Lawmakers honor Bogue Chitto science class

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Honors and recognition continue to roll in for the small groupof scientific seniors participating in Bogue Chitto AttendanceCenter’s new Biomedical Research class, and this time the praisecomes from statewide leaders.

Biomedical Research teacher Kathy McKone and her class of sevenseniors were honored Tuesday at the Capitol with Senate ConcurrentResolution 617, a bill of recognition drawn up by Brookhaven’s Sen.Cindy Hyde-Smith and passed by both chambers of theLegislature.

The resolution mentioned the class’s status as an academicpioneer in Mississippi and praised its many accomplishments,including recognition in the February issue of the Howard HughesMedical Institute Bulletin. It is a scientific publication read byhundreds of scientists and academicians throughout the countrywhose work is funded by HHMI.

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The resolution recognizes “the unique accomplishments of thisoutstanding class of Mississippi high school seniors and theirteacher, who have brought honor to their school, their communityand to the State of Mississippi.” McKone said she knew well aheadof time she and her class would be honored in the Senate, but shewasn’t quite sure what to expect.

“I just thought I would go up there and get a certificate, thatthey would call my name and it would be over,” she said. “This wasmuch bigger than I thought it was going to be.”

Instead of taking a certificate and shaking a few hands, McKonefound herself addressing the full Senate behind Hyde-Smith, BogueChitto Principal Bill McGehee and Dr. Rob Rockhold, University ofMississippi Medical Center’s vice chancellor for academic affairsand creator of the “Muse of Fire” program, the DNA research studypursued by the class.

McKone said she tried to name everyone who helped make the classpossible and recounted for senators her summer trips to FloridaA&M University to borrow the high-tech laboratory equipmentneeded in the class, as well as her training sessions at Ivy Leagueschools.

“I think this will be a defining document in Bogue Chitto’shistory as far as bio technology is concerned,” she said. “It’sjust a great piece of history [the Legislature] has provided uswith.”

Lincoln County School District Superintendent Terry Brister saidhe was proud of that McKone and her students have brought the titleof “pioneer” to Bogue Chitto, Lincoln County and Mississippi.

“It’s just showing that we’re trying to do things here,” hesaid. “We’ve gone above the basics, and she’s been able to pioneerthat for us with her determination and desire to … bring it backto Lincoln County and the schools.”

Hyde-Smith, who authored SC 617 with the help of a handful ofother senators, said legislative and education officials in Jacksonwere thoroughly impressed with McKone’s and her class’s work inBiomedical Research, which has been operating for less than oneyear at Bogue Chitto.

“It shows we do have extraordinary talent, extraordinary driveand motivation to encourage our students to reach beyond,” shesaid. “It was an honor to represent one of the schools inBrookhaven – they all have their own attributes. We’re just verylucky we can cumulatively bring together such a good educationsystem.”

That education system could grow very soon. McKone said herclass’s exploits have caught the attention of Princeton University,which wants to make Bogue Chitto a satellite school. McKone saidBogue Chitto would be only the seventh such school affiliated withPrinceton, with the other six all located in the northeasternUnited States.

Through the affiliation, McKone said Princeton would supply herclassroom with around $10,000 worth of equipment and suppliesthrough a grant. McKone would also train other high school scienceteachers in Southwest Mississippi to teach Biomedical Research andloan equipment to other schools.

“It’s sort of like the Ivy League meets the kudzu league,” shesaid. “Just because we live in rural Mississippi doesn’t mean wecan’t have an Ivy League education.”

Brister said he and the school board would examine theaffiliation when the time comes to make sure the district canparticipate.

“Yes, I want to commit to it; yes, I would like to see it done,”he said. “We have to see how we can do it if it’s possible. If itcan be done, I’m going to.”

Even as honors stack up for McKone’s class, her students aren’tdone yet. She said students Blaine Myers and Seth Avants placedfifth and sixth, respectively, at the recent Junior Science andHumanity Symposium at the University of Mississippi, at which theypresented research papers on their work with DNA and displayed a12-minute PowerPoint presentation.

One of the students has to opportunity to travel to the nationalcompetition in Colorado Springs, Colo., on April 29.