OUR OPINION: Itawamba AHS claims top 500 award in helping kids

Itawamba Agricultural High School, in the broadest context, is one of 37,100 public, private or parochial high schools in the United States.

In Newsweek magazine’s cohort of 500 high schools and the measure of their effectiveness in teaching and assessing low-income students, the Fulton school is among the top schools, ranking 400 in the lists of achievements released by Newsweek.

The 2016 Beating the Odds report measures the 500-list schools in their readiness to learn, graduation rates and the number of seniors enrolled in some kind of college post-graduation.

The study, which is primarily based on surveys of the schools, accounts for schools’ college-readiness, graduation rates and the number of high school seniors enrolled in some form of college in relation to the number of students eligible for free and reduced lunches. The free lunch criteria is widely used to ascertain a school’s poverty enrollment.

The Itawamba High School ranked 400th.

According to the report, IAHS had a college-readiness score of 67.9 percent, a graduation rate of 96.1 percent, with 87.2 percent of last year’s graduating seniors having enrolled in college at the time of the study. The school’s poverty rate was 54.1 percent.

IAHS was one of five Mississippi schools to make the list. Others include Pass Christian, ranked 199; Tishomingo County, ranked 301; Shaw, ranked 446; and Lafayette, ranked 463.

The school’s principal, Trae Wiygul, said students from low-income families often have higher hills to climb on their journeys from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Those kinds of disadvantages continue following low-income students throughout their academic careers. For instance, lower income families may not have access to computers, a tool that’s become as common in education as books and pencils.

In addition, Wiygul said, many students don’t have access to high-speed Internet at home.

Other factors in rural schools assessed by the Newsweek judges include long bus rides before and after school hours.

That makes trying to keep pace with school peers difficult, with some students riding a bus for more than an hour before arriving at school and home each day.

Wiygul said accommodating students sometimes requires rescheduling remediation classes and having tutors come to the school at students’ convenience.

Most importantly, Wiygul said the high schools’ teachers build a rapport with their students.

“It’s about trust,” Wiygul said. “If the kids go in there believing they are going to have success, it makes the success much easier to attain.”

Opening children’s willingness to learn often is the most difficult part of teaching, but once ready, many students want to learn more than ever thought possible.

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