IAHS principal wants to build on athletic, academic success

Among the new programs at Itawamba Agricultural High School this year is an ACT prep course, shown above, which school administrators hope will bring help improve the school’s ACT averages this year and beyond. Principal Trae Wiygul said this year’s goal is to build on the school’s already-excellent programs.  (Photo by Adam Armour - CLICK PICTURE TO PURCHASE A PRINT)

Among the new programs at Itawamba Agricultural High School this year is an ACT prep course, shown above, which school administrators hope will bring help improve the school’s ACT averages this year and beyond. (Photo by Adam Armour – CLICK PICTURE TO PURCHASE A PRINT)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth in an ongoing series of stories highlighting each of Itawamba County’s schools and their goals for the year.

Itawamba Agricultural High School principal Trae Wiygul said he has two main goals for this year, one athletic and one academic.

The athletic goal is to win a state championship. The academic goal is to pull in the highest ACT average in the school’s history.

Both, he believes, are doable.

“In my mind, there’s nobody better than us,” he said. “I’ll put my students and my faculty against anyone in the state, and we’ll come out on top.”

That’s a lot of confidence, but Wiygul believes that his stock is well invested, that the students of IAHS are among the best in Mississippi. Stripped of its specifics, Wiygul’s goal for the year boils down to a desire to see them get even better.

It’s hard to argue with the merits of the school’s athletic programs. They seem to be expanding in numbers with each passing year. Given time, the school’s athletes seem to excel at every new activity they try.

Take, for example, the school’s archery team. Last year, they were ranked among the best in the state. This year, Wiygul believes they can top that list.

To the principal, it’s just a matter of time before the school’s soccer team, added the same year as archery, and swim team, added last year, begin ranking among the state’s best.

“We have a lot of success in each and every one of these programs,” Wiygul said. “We just have to build them.”

Wiygul takes pride in those programs. A breadth of options allows more kids to get involved in more athletic programs. Wiygul wasn’t just talking about appealing to more kids with different sports, but by creating well-rounded athletes who participate in multiple sports.

As for academics, Wiygul said he wants to see a higher schoolwide ACT average. They’ve introduced a new ACT prep course this year. More than 100 students are enrolled in the program over two semesters. It’s a good start, Wiygul said, but he hopes to see it expand into something every junior student takes.

“The one constant we have with accountability is the ACT score,” he said. “There’s been a lot of bumping around, but that seems to be the one thing that’s always the same.”

Using past ACT tests as text books, the class is branched so that each day of the week focuses on a different subject tested by the ACT: Language, Math, Science and Reading. On Fridays, the class preps for the U.S. History test.

The students frequently take timed practice tests in order to acclimate them to the pressure of taking the ACT.

“We want to adjust them to what they will face when they take the real test,” Wiygul said.

As additional motivators, the school recently instituted two new award programs: the ACT Wall of Fame and the ACT 30 club, the latter of which celebrates students who achieved a score of 30 or higher on any one subject area of the ACT. Wiygul said it’s important to celebrate victories in the classroom with as much fervor as those on the court or field.

“When you have kids doing well on the ACT, they deserve to have their names right out there with our championship athletes,” he said.

The school as a whole, he said, is where it needs to be academically. Test scores are high; the graduation rate is up from last year; and the school’s scholar’s bowl team is competing at the national level. Students at IAHS have done nothing if not proved their academic mettle.

Wiygul said he’s proud of all the school’s students and what they’ve achieved over the years. These days, school is stressful for both students and faculty.

It takes hard work and dedication to remain at the level IAHS currently occupies.

“School is a lot more difficult than it used to be,” he said. “It can be a challenge to get these kids motivated to do well on these tests.”

But that motivation is key. It’s so easy to stagnate, to be satisfied and sit.

That’s what makes Wiygul’s goals for the year so important.

“We fought hard to get on top. Now we have to fight just as hard to stay there,” he said.


About Adam Armour

Adam Armour has been writing and taking photographs for "The Itawamba County Times" since 2005. His words and pictures have earned 18 Mississippi Press Association Awards, including several "Best of" category recognitions. He has written and independently published one novel and is currently working on a second.