STAR Academy Program thriving in first year

By JAMES PHILLIPS,

On January 23, Morton High School hosted a mid-year celebration to highlight the successes and achievements of the inaugural class of the MHS STAR Academy Program. The event was well attended and numerous local leaders were on hand to celebrate and support the students. This high school pilot program is aimed at “drop-out” prevention and “catch-up” assistance for students who may have been in danger of dropping out or falling behind to a insurmountable level.

In 2018, with the help of Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS), the Scott County School District received a $900,000 grant for the STAR Academy Program at MHS. The program that was implemented in the Spring of 2018 and started in the Fall of 2018, has shown very good results through the first half of the school year. Many of the students have bought into, and are excelling, in the pilot program.

Currently, there are three other STAR Academy programs in schools around Mississippi and if the initial results are any indication of the benefits to the students this program could be implemented statewide in the future.

State Representative Tom Miles was on hand to speak at the celebration and was a force in Jackson in bringing this program to Scott County. “There are two or three of these programs in Mississippi and when the opportunity came up I really wanted this in every county,” Miles said. “When I saw that we had a chance to have this program in Scott County I did everything I could to bring this great pilot program to our county.

“This program offers our students that have fallen behind the opportunity to catch back up and get on track with their classes so that they can graduate on time,” Miles said. “I want to thank the administration at MHS and the Scott County School District for taking on this educational adventure to give our students every chance to be successful.”

SCSD Superintendent Dr. Tony McGee thought this would be a successful program from the start and was instrumental in the SCSD providing $250,000 in funding the new program. “This program is a game changer for our students,” McGee said. “It gives our students opportunities that other children do not have, and we are proud and blessed to have this program at Morton and in the Scott County School District.”

Miles said that the school district’s willingness to fully back and invest in this program was a deciding factor in district receiving the $900K in state funds to get the program up and running. “I believe the 100 percent backing of Dr. McGee and the school district helped bring this wonderful program to Scott County,” he said. “It is this dedication to giving our Scott County school children every opportunity to succeed that will make a great difference in many student’s lives.”

The students in the program are given the chance to catch up on school work that they have either missed or failed to pass in past attempts. The students enroll in eighth grade level courses for the first semester and ninth grade level courses during the second semester. If students pass all prerequisites, they have the opportunity of entering the high school as a 10th grader the following year. Hence, joining their original peers and allowing them to be back on their original track to graduate and receive their high school diploma.

The concerted efforts of Miles and Dr. McGee to bring this program to Scott County has put both MHS and the SCSD in a position to lead by example in showing school districts around the state the great benefits of the STAR Program. “There will be others across the state that will follow the example that Morton High School is utilizing with this wonderful program.” Miles said.

The students that are currently enrolled in the program are showing great signs of progressing  and are achieving at a high level. During the celebration ceremony 23 students were recognized for high achievement in the program, and 10 students received awards for the excellence they have achieved during the first semester of school.

“This celebration of student accomplishments marks a great day for Morton High School and the Scott County School District,” Dr. McGee said, “We are here today celebrating 20 to 25 students that are working to catch up and graduate with their class, and this is the first time many of these students have ever been recognized with an academic award.”

The SCSD has a three-year contract with the state to continue the STAR Program and as the first MHS class has started their second semester of work all signs point to this program becoming a fixture in the school system.

Linda Risher of Pulaski was present to support her grandson who is currently enrolled in the STAR Program and said this program has really made a difference. “I think this is a wonderful program,” she said. “They have exceptional teachers that work with, and push, these students. I wish they could continue this program all the way through because of the difference it has made to my grandson.”

“The students here today made the decision not to quit on their education,” Miles said. “These kids are a big part of our future and they have put in the time and effort to be successful in this program, we are so proud of their accomplishments.”

The leaders and administrators that worked to bring the STAR Program to Scott County are seeing the benefits of their efforts with the first MHS class. The effort and achievements of the students in this first class will pave the way for this program to be part of education for years to come. This program gives the students the opportunity to shine while getting back on track academically. The true stars of this program is everyone involved including the students, teachers, administrators and our local leaders that are working together to make this program a success.