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Program teaches lifetime lessons

This week a number of Lincoln County students learned valuable life lessons at Reality World, a Mississippi Scholars program.

In the program, students are given a checkbook and a bank balance and are required to make certain choices in how they spend their income on things like housing, transportation, food and clothing, along with some of the extras.

Some of the students came away affirmed of their budgetary competence. Unfortunately, many others left the civic center broke and in debt. Hopefully, this real world – with play money – lesson won’t be soon forgotten.

Reality World is just a sliver of what Mississippi Scholars is able to teach young people about life after high school. The students also get to meet and hear from business professionals and get to participate and be recognized in the annual Senior Scholars Banquet.

Kay Burton, program director with the Chamber of Commerce, and Kenny Goza with Entergy Mississippi provided me with some insight into the program this week.

Working with the middle fifty-percent of students, the program focuses on equipping young people for the real world after high school, whether that be to an institution of higher learning or directly into the job market.

The mission of Mississippi Scholars is: “To encourage and motive all high school students to complete a defined, rigorous academic course of study that prepares them for successful transition to college or university coursework or vocational and technical training necessary to enter today’s competitive job market.”

According to Burton, before Mississippi Scholars many students were quick to go for the easy “A.” Under the program, however, students are challenged to go for the harder courses that might result in a lesser grade, but will provide greater learning and experience for life down the road.

Burton said that the program allows many students experiences in life that they may never have the chance to experience otherwise. Goza admitted that Mississippi has its challenges when it comes to education and training up a competitive workforce. The exceptional quality of life in a community such as ours cannot be sustained without a qualified, competent workforce.

We can build all the industrial parks we want but we won’t be successful in attracting industry to those sites if we don’t have a qualified labor pool from which to draw.

Both Goza and Burton also admitted that not every student signing up for the program is a guaranteed success. But now after several years of the program, students are coming back to affirm their efforts that they are making a difference.

Listening to the excitement and the passion that both Burton and Goza share for the Mississippi Scholars program and what it is doing to change young people’s lives for the better in Lincoln County reminded me of the old parable of the boy and the starfish.

One day, an old man was walking along the beach in the early morning and noticed the tide had washed thousands of starfish up on the shore. Up ahead in the distance he spotted a boy who appeared to be gathering up the starfish, and one by one tossing them back into the ocean.

He approached the boy and asked him why he spent so much energy doing what seemed to be a feeble waste of time.

The boy replied, “If these starfish are left out here like this, they will bake in the sun, and by this afternoon they will all be dead.”

The old man gazed out as far as he could see and responded, “But, there must be miles of beach and thousands of starfish. You can’t possibly rescue all of them. What difference is throwing a few back going to make anyway?”

The boy then held up the starfish he had in his hand and replied, “It makes a difference to this one!”

Kay Burton, Kenny Goza and others, through their tireless efforts with the Mississippi Scholars program, are making a difference.

Rick Reynolds is president/publisher of The Daily Leader. Contact him at rreynolds@dailyleader.com.