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Scholars program aims to prep kids for future success

A new program being implemented in Lincoln County schoolsencourages students to take more challenging courses in order to bebetter prepared for their future in a changing work world.

Beginning in eighth grade, the Mississippi Scholars programworks to point students toward courses to get them ready forcollege and careers. Kenny Goza, a member of the local steeringcommittee, said the program emphasizes students taking moredifficult classes and ones that require critical thinkingskills.

“It’s not about making all A’s. It’s about passing courses andgetting ready for life,” Goza said Thursday during a meeting withBrookhaven High School teachers and administrators.

Goza and Chamber of Commerce officials Cliff Brumfield and KayBurton pitched the program to Lincoln County and Brookhaven schoolsWednesday and Thursday. They plan to visit Brookhaven Academy nextweek.

Goza said today’s work force demands better trained and moreskilled employees. In 1954, he said, 65 percent of the work forcewas unskilled labor, whereas in 2004, 65 percent of the work forcewas skilled labor.

“The work force is changing,” Goza said.

A key component of the Mississippi Scholars program ispresentations by local business leaders discussing their job skillneeds with students and what students can expect to find when theyleave school. The presentations coincide with eighth graders’selection of their freshman year courses, with high schoolpresentations also available.

“A business person comes into the classroom and talks reality tothe student,” said Brumfield, while mentioning the added benefit ofallowing students to meet potential employers.

In addition to educational benefits, chamber officials toutedeconomic development aspects of Mississippi Scholars.

Citing business leader studies, Brumfield said there is amoderate to severe problem with having an available work force. Aslower-skill, lower-paying jobs are shipped out of the country, hesaid Brookhaven and Lincoln County’s work force must be ready tofill the higher-skilled, higher-paying jobs that economicdevelopment officials hope to attract.

“We’re going to see more technology-driven jobs in this area,”Brumfield said.

Goza agreed.

“We’ve got to change the mind set,” Goza said. “We’ve got to getstudents ready.”

By developing students with diverse backgrounds and collegedegrees, Brumfield said arriving businesses would be more inclinedto fill positions with talented local workers instead of bringingthem in from elsewhere.

“We want people who live here, who’ve fueled the tax base, totake these leadership roles,” Brumfield said.

Burton and Goza discussed incentives for students who pursue theMississippi Scholars course of study. Goza indicated the incentivesare still being identified.

“We’re trying to make it challenging and rewarding forstudents,” Goza said.

Burton said a small percentage of students qualifies for thechamber’s Gold Card program, which offers discounts at areabusinesses for students with high academic achievement. Whilementioning the possibility of scholarships, Goza said anotherincentive for Mississippi Scholars participants could be a higherpercentage discount.

“We have an opportunity as a community to create what we want asincentives,” Goza said.

Burton was hopeful for a higher participation and retention ratewith the Mississippi Scholars program.

“We’ll be able to recognize more students for the challengingcourses they’re taking on,” Burton said.

Educators in attendance Thursday applauded the program.

“This is good. We’ve needed this,” librarian Audrey Joycesaid.

Cindy Ashmore, career center director, agreed.

“I’m really excited about it and I think it’s going to be a goodthing,” Ashmore said.

Under the program, Ashmore said students can find out how toapply what they learn in school and about skills needed in workforce. She said the incentive program should encourage students toraise the bar regarding the difficulty of courses they take.

“Hopefully, they will realize the importance of developingreasoning skills and communication and how that will affect them inthe future in the work force,” Ashmore said.