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There has been no shortage of compelling stories this summer involving Mississippi, education and rural schools. Some of these stories hit on perennial summer themes, like summer school and food insecurity. Others go deep, exploring efforts by small districts to innovate, for example, or describing personal experiences with education reforms. Amidst the constant churn of political news and upbeat features on summer travel, here are five important education stories you may have missed that relate to issues affecting Mississippi and rural schools.

1. Podcast: Food and the brain

What happens to students who rely on school food programs during the summer, especially to those in food deserts? What could happen if President Trump’s budget passes and afterschool programs that provide food for students are cut? How does a lack of nutrition affect brain development? This podcast episode by APM Reports, the national documentary and investigative unit of American Public Media, and The Hechinger Report looks at this issue in rural Mississippi.

2. Little help from schools for homeless Mississippi students

“Compared to other students living in poverty, homeless youth also tend to experience higher levels of physical trauma, ill health, cognitive delays and mental disorders than those who live in more stable housing,” writes Della Hasselle in a recent story for The Hechinger Report. Yet last fall, Mississippi received less than $100 per child in federal funds for more than 7,750 homeless students in the state. A 2017 report by the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness ranked Mississippi last in identifying homeless students. This story delves into the experiences of homeless students in Mississippi and examines schools’ failure to help them.

3. A rural district that got rid of grades

A small, rural district in Wilder, Idaho switched to a personalized learning program a year ago. The district got rid of grade levels and bought iPads for students so they can learn content at their own speed. This story looks at the promise and challenges of this program.

4. I got to choose private schools, but will vouchers really help other kids make it?

School choice by its very nature uproots its customers from their communities, increasing the proportion of Americans without any stake in what’s going on in public schools, the schools that will always serve the children most in need of attention,” writes the Hechinger Report’s Emmanuel Felton, a reporter who focuses on race and equity. Felton grew up in New Orleans and attended private schools outside of his mostly-black community; in this personal piece, he reflects on how this impacted him, and looks at how school choice plays out in communities.

5. An ingenious bid to force improvements in Mississippi’s schools

This piece by The Economist looks at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s lawsuit alleging the quality of schools in Mississippi is drastically different for black kids and white kids. The story’s beginning focuses on one of the parents represented by the complaint:

“I went to these trailers when I was in kindergarten,” says Dorothy Haymer, of her six-year-old daughter’s temporary-but-permanent classroom at Webster Elementary school in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Some of the main building’s windows are cracked; the guttering is broken. Ms. Haymer says parents are required to donate paper towels and soap for the lavatories. Art and music lessons are not available, she laments: “They don’t really have the resources to teach the kids.” 

Data Dive:

A spring pre-kindergarten assessment for students enrolled in the state’s Early Learning Collaboratives (ELCs) found nearly 78 percent of pre-K students enrolled in the ELCs are prepared for kindergarten. That’s an increase of more than 6 percent over the percentage of students who scored at or above the target score in 2016, according to a press release by the Mississippi Department of Education.

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