Brandon High School - Pandemic Partnership Response

Brandon High School (Rankin County School District) with multiple community partners. This project implemented the Mississippi Department of Education’s Teacher Academy program.

Like many other states, Mississippi is facing yet another year of teacher shortages. On September 15th of 2021, Tate Reeves released a task force report on the Mississippi teacher shortage and its impact on our economic future. According to this report, “Up to 45% of teachers in the South leave the field before completing their fifth year in the classroom... They cite many reasons for the departure that include poor working conditions, lack of support, overwhelming stress, and inadequate pay and benefits.”

In order to combat the recruitment and retention issues facing the teaching field in our state, we partnered with the Mississippi Department of Education and implemented the Teacher Academy program. According to the Mississippi Department of Education, the “Grow Your Own” Teacher incentive program was designed to “ensure equitable access to effective teachers for all students, especially students of color and those from low-income households, the MDE convened a task force to explore Grow-Your-Own (GYO) strategies that could positively impact teacher recruitment, preparation, and retention in Mississippi’s hard-to-staff school districts.” Brandon High School, one of our goals is to ensure our Teacher Academy is extremely successful. We strive to maintain strong partnerships between community members and our school
including our Teacher Academy. Community partnerships and relationships are key to the success of ANY program or group. When Brandon High School teacher academy was created, we decided that a community partnership would be vital to the success of our program, school, and community. Since our inception, we have been extremely fortunate to have engaging partners as classroom guest speakers and leaders. One of the main goals of Brandon High School’s teacher academy is to show future educators the importance of teaching, (whether it’s inside or outside of the classroom.) Another important goal of our academy is to show students the importance of school-community relationships.

Some of our “in house/BHS” guest speakers and built-in partners were Clay Garner and Pam Smith. Pam Smith is Brandon High School’s Student Services Coordinator, and she has done numerous activities with my classes this year and is an integral part of our academy. Pam’s versatility keeps my students engaged because she has worked with every grade except kindergarten. Her perspective is different from mine because she’s taught elementary school. One of my favorite Mrs. Smith quotes is, “You must learn
something every single day...if not, you’re moving backwards.” My students say this a lot when they learn something and say, “It’s like Mrs. Pam says...” This shows that the students are completely engaged in what Mrs. Pam says.

Clay Garner completed his master’s in educational leadership from Ole Miss. Mr. Garner comes by often and says, “Live your life so that when others think of excellence they think of you.” He has taught grades 6-12. He is a master in biology, AP biology, biology 2, ACT science prep, middle school science, and physical education. Mr. Garner always tells my students, “Your legacy won’t be about your success, it will be about your significance and the impact you made on others.” I feel that quote sums up the goal of community partnerships.

Some of our elementary guest speakers/partners were Adonya McLaurin, assistant principal at Rouse
Elementary; Lacey Kuyrkendall, head principal at Rouse Elementary; Angela Nichols, head principal at
Stonebridge Elementary; Melanie Wells, assistant principal at Stonebridge Elementary. Our elementary
school liaisons have been vital community partners this year, as our BHS students have experienced/will
continue to experience countless field hours at these affiliate schools. Lacey Kuyrkendall, who is the head
Write a thorough narrative summary of your partnership project. *

principal at Rouse spoke to my students about the importance of education in our state (Oct 26, 2021.) Mrs. Kuyrkendall has been instrumental in helping my teacher academy students become successful through field experiences. Mrs. Kuyrkendall said, “Remember that you are part of a system. Get to know everyone in
your school and build relationships with them. Work hard and be the person every teacher wants to recommend for the next open position in their building.” She also said, “ if you’re a’re not “just a teacher.” You’re a momma, daddy, counselor, doctor, lawyer, and a teacher.” Her advice to these future teachers was to “make connections with kids and love them unconditionally.” That really stuck with my students. This is a great example of knowledge that could only come from a community partnership! Another, veteran teacher, Adonya McLaurin, assistant principal at Rouse Elementary, explained the “ins and outs” of elementary teacher life and has been and will continue to be a positive influence on my teacher academy students this and the last three academic years.

While enjoying our field experiences at Stonebridge Elementary, we partner with Angela Nichols, the head principal and the assistant principal, Melanie Wells. Both of these leaders are paramount in helping kids. When students complete their semi-annual evaluations, their number one favorite activity is the elementary school visits. I am so thankful that we have this opportunity and partnership. Angela Nichols has two children in Brandon schools, and is a Bulldog through and through. She, and her school are always involved in community happenings. Angela has ensured that my students get to see quality teachers and real life moments which will help them to become future teachers. Melanie Wells actually did her principal internship at Brandon High School in 2015, and now, as the assistant principal at Stonebridge, she wholeheartedly welcomes them back into her elementary school. Ms. Wells is a published author, and in our classroom instruction, we often reference her book, “Hybrid Learning Environments” when we discuss technology. This is another example of a lasting partnership opportunity.

Some of our “in district” community partners are Dr. Cassondra Vanderford, who is the director of Career and Technical Education and Acceleration for Rankin County School District. Dr. Vanderford works side by side with my teacher academy to inspire them to pursue the field of education. She always presents opportunities which allow my students to strive to be their best i.e. scholarship information, college information, and resources.

This year Brandon High School stepped out of the box and created a partnership with the Aspire program of Rankin County which is a district program for students with disabilities that helps them transition into employment and independent living. This has probably been my favorite partnership yet. We have been able
to get to know one another, share happenings, and grow together. This collaboration began over the summer, and next month my students will be teaching these students some interview tips and skills. This partnership makes so much sense because the teacher academy students are teaching valuable skills to. their peers. I can’t wait to see how this alliance impacts our community!

Another integral partnership Brandon High School teacher academy has is with those in higher education. Marie Adkinson, my sister, and the resident director at the University of Colorado, spoke to students about the importance of education, people, and relationships. Marie is a great resource because she served in the. Peace Corps, so she shared interesting life stories to share. She also gave college advice and resources for students interested in the college route (which are most teacher academy students.) We will continue this partnership because Marie loves to help high school students understand what college life will entail.

This year, we also partnered with Mississippi College’s Education Department. We toured Mississippi
College with Dr. Stephanie Henderson who is MC’s Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher
Education and Leadership. She has since reached out to my students to give them college and career
advice/resources. While in Clinton, we even got to sit in on Dr. Cindy Melton’s education class. Dr. Melton is
MC’s Dean over the school of education. The day of our field experience, she was teaching about

Mississippi’s Teacher Code of Ethics. Dr. Melton allowed my students to participate in discussion and answer questions during class time. This is the fourth year that our classes have been able to partner with Mississippi College, even though last year was virtual. I truly believe higher education can play a crucial role in my students’ lives. On our college tour, we will be headed to William Carey University again this year to see our longtime partner and my mentor, Dr. Deidra Gammill. Dr. Gammill is an innovative teacher who piloted the teacher academy program in our state. She is now an assistant professor in the school of education at Willam Carey. We will be touring the campus February 18th, and going to leadership meetings, including one led by Dr. Gammill. William Carey University’s School of Education provides teacher academy
graduates with twelve hours of college credit, a unique acceleration in the education program, and a 50% tuition waiver. This is an amazing opportunity for students to get a superior education and give back to the education profession.

Some of our most dynamic partners aren’t even in the education program at all...however they have a love for learning and education. A few years ago, Mississippi Banking Association promoted the “banker in every classroom” program. This has turned out to be an extremely interesting partnership because we have learned quite a few interesting things about this industry. This is Brandon High School Teacher Academy’s fourth year as a part of this program. This year our virtual guest speaker banker was Tonya Leach, vice-
president and loan officer for Priority Bank. Mrs. Leach explained the differences in student loans, grants, and a variety of college applicable life decisions. She shared some great resources that the students were very excited about, in regards to budgeting during their teenage years. This is a partnership that I will continue to pursue as the years progress because it’s interesting and beneficial to high school students.

Two former students that our teacher academy has formed relationships with are: Brad Martin and Madelon Russell. Madelon Russell and BHS alum, is an elementary education major at Mississippi State University. She spoke to teacher academy about the importance of caring about your grades while in high school.
Madelon gave examples of how teacher academy classes in high school are similar to college education courses. Madelon’s biggest piece of advice was to, “Get a planner and write out all of your assignments at the beginning of the week; make a to do list; then write when you’ll complete these assignments.” The other. former student that we formed quite a partnership with is Brad Martin, who is an officer at the Brandon Police Department. My students loved hearing advice from someone who has “been there and done that.”
Mr. Martin helped teacher academy students to see how the Brandon Police Department actually “teaches” all of the time. Brad shared the importance of education and following your dreams. This is a new, yet exciting and ongoing partnership with Brandon Police Department, and we have sent encouraging notes and will send goodies in February.

Additionally, Louise Pipitone of the Crossgates Exchange Club has been a great partner in helping to meet our volunteer needs. We have worked closely with Louise for years, and this year is no different. The best event that the teacher academy students have done so far this year is volunteering for the Flight to the North Pole which is led by the Salvation Army. We also participated in anti-bullying day, Breast Cancer Awareness, and Veteran’s Day events. The Exchange Club of Crossgates has been a great association for us to partner with in order to truly reach our community.

In my opinion, the most influential partnership that we have had this year is one with the Mississippi Museums of History. In November, BHS Teacher Academy partnered with the Mississippi Museums of
History for an amazing and interactive experience. While at the museums, we met Jackson native and Freedom Rider, Hezekiah Watkins. He spoke to our group and made a tremendously positive impact. My students hung on every word he said, and his honest stories of triumph even brought some to tears. We have continued contact with the museum staff, and we have enjoyed some activities that they provided which have opened quite a bit of positive dialogue in our classroom. The students semester exam project was based on their experiences at the museums, and it was quite a successful experience. We will definitely continue this partnership.