example
“I came from the poverty level, and I can’t remember one time my parents reading to me,” he said. “It’s not about not loving a child. It’s that parents don’t know about what it takes for their child to be successful.”
Bound named several issues he sees as key to improving Mississippi’s education system:
- Teachers. He said Mississippi needs more teachers and for all teachers to have appropriate skills and training.
- Administrators. He said this area is also one lacking in quantity and preparation.
- Culture. He pointed out Mississippi is often first in areas where it shouldn’t be, including childhood obesity, teen pregnancy, etc.
- High school design. High school is often irrelevant to students, Bounds said. He said 80 percent of high school dropouts nationwide are passing their courses, and a significant percentage of high school dropouts score among the highest on the ACT and SAT exams.
Bound said it is his hope to see a newspaper headline 10 years from now that reads: “Mississippi reduces dropout rate by 50 percent.” Mississippi currently has a drop-out rate of 30 percent, and only 58 percent of those who start ninth grade ever receive a diploma.
“Don’t leave here and not get involved,” said Bounds, who attends Jackson’s Christ UMC. “If you do, the headline will read that Mississippi still has a drop-out problem.”
Several children took part in the service. The Anderson Youth Choir provided opening music, while choirs from Trinity UMC in Marks, Central UMC in Jackson and a group of Muslim children all sang. Children read scripture from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths.
Following the service, a workshop was held to instruct those interested in joining Congregations for Children. Churches involved agree to observe Children’s Sabbath, attend a children’s advocacy workshop and help advocate for children by contacting legislators and other elected officials on children’s issues.