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CONNECTIONS volume 20 | issue 1 |

Spring 2021



Prepares Walthall Graduate for College, Career Success�������������p. 19


DESOTO COUNTY STUDENTS Le Bonheur Benefit Projects����������������������������� p. 8



JPS Students to Success���������������������� p. 26

CONNECTIONS volume 20 | issue 1 |

Spring 2021

CONTRIBUTORS Editor-in-Chief � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � Dr. Aimee Brown Managing Editor � � � � � � � � � � � � � � Carl Smith Associate Editor � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � Patrice Guilfoyle Editor � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � Heather Craig Designer � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � Amanda Gronewold Writers � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � Heather Craig Will Graves Amanda Gronewold Carl Smith Brock Turnipseed The contents of this magazine — including stories, photos and all other information — were submitted by their respective school districts or organizations unless otherwise noted.


Sophomore Laquaez Walker works on a welding project in the recently renovated Cleveland Career Development and Technology Center. Read more in Spruced Up on p. 34.


hat a difference a year makes. The close of the 2019-2020 academic year was unlike anything most of us have ever experienced. Students graduated either virtually or in socially distanced, outdoor settings. Educators left these ceremonies not knowing what learning would look like in the upcoming year. Twelve months later, our students again graduated in controlled settings, but we now see a path forward for career and technical education (CTE) due to the hard work and commitment of all involved, from the faculty and students who put in the work to ensure the two-way process of education never faltered to the parents who refused to let their children’s futures be affected by current challenges. I am so proud of how Mississippi’s educators rose to the occasion this year and navigated positive student outcomes through uncharted territory and rapidly evolving conditions. From translating automotive classes’ hands-on instruction to virtual learning environments to ensuring your classrooms would be as safe as possible for everyone, our teachers are the reason so many positive things came out of this year. Your dedication makes us at the Mississippi Department of Education excited for the years to come. This issue of Connections features that dedication and those positive student outcomes. We feature Debbie Miller, the MS ACTE Teacher of the Year who uses her culinary passion to inspire her students (p. 4), and Tony Holder and Tracy Hardy, the MS ACTE Administrator and Counselor of the Year who together share decades of service to their community (p. 12). Speaking of service, one of Mississippi’s most influential members of education is featured in this issue. Retired U.S. Army Col. Paul Willis, who leads Jackson Public Schools’ Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program, is responsible for guiding so many students to their high school diploma, institutions of higher learning and service programs beyond college (p. 26). There are other great stories in this issue, from a group of young women in Franklin County proving engineering is for all students (p. 15) and middle school students in Starkville getting their first tastes — literally — of what they can do at home with CTE (p. 16) to North Mississippi students aiding Le Bonheur outreach efforts (p. 8) and a prize-winning Gulfport automotive teacher whose most recent accolade will fund reinvestments back into his school's shop (p. 30). I challenge you to continue these themes of service in your own community. Together, we can make Mississippi a better place through education and empathy. Dr. Aimee Brown Director, Office of Career and Technical Education Mississippi Department of Education


We want to hear about your success stories, awards and program accomplishments. Please submit your story ideas at 2 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021


Featured Areas

MS ACTE Teacher of the Year��������������������� 4

Miller Uses Passion for Food to Inspire Students

Student Spotlight������������������������������������������� 6

Jordyn Smith

Educator Spotlight����������������������������������������� 7

Brookes Prince

I  Rankin Ag Students Offset

Costs With Fabrications���������������������������������������7

Healing Music������������������������������������������������8

DeSoto County Students Lift Spirits of Le Bonheur Patients

I  SAD Student Brings Esports

to Vicksburg Warren������������������������������������������� 11

We Are Family��������������������������������������������� 12

MS ACTE Administrator, Counselor of the Year Share Decades of Combined Service

I  Winters Honored for 33 Years of Service���������� 14 I  Franklin County Dragster Queens

Design, Race Models����������������������������������������� 15

Growing Skills����������������������������������������������� 16 New Class Provides CTE Exposure to Starkville Students

I  CTE Experience Prepares Walthall

Graduate for College, Career��������������������������� 19

Insights From Educators�����������������������������20 Engineering Insight������������������������������������� 22

CTE Teachers Share Experiences With MTAC

I  Pearl River Welder Among

Students Highlighted by MCEF����������������������� 24

I  Neshoba Digital Media Students

Produce Hype Video����������������������������������������� 25

I  Petal Health Science Students

Experience a Dose of Reality��������������������������� 25

Leading the Way����������������������������������������� 26

Willis Guides JPS Cadets to Success

I  Pontotoc Welding Students

Schools featured in Insights From CTE Leaders on p. 20

I  VWSD Schedule Change Allows

for Youngest Engineering Completer��������������� 29 Curriculum Update��������������������������������������� 29

Prize Catch��������������������������������������������������30

Gulfport Auto Teacher Lands Funds for Shop Upgrades

I  Lauderdale County FBLA Members

Design, Donate Puzzles������������������������������������ 32

I  Neshoba Students Earn

OSHA Certification����������������������������������������� 33

Spruced Up������������������������������������������������� 34

Clinton, Cleveland CTE Programs Celebrate New, Improved Spaces

I  LBHS Students Use VR

to Augment Education������������������������������������� 36

Student Spotlight���������������������������������������� 38

Gracie Graham

Educator Spotlight�������������������������������������� 39

Chef Catherine Bruce

Complete Projects�������������������������������������������� 28 Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 3



Teacher OF THE


Miller Uses Passion for Food to Inspire Students Brock Turnipseed


ebbie Miller’s passion for teaching and food goes back to her childhood. Miller was always the teacher when she played school with her four siblings, but she became the pupil in the kitchen, studying intently as her grandmothers — one rooted in French Cajun ancestry and the other adept in Deep South country cooking — created fabulous dishes. Miller, who was named the Mississippi Association for Career and Technical Education Teacher of the Year for the 2019-2020 school year, recently wrapped up her ninth year of sharing her passion for food and innovative practices in the kitchen with students as the culinary arts instructor at Lamar County School District’s Oak Grove High School. Miller began working in the district in 1998 as an administrative assistant 4 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021

then bookkeeper. She transferred over to the Lamar County Career and Technical Center in 2003 as a bookkeeper with additional career and technical education (CTE) responsibilities. “I really didn’t have an immense knowledge of CTE until I began working at the center,” she said. “I believe the majority of Mississippians don’t know the advantages of CTE and what it has to offer students.” Eventually the culinary arts instructor position came open, and former Director Rita Bush encouraged her to apply. Miller not only teaches her students the basics of the kitchen and how to prepare and cook delicious food, but she also develops their soft skills — confidence, discipline, teamwork and problem-solving. Some students never turned on a stove before enrolling in her class, and

another once used a tablespoon of yeast instead of 2 ¼ teaspoons while making bread. Miller tells them to not be discouraged and “realize they can step back and problem solve.” While most of her students don’t have intentions of going into the world of culinary arts, they realize what Miller teaches them can benefit their daily lives, regardless of the career pathway they choose. “I might have a fourth of them go into the industry as a lifelong vocation,” she said. “I’ve had former students who have achieved their master’s in their field of study, then return to speak to my current students. They convey to the students that they knew they weren’t going to pursue [culinary arts] as a career but were able to support themselves in college by working in the food service


Opposite page: Debbie Miller, who wrapped up her ninth year teaching culinary arts at Lamar County School District’s Oak Grove High School (OGHS) this year, was named the Mississippi Association for Career and Technical Education Teacher of the Year for the 2019-2020 school year. industry and feed themselves by not having to rely on ramen noodles all the time.” For some of her students, the choice to get into culinary arts as a vocation can serve as a lifeline and pull them out of difficult situations. Miller mentioned one student who was a challenge to work with initially. The student lived in an unsupervised situation and was “headed for disaster.” He confided in Miller, telling her he was “living on the streets, gang banging and dope slinging.” She saw culinary arts as a way out for him and believed it was his purpose in life. “He still works in the industry, has a passion for food and is good at it,” Miller said. “I took a chance on him and put him on my culinary team. He did well and created a sense of pride in himself which was awesome to witness.” Because of her class, the student received opportunities from some of Miller’s industry partners and spent time speaking with Nick Wallace, a Mississippi chef who competed on Food Network’s “Chopped.” “It makes you feel good when students have found their purpose and you have played a part in the discovery. You know they’re going to be successful in life — good citizens — and your influence affected them,” she said. “The most beneficial takeaways are not the culinary skills I teach them but my belief in them that results in a belief in themselves. “I realized that I have to show them I care and want what’s best for them,” Miller added. She encourages fellow educators not to be afraid to let students know you care, but Miller also advises them to be a mentor instead of trying to be their friend. “I tell my incoming students, ‘I’m old enough to be your grandma, and I’m going to treat you like my grandkids. I’m going to love you and care for you, but I’m going to expect the best out of you,’” she said. When Miller sees her students put forth their best effort and accomplish culinary feats they didn’t think possible, it fills her with pride. Although the teacher of the year award recognizes her accomplishments in the classroom, she knows the true winners of the award are her students. “Being recognized for them and their hard work is a reward,” Miller said. “I’m going to continue doing what I do to the best of my ability, whether I’m the teacher of the year or not. I’m very honored and humbled, but it won’t change me. I’ll continue to love on my students.”

Top: Miller shows OGHS junior Gabriel Pickett how to segment an orange for a fruit salad. Bottom: Miller assists Tytiana King, a sophomore at OGHS, in sautéing vegetables that will go into a chicken stew. Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 5




JORDYN SMITH • Senior • Tupelo High School, Tupelo Public School District Smith was one of three Tupelo High School students awarded STAR student for the 2020-2021 school year. She selected Brookes Prince as her STAR teacher.

What is your favorite career and technical education (CTE) class? My favorite CTE class is Marketing and Economics because of the various life skills it teaches. While taking this class, I learned many valuable lessons on topics, such as business and personal finance, that I have been able to apply to my own life. Not only that, but this class has greatly prepared me for my future, both in my career and in my everyday life.

Who is your favorite teacher or school district employee? My favorite teacher is my Marketing and Economics teacher, Brookes Prince. Her passion for teaching is undeniable, and anyone can see the love she holds for her students. No matter what it takes, she always accommodates students’ needs to ensure we are all capable of success. What is your proudest accomplishment as a student? My proudest accomplishments as a student are my student of the year awards from my sophomore and junior years. These awards, which are given to the highest-ranking student in each class, are my proudest accomplishments

because they recognize and reward all the hard work and dedication I put in each year. In other words, they remind me all the time and effort I put in are worth it. What clubs, organizations, activities or sports do you enjoy participating in the most? My favorite organization that I participate in is DECA. Joining DECA was one of the best decisions I made in high school because not only is the group a fun way to get involved, but it also helps students prepare for the business world. In addition to opening many opportunities, DECA taught me a plethora of skills I can use in my future career and even helped me determine my true passions in life. What jobs or careers interest you the most? I am most interested in careers in the business field due to my experiences in Marketing and Economics and DECA. Both uncovered my passion for the business world and accounting. Prior to enjoying these activities, I had no experience with finance-related information. As soon as I was exposed, I quickly became interested in the field.




volume 19 | issue



Fall 2020


 p 12

read online @

follow us @connectionsms    6 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021



K-BASED    p xx





Why did you become a teacher? I became a teacher because of the impact other teachers in my life had along the way. My mom was also a teacher. I saw the impact and relationships she had with students, and I wanted to be able have those, too. I always had an interest in the business world, so this area was a perfect fit for me.

How do you motivate your students? One way I try to motivate students is to simply build a relationship with them. Relationships are so important when it comes to communicating with students. I have learned if you have a good relationship with students, then that encourages them to try harder not only for themselves, but also for me. I also try to help connect school to the real world because most students want to know why they are doing something or how it will help them down the road.

What advice would you give firstyear teachers? My advice for first-year teachers would be to connect with your students and get feedback from them. Do not be afraid to have them complete surveys to figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are. Also, find a positive teacher influence to connect with at your school or another school. Burnout happens! You don’t need someone adding to the fire, but you do need someone to help you fight the fire! What is your greatest success as a teacher? All my successes come straight from my students’ successes. I feel the most successful when my students decide on a career, place in DECA competitions, earn special recognitions, earn prestigious scholarships and go on to start their careers. I am also national board certified, which was a personal accomplishment as well.

BROOKES PRINCE • Business, marketing and finance teacher • Tupelo Career Technical Center, Tupelo Public School District Prince was chosen as a STAR teacher by Jordyn Smith, one of three Tupelo High School students awarded STAR student for the 2020-2021 school year. news & notes

Rankin Ag Students Offset Costs With Fabrications From left to right: McLaurin High School (Rankin County School District) freshmen Abby Harper, Ava Welch and Chloe Morris pose with metal fire pits and decorations fabricated at the school this winter. Agriculture students designed and produced metal goods they then sold to help offset the costs of field trips and supplies. The three students were enrolled in the school’s Introduction to Agriculture class. Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 7


Healing MUSIC

DeSoto County Students Lift Spirits of Le Bonheur Patients Will Graves


usic has the unique power of bringing people together. On our darkest days, it can brighten our mood and spread a little bit of happiness to get us through hard moments. For the past several years, digital media students from the DeSoto County Career and Technical Center West (DCCTCW) have experienced the wonderful — and sometimes overwhelming — power of music through outreach for the patients of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis. The opportunity for these students to contribute to such special projects came about by chance with the help 8 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021

of DCCTCW’s corporate sponsorship program, which strives to connect local industry with the career and technical education (CTE) classroom through time and resource donations. In 2019, DCCTCW digital media teacher Teri Gordon was contacted about a potential gold-level sponsorship for her program from Northcentral Electric Cooperative (NEC), whose leaders wanted students to learn on-the-job skills while contributing to promotional and charitable media projects. “This has been an opportunity to use our skills and apply them to a meaningful and very real project while also giving back to the community,” Gordon

said. “I cannot say enough kind things to Justin [Jaggers, NEC media specialist] and the leadership at NEC for making this happen and for continuing to allow the students to get involved.” That summer began a fantastic partnership between local industry and CTE students that allowed them to take on real-life experiences in the digital media field with a mentor while they expanded their knowledge of devices and software needed for the job. DCCTCW digital media students worked as interns for Jaggers to produce live entertainment experiences, studio recordings and a documentary of Musicians for Le Bonheur, “Healing Music,” which raised


funds for the children’s hospital while providing entertainment for patients. Jaggers and the interns worked throughout the summer recording local musicians in Memphis at The Grove recording studio at Hope Church and on location at the hospital. Jaggers spent hours showing students the ropes of lighting, filming, photographing, interviewing and editing, which Gordon said was incredibly valuable to her students and the entire digital media program at DCCTCW. “I tell my kids they are in this class because they have a very creative side of their brain,” Gordon said. “Whether their interest is in filming, graphic design, music or interviewing

— whatever it may be — the musicians they are working with have the same exact creative minds. Being around such a diverse group of creative people gave my students a great opportunity to find their niche in digital media production.” The students learned a lot from this experience and provided so much help in production that Jaggers continued working with Gordon to connect her students to even more learning and service opportunities with Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital charities and the Baddour Center, an adult-assistance community located in Senatobia. As with many aspects of life in 2020, the pandemic brought about major challenges for the continuity of this

partnership. Jaggers needed a plan to fundraise for Le Bonheur and lift the spirits of patients, and Gordon had to figure out how to keep her students involved while following appropriate public health guidelines. Since filming inside the hospital was not an option due to immunocompromised patients, Musicians for Le Bonheur produced a three-hour-long documentary that showcased performances from more than 12 musicians from the area representing a variety of genres. The performance, “Le Bonheroo: A Socially Distant Concert for the Patients and Families of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital,” aired

Opposite page: DeSoto County Career and Technical Center West (DCCTCW) students gather around Northcentral Electric Cooperative Media Specialist Justin Jaggers (standing at the desk) in the recording studio to learn about working with the professional equipment. Below: Memphis-based indie rock band Blvck Hippie performs in The Grove recording studio at Hope Church in 2020.

Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 9


on the hospital's closed-circuit TV station and was released for purchase on Amazon Prime. “We just had to put something together in 2020,” Jaggers said in a press release from that year prior to the premier of the new documentary film. “It made a lot of people involved with the project sad to know we couldn’t visit the hospital and perform for the kids. This is the next best thing that we can do.” While filming the documentary that summer, Jaggers showed student interns how to work with professional studio recording and sound equipment, which ultimately earned them the title of “audio engineers” in the film’s ending credits. Gordon said this type of training and professional mentorship will truly propel her students forward because limited budgets and constantly-evolving technology make it difficult to provide the newest digital media tools to high school classrooms each year. One unique aspect of this partnership is students who work as interns with Jaggers can take their advanced digital media skills and share them with peers back in the classroom. This creates an engaging, collaborative environment and gives students the opportunity to focus on their individual interests in filmography, photography, graphic design or other related areas. Beyond the technical skills Gordon’s students are acquiring through this partnership with NEC, working in a variety of settings with different people is a game-changer for developing strong soft skills. From being in the recording studio with a rock band to filming a musician’s special acoustic performance in a patient’s room, students learn how to interact appropriately given their surroundings and how to troubleshoot and react to technical problems as they arise. 10 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021

Clockwise from top left: • DCCTCW students watch as Memphis-based musician Muck Sticky performs in the studio. • DCCTCW Digital Media instructor Teri Gordon (left) checks graduate Tanner Smart’s camera setup before filming musical performances at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital for the 2019 “Healing Music” documentary. • Musicians and DCCTCW students perform an equipment check between recording sessions in 2020. “We cannot control a camera malfunctioning during the middle of a performance or a [memory] card getting full during an interview, but we can adapt and learn how to fix these issues while remaining calm and collected,” Gordon said.

Tanner Smart, a graduate of the digital media program, said the internship with Jaggers helped him realize he wanted a career in digital media. Smart began interning with Jaggers during the 2019 production of “Musicians for Le Bonheur,” and he continues to work


From left to right: Gordon, Smart, Jaggers, then-junior Cassidy Carson and graduate Angel Morgan pose before they set up lighting equipment while filming at Le Bonheur Hospital in 2019. with Jaggers on projects while studying digital media at Northwest Mississippi Community College. “In high school, I participated in music and theater, so I got interested in digital media as another creative outlet,” Smart said. “My first interest in the digital media program was photography. When I started helping with the Le Bonheur projects with [Jaggers and Gordon], I knew that this is where I could see myself building a career. I got really interested in filmography and

still find opportunities to learn more in this area.” Although Smart stays busy between school and other projects, he still takes time to visit his former teacher and her new students at DCCTCW. Now that he has a few years of experience under his belt, Smart said he enjoys sharing his new skills with aspiring digital media students. After almost three years contributing to the Le Bonheur charity projects, Cassidy Carson, a senior in Gordon’s

digital media program, said peer-topeer learning is beneficial, especially when it comes to professional photography — a skill she hopes to incorporate as a part of her career aspirations in cosmetology. “When we have older students come back to visit and show us how to use new equipment or software, it’s always easier because I feel like they know how to explain it on our level,” Carson said. “It’s really cool to see that you can take this new information into the future and put it to good use. This entire experience has allowed me to become more skilled in photography. I hope to open my own salon one day, so having strong digital media skills — particularly photography — will be very important to my business.” As for now, Gordon and Jaggers plan to continue connecting students with local opportunities to learn and gain more digital media experience in realworld settings. NEC’s sponsorship of the DCCTCW digital media program is helping CTE students grow personally and professionally and makes a positive impact on their career trajectory as they prepare for life beyond high school. news & notes

SAD Student Brings Esports to Vicksburg Warren Jason Penalver, a sophomore enrolled in the Vicksburg Warren School District’s Simulation and Animation Design Year 1 class, approached instructors Richard Hunt and Robert Lord in the fall with an ingenious idea: to start a new way for students to interact with one another using esports. Esports are a form of sport competition using video games. The games included Fortnite, Rainbow Six Siege and Rocket League. Esports are open to other students at the career and technical center and other centers across the state. The instructors were impressed by Penalver’s idea because it was student driven and student oriented.

Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 11




MS ACTE Administrator, Counselor of the Year Share Decades of Combined Service Brock Turnipseed


ony Holder and Tracy Hardy view each day at Attala County’s Kosciusko-Attala Career Technical Center (KACTC) as spending time with family. That family atmosphere is one of the reasons Holder and Hardy have worked together at the center for 21 years as the director and counselor, respectively. Holder and Hardy have shared many experiences together, including being named Mississippi Association for Career and Technical Education (MS ACTE) Administrator of the Year and MS ACTE Counselor of the Year, respectively, for the 2019-2020 academic year. Holder started his career as the Technology Applications instructor in the Yazoo City School District and 12 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021

would go on to add assistant director responsibilities to his teaching duties. The experience he gained under his director, Larry Summers, would serve as a model for him when he moved to Kosciusko in 2000. Holder initially joined the KACTC as the Technology Applications instructor, but that summer he was offered the director’s position when Wayne Hill, the center’s director, retired. Hill was the one who encouraged Hardy, who taught cooperative education at the center since 1998, to go back to school for a counseling degree. After she finished that degree in 2002, Holder moved her into the counselor’s role — one of the best decisions he said he made early in his tenure. Little did

he know, that decision would lead to a long-lasting friendship and working partnership. Hardy now guides students at the same center that shaped her path forward in education, although she wouldn’t discover her fondness for teaching until college. Hardy took business and computer technology (BCT) at the KACTC as a junior, but it was during her junior year at Mississippi State University she developed an appreciation for education and the influence her high school BCT teacher, Charla Pepper, had in that discovery. Thanks to a discussion with Pepper, Hardy started teaching BCT at the Leake County Career and Technical Center. Now, Hardy said she can’t see herself in a different career.


Opposite page: Kosciusko-Attala Career Technical Center (KACTC) Counselor Tracy Hardy (left) and Director Tony Holder stand outside the facility at which they have worked together for 21 years. Top right: Holder (standing) assists Kenneth Georgia (foreground) and Melissa Rives with the Wheel of Life table at KACTC’s annual reality fair. Bottom right: Holder (right) discusses a monthly budget from KACTC’s reality fair with Ethel High School junior Tyler Weaver, a first-year Automotive Service student at the center.

“We are all in it together — trying to educate kids and prepare them to be successful citizens.” Tony Holder, KACTC director “I told [Pepper], ‘I want to do what you’re doing,’” Hardy said. “She influenced me so much in high school. To this day, we are still friends and still communicate. She made a difference in my life.” Hardy now influences KACTC students the way Pepper did for her by exposing them to the array of career paths available to them. She says it is rewarding “to see students grow, decide what they want to do for a career and then thrive in that career.” In their current roles, Hardy and Holder not only reach students who come through their center, but they also support the teachers who are like members of their own family. “I know what my teachers face every day. People will say, ‘It looks like you have a good thing going’ or ‘You must be doing a good job.’ I’ll tell them it’s not me,” Holder said. “My job is easy. My teachers make me look good. They are the ones doing the work and teaching every day. If you surround yourself with good people, it makes your job easier.” Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 13


KACTC Health Science students Joshua Alvarado (center) and Jada Smith (right) — sophomores at Ethel High School and Kosciusko High School, respectively — use an enlarged heart diagram to teach Hardy about blood flow through the heart.

That’s why he leans so heavily on Hardy. Holder said her rapport with the students and teachers is “vital to the success of the center.” Hardy wears many hats at the center, including coordinating all the communication efforts to external stakeholders and parents. Hardy said she has many ideas. While some work and others don’t, Hardy said she appreciates how Holder gives her the opportunity to try them. “If he knows that I have the students’ best interests at heart, then he’ll do whatever he can to make sure that happens,” Hardy said. “At the end of the day, we want to do what’s best for the kids. If someone has a better idea, then I want to hear it,” Holder added. “We are all in it together — trying to educate kids and prepare them to be successful citizens.” Holder and Hardy said they are honored to be named the administrator and counselor of the year, although they see it as simply doing

their best to support the center’s staff and students. “In one respect, I feel like I’m just doing my job, but I keep thinking it’s just an honor to be recognized for doing my job because I absolutely love what I do. I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Hardy said. Holder echoed those sentiments and said his reflection takes him back to the success stories of students who have come through the center. “Every decision I make is about the kids. That’s what gives me a sense of accomplishment,” he said. “If I can say the administrator of the year tag means I made a difference in a kid’s life, that’s where I get my satisfaction.” Because of the impact they make on students and the bond they formed, Holder and Hardy both see guiding the students in Attala County as a passion, not a job.

news & notes

Winters Honored for 33 Years of Service Administrators and teachers at the Tunica County School District took time this winter to congratulate a long-serving educator on his career. Metal Fabrication teacher Cedric Winters’ 33-year career was filled with “outstanding teaching, dedication and service,” said Dianne Daley, the David Williams Jr. Career and Technical Center director. The center held a virtual retirement party for Winters before he concluded his tenure at the school district. 14 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021

Tunica County School District Metal Fabrication teacher Cedric Winters (left), CTE Director Dianne Daley (center) and former CTE Director and Agriculture teacher David Williams Jr. Williams Jr. (left) and Winters

news & notes

Franklin County Dragster Queens Design, Race Models A grant obtained by two Franklin County Career and Technical Center (FCCTC) employees allowed female students to learn more about STEM through the creation and racing of model cars this year. Dexter Wilson, who teaches Robotics and Engineering, and Student Support Services Coordinator Leigh Ann Bein applied for and won a nontraditional CTE participation grant for the academic year, and the $3,000 prize allowed them to purchase materials for students to create dragsters and a racetrack. The center, along with the Franklin County Middle School, chose to support the robotics grant as a way to get more female students into STEM-related activities and classes. Administrators encouraged girls to sign up and work with Clockwise from top left: Wilson, who taught them aerodynamics and other sciences behind dragster racing. • First place: Sophomore Specifically, Wilson covered how carbon dioxide (CO2) canKilynn McKenzie nister-propelled dragsters may be small, but they achieve high • Second place: Junior speeds when racing. The dragsters are subject to an expansive Alexis Jackson variety of forces that affect motion and velocity. Gravity, thrust, • Third place: Seventh drag, lift, friction and weight were some of the principal forces grader Felicity Ballard discussed. The students learned how a wind tunnel works to help scientists understand how the wind moves around different shapes. They also learned how a CO2 cartridge works to thrust the dragster forward. The students predicted which predesigned car out of four designs would be the winner, chose a design and color and then personalized the details on their selected cars. A large amount of glitter was involved in the process. Due to the school’s hybrid schedule, the actual race took two days. Inga Lehman, a 2003 graduate of Franklin County High School and female roadway engineer working with the Mississippi Department of Transportation, sent well wishes to the Dragster Queens via video. The track was set up on the stage in the auditorium, and students squealed with delight and amazement as their cars sped to the finish line. Each heat had race times recorded, and the racers moved through the brackets. The first-place winner was Kilynn McKenzie, second place went to Alexis Jackson and Felicity Ballard secured third place. The Robotics and Engineering class will continue using From left to right: Franklin County Career and Technical the track for its own dragster racing and in years to come for Center Robotics and Engineering instructor Dexter Wilson Technology Student Association competitions. Students will sets up dragsters for a race as junior Kamryn Day and design dragsters from scratch and race at the regional, state sophomore Lillian Hutton watch. and national levels. The Robotics and Engineering class would like to thank Lisa Storey and Terry Moffett for allowing and encouraging their students to participate in this event. Wilson and Bein said they are thankful for leaders who see the potential and appreciate the excitement of students learning in nontraditional ways. Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 15


Assistant Professor Joshua Granger and Extension Associate Marc Measells — two Mississippi State University Forestry Department faculty members — work with students from the Gardening and Overall Wellness (GrOW) class of Starkville Oktibbeha Consolidated School District’s Partnership Middle School (PMS) this spring. Photo by Megan Bean, Mississippi State University (MSU) Office of Public Affairs

Growing SKILLS

New Class Provides CTE Exposure to Starkville Students Carl Smith


unique class funded through a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation grant is providing Starkville Oktibbeha Consolidated School District (SOCSD) sixth and seventh graders basic horticulture and cooking skills that will serve them throughout their lives, and educators are hopeful this introduction to career and technical education (CTE) 16 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021

will steer them toward high school CTE programs. The 2020-2021 academic year saw the opening of Partnership Middle School, a unique collaboration between the school district and Mississippi State University (MSU) that introduces grades 6 and 7 students to the university’s educational infrastructure and experts all while MSU College of Education undergraduates and graduate students utilize

the on-campus facility as a real-world training laboratory. With the new facility came an opportunity to launch a new hands-on, skills-based learning initiative: the Gardening and Overall Wellness (GrOW) classroom. SOCSD brought in Julie White, an MSU Extension associate, to help refine curricula for the sixth- and seventhgrade iterations of the exploratory class and lead the program in its inaugural


Students from the GrOW classroom plant trees at PMS this spring. The GrOW classroom is part of a $900,000 Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation grant to promote health and wellness. Photo by Megan Bean, MSU Office of Public Affairs

year. Each nine weeks saw a new cohort of sixth graders, she said, while seventh graders were year-long participants. Depending on their schedules, students were in class for an hour two or three times each week. GrOW’s curricula focused on the basics of gardening and wellness by introducing students to horticulture and culinary arts — what students could grow in a garden and cook for themselves and their families. Students from SOCSD’s Millsaps Career and Technology

Center’s (MCTC’s) agriculture- and construction-related pathways built wooden planting stations for the class in the first semester before its planned garden was developed, and cooking carts were available for all students. “The whole point is that we’re growing and cooking everything from the garden. The farm-to-table thing is totally what I’m doing — trying to teach them healthy, sustainable things,” White said. “This is a good age to introduce healthy ideas and build good habits. We teach them to eat better now and how to cook things they can fix for their family, and they learn what things are healthy and what things are not.” Mindfulness and other mental health-promoting activities are also a cornerstone to GrOW’s curricula. A joint effort with specialists from MSU’s

Sanderson Center, the university’s hub for recreation and exercise, produced YoGrOW, a class-specific yoga program with moves and poses that mimic a plant’s life cycle. “We want students to get the building blocks they’ll need for a full, healthy life that includes nutrition, exercise and other ways to stay healthy. Mental health, for example, is another important building block, especially in times like we are in right now,” White said. “One of the simple things I taught that I think is very appropriate right now: At the beginning of all my classes, I taught students how to properly wash their hands. That’s one of the ways we’re building life skills by teaching the simple things that we should already know at our age but take [others’ knowledge of] for granted. We’re trying to teach the Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 17


basics so they’re able to have a better position in life now and down the road.” The class also focuses on big-picture topics related to the class’ fundamentals, including studies of natural resources and their related statewide and national industries; how science, technology, engineering and math are all important to understanding what they’re learning now and how to apply this knowledge in the future; and discussions about clubs and organizations — National FFA Organization and 4-H participation, for example — the students can join to further their education and experiences. “Everything we do in this class has a hands-on aspect, whether we’re out in the garden or in the classroom working on stuff. I feel like if they’re touching and doing it, they’re learning. That’s what we try to keep going in the classroom — they’re always learning by doing something instead of listening to a bunch of lectures,” White said. “We see them able to have opportunities to be involved and experience things that relate back to the classroom. Any way you can have them relate to things they’ve learned inside the classroom when they’re outside of it is a benefit for them.” 18 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021

Top left: Julie White, a Mississippi State University Extension agent who leads the GrOW classroom, poses with a wooden structure students used for gardening activities early in the 2020-2021 academic year before the school’s garden project was completed. Top right: The school’s completed garden project is pictured in March. Bottom: GrOW classroom students plant a tree in March. The tree planting was originally scheduled for Arbor Day but rescheduled because of weather. Photos by Megan Bean, MSU Office of Public Affairs


Lenora Hogan, who leads MCTC, said she’s excited to see younger students experience CTE before reaching high school. The GrOW classroom, she said, could serve as a pipeline for future students seeking educational opportunities in the horticulture and agriculture pathways — two fields of study she said experienced a decline in enrollment in the recent past.

“We’ve been trying to make as many connections to younger students and lower grades as we can for the past few years. Before this class started, we’d have agriculture and horticulture students going to the elementary schools for events and pop-up shops. Since GrOW started, our agriculture, horticulture and construction students go over and talk to the students about different things related to their fields,” Hogan said. “We

CTE Experience Prepares Walthall Graduate for College, Career

want the middle school students to be able to come tour our facilities if they’re interested in what they’re learning now to see what they could be doing once they get to high school. “Agriculture and horticulture are important to the state and the nation, and we want to make sure they don’t diminish,” she added. “We need to have young people excited about those fields and ready to step in.” news & notes

The Walthall County Career and Technology Center (WCCTC) has produced many success stories since its opening in 2001. What schools once referred to as vo-tech is now several programs of study, many of which will qualify a person to perform at entry-level positions or better, depending on their skill set. Now, more career and technology (CTE) students are advancing to technical schools and community colleges to further their careers, boost their starting salary and acquire additional training for specialized jobs. One example is J.C. Atterberry, who enrolled at WCCTC as a junior in high school. He decided on a career field in vehicle mechanics, and the automotive technician program at the center proved a good fit for Atterberry. The handson experience in auto shop, along with learning how to utilize service manuals and accessing computers, showed Atterberry how technical and academic edu- After completing Walthall County Career cation are related. and Technology Center’s automotive With the help of his instructors and career counselors, Atterberry mapped technology program in 2019 and graduating out his high school schedule and CTE courses to maximum benefit. By setting from Tylertown High School in 2020, J.C. a goal — in his case, becoming a diesel and truck technician — and listening to Atterberry decided to further his skills and the faculty’s advice, Atterberry decided additional training past the CTE high study the field of diesel and truck technology at Lincoln Tech in Nashville, Tennessee. school course was necessary. He enrolled in the Nashville, Tennessee-based Lincoln Tech’s diesel and truck technology program in 2020 after graduating from the Walthall County School District. Atterberry studied adhesive bonding and plastic welding while he worked as a mechanic for FedEx this academic year. There seems to be no end to the opportunities in Atterberry’s chosen field. Companies — Caterpillar, Cummings and Detroit Diesel, for example — are actively recruiting and aiding students in the field. Lincoln Tech is a magnet location for U.S. and international students, and the school helps students by holding on-campus career fairs that draw some of the best-known companies to the campus, where representatives meet, interview and recruit graduates. Atterberry has many reasons for making his educational and career choices. For instance, there is a projected double-digit growth in the diesel and truck tech field, with 4 out of 5 students from the program getting hired in the field when they graduate. The additional education he is receiving at Lincoln Tech means a sizeable increase in salary, as the median salary for an entrylevel diesel tech is $54,090 a year, and most achieve $60,586 within their first few years of employment. Advancing to senior tech means another boost in pay: almost $70,000. Generally, technicians receive full benefits, like medical and retirement, too. Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 19


What are the successes your school district experienced during the pandemic that you are the proudest of? We celebrate that CTE is a family, and it showed bigger and brighter during the pandemic. It is our daily goal to make our students and staff feel like they are a part of a family; it makes learning and teaching intentional, engaging, fun and prosperous. We also celebrate, even though times are different, the fact that teachers continued on their path to help our students be successful through new, available resources and best practices; they never wavered. Teamwork made our dream work, and I’m grateful for our team.

Evet Topp

Tupelo Career and Technical Center director

Our students and staff continued to grow our culture in our district. We never lowered our expectations.

Lundy Brantley

Neshoba County School District superintendent

What does CTE look like to you after COVID-19? Post-COVID instruction for CTE will look much the same (hybrid), except instructors will be more comfortable with online learning. As instructors mold their curriculum and meld hands-on opportunities into their plans, I feel that learning will increase. Students will benefit from the blending of instruction. Technology and training will catch up to 21st-century standards.

Kevin Williams

Tippah Career and Technology Center director

What were the biggest challenges your school district faced as students, teachers and administrators returned to the classroom? Lundy Brantley

Neshoba County School District superintendent

20 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021

The biggest challenge was working through the quarantine with our students to continue to provide instruction online while continuing to teach in person. It took great communication from all parties to make this a great success.

What is the most important thing you learned from the move toward online/blended instruction? The most important thing we learned is our purpose continues despite the hurdles we must cross. Although COVID-19 prevented face-to-face instruction inside the school building, we continued to provide students with the tools that will prepare them for college and a career. Regardless of the mode of instruction, our focus did not change. Our teachers were expected to teach, and our students were expected to learn. Therefore, virtual leaning had the same expectations: excellence in academic achievement. Our students were all equipped with Chromebooks and hot spots for connectivity provided by the district. Our world-class teachers were prepared for the transition to Canvas, the Tunica County School District’s chosen learning management system. From contracted and in-house professional development to building administrators’ guidance, peer-teaching and presentations, our teachers were prepared for the challenge of virtual learning. The teachers are resilient and pushed forward to provide instruction to all students. Our district was 100% virtual, providing instruction using explicit, direct instruction via Google Meet and Canvas. Google Meet provided us with the technology to get closer to our students during the global COVID-19 pandemic. It served as our virtual classroom and digital communication tool that provided interactive instruction with screen sharing for teachers and students. We were supported by Superintendent Margie Pulley and the central office staff in every aspect of reaching and teaching our students, while also providing safety for everyone. The focus of our district is teaching, learning and safety. Our priority is the safety of our students, faculty, staff, parents and community. We are so proud of our students at David Williams Jr. Career and Technical Center. They rose to the challenges and defeated the odds. The following Michelle Forman quote says it best: “Each student is a unique person and a powerful learner capable of great achievement. I truly marvel at … students’ capacity for learning, accomplishment and growth.”

Dianne Daley

David Williams Jr. Career and Technical Center (Tunica County School District) director

I learned that CTE can work — and even thrive — in a hybrid state. By utilizing online learning management systems such as Canvas, we can combine online learning with in-class/shop hands-on training to maximize career readiness. And we have instructors ready and willing to put in the necessary work to get it done.

Kevin Williams

Tippah Career and Technology Center director

It reiterated what I always knew about our teachers: They are passionate for our students and their learning, and they rose to the occasion and did what needed to be done to make a smooth transition from traditional learning to what was necessary for our students’ success during the pandemic.

Evet Topp

Tupelo Career and Technical Center director

The most important thing that I have learned is to be sure to pace myself in these uncertain times and to lead others to do the same. In uncertain situations like we are currently experiencing, pacing is very important to prevent burnout.

Lundy Brantley

Neshoba County School District superintendent

Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 21


Engineering INSIGHT

CTE Teachers Share Experiences With MTAC Heather Craig


hen the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) announced the addition of more than 100 experienced teachers and professionals to the Mississippi Teacher Advisory Council (MTAC) in August, the new additions included two career and technical education (CTE) engineering teachers: Pontotoc’s Amanda Wood and Moss Point’s Billy Carroll. Launched in 2016, the MTAC now features almost 400 educators representing schools from across the state and a variety of content areas, including arts, CTE, general education and special education. The council provides feedback to Dr. Carey Wright, the state superintendent of education, on the initiatives of the MDE, the Mississippi State Board

of Education (SBE) and the Mississippi State Legislature. “It really gives the MDE and Dr. Wright a more holistic view of the state and the challenges and successes that we experience in our classrooms,” Wood said. Since many of those experiences are different for CTE educators, Carroll said serving in the group is a good opportunity to provide feedback directly on how these initiatives affect success as a CTE instructor. The council’s goal “to empower teachers to discuss topics critical to their success” could not have been better stated for its work during the COVID19 pandemic. The group moved normal meetings to Zoom and continued pursuing its priorities.

Amanda Wood

Billy Carroll

"[The MTAC] really gives the MDE and Dr. Wright a more holistic view of the state and the challenges and successes that we experience in our classroom." Amanda Wood, Pontotoc Ridge Career and Technology Center engineering instructor 22 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021


The Mississippi Teacher Advisory Council meets via Zoom in March. “There were certainly issues we knew we were going to have when school started in August, but when your boots are on the ground and you are actually in the trenches, there are things that you didn’t think about initially, including how to meet the needs of every student and, in some cases, learning a brandnew learning management system,” Wood said. The MTAC helped fill the void across Mississippi with teachers sharing resources and knowledge to support one another as well as presenting concerns directly to Wright. It continues to provide professional development opportunities to its members that representatives can share with their colleagues. “There is a question-and-answer session at the end of every meeting, and one of the main concerns that arose during the pandemic was how to reach special

needs students,” Wood said. “Some of the school districts [throughout the academic year] taught online. Connecting with students was a real concern. “One of the awesome things our state did was provide Chromebooks or similar technology to every student, and — I don’t believe everyone has internet access yet — but that is where we are moving to. We’re trying to get there,” she added. Appointment to the council also provided an opportunity for Carroll and Wood to appreciate resources they may have otherwise missed and take them back to their colleagues, including online textbook access and others made available by the MDE. “I didn’t realize that there is a new television channel with pre-recorded lessons that are aligned to state standards. I thought that was really great, especially for virtual or hybrid students

to get what they need without having to meet online at a certain time,” Wood said. In addition to the resources, Carroll said “(Wright) has been very good about communicating important issues” that the council can take back and discuss with the fellow instructors in their districts. While the MTAC is beneficial to the teachers, it is just as important to the MDE. Wright said, “Over the last four years, I have greatly valued the feedback from teachers across this state through our meetings. The MDE has provided professional development opportunities, resources and changes in policy based in part on conversations I’ve had with members of the MTAC. “I look forward to hearing from our new members as we work collaboratively on behalf of students,” she added. Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 23

news & notes

Pearl River Welder Among Students Highlighted by MCEF Levi Burge, a third-year welding student at the Pearl River County Career and Technology Center, was one of Mississippi’s public school students honored by the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation (MCEF) as a student of the month for the state’s Southern region last semester. Burge is a leader in the classroom and the shop. He holds core and welding credentials from the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER). His skills earned him top honors in a 2019 welding competition along with his class’ award for welding. Away from school, Burge enjoys construction work with his father in addition to serving as a firefighter with Derby Whitesand Volunteer Fire Department. Upon graduation, he plans to work as a pipefitter for two years before establishing his own mobile welding service. "We congratulate Levi for earning student of the month honors and for being an excellent representative of high school career-tech programs in Mississippi," said MCEF President Mike Barkett. "We're proud of our students of the month for helping ensure our state has a highly skilled workforce to support the state's growing construction and manufacturing industries." Students of the month are selected from MCEF’s three districts based on grades, attendance, discipline in class, outstanding achievements, leadership abilities and postgraduation plans. All compete for student of the year honors at the foundation’s annual awards program at the end of the school year. MCEF is a nonprofit educational foundation that provides NCCER craft training and credentialing in more than 100 career and technical programs across the state. The foundation’s mission is to train individuals for the construction and manufacturing industries in Mississippi. MCEF also offers workforce training and credentialing in construction, industrial maintenance and manufacturing trades. Learn more about MCEF at

24 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021


The Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit just completed another season of Webinar Wednesdays — a series of short online video tutorials to help teachers and administrators promote their CTE programs.

Visit to view webinars any time. Topics available include: • • • • •

Adobe Spark Video production Letters of recommendation Digital etiquette Graphics and photos

• • • • •

Social media College admissions Promoting student organizations Media outreach Newsletters

news & notes

Neshoba Digital Media Students Produce Hype Video There is always an abundance of hype on Neshoba County School District’s (NCSD’s) Rocket Field during football games, but there was a new addition this year that drew accolades from fans, coaches and players. A new hype video produced by Neshoba Central High School’s digital media technology students premiered last semester. When the video was later posted on social media, it reached more than 6,000 people in less than a week. Digital Media II teacher Shannon Broom said she was thrilled for her students and their success. “That’s a lot of Facebook views for us,” she said. “We are just a little organization here in Philadelphia.” Lundy Brantley, NCSD’s superintendent of education, applauded their efforts and said the students were able to build their résumé while getting real-world experience in Neshoba Central High School junior Kathryn Dreifuss (left) and senior Jon Addy pose in front of a computer displaying the hype their chosen fields. video shot and produced by the school’s digital media program. The “Their creativity is really mind blowing,” he said. This is the third year for digital media at Neshoba video was well received and garnered thousands of views on social Central and Broom’s second to teach the second-year media after it was posted. course. Bridgette McFarland teaches the first-year course. Skills taught include photography, graphic design, music production, video and animation. Junior Kathryn Dreifuss and senior Jon Addy said they enjoyed the class so much that they plan to pursue similar fields of study in college. “Students like Kathryn and Jon are so interested in the technology that they will work on video production at home," Broom said. "Not everybody is willing to do that.” To watch all the videos, visit Neshoba Central High School's digital media technology’s Facebook page.

Petal Health Science Students Experience a Dose of Reality

Petal High School juniors Jacob Allen (left) and Lillian Simmons take part in Health Science II's geriatric lab simulation.

Petal High School Health Science II students participated in a virtual simulation geriatric lab in the classroom this year, rotating through a variety of scenarios to help them better understand the effects of the aging process. The simulations included visual disturbances, fine motor skills impairment, gait issues with the use of the wheelchair, hearing impairment and effects of having a stroke. This activity allowed students to be better equipped to empathize with their patients and family members who are elderly and helped them with resources to assist in this process. Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 25




Willis Guides JPS Cadets to Success

Amanda Gronewold


n the last decade, almost all Jackson Public School (JPS) students who participated in the district’s Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (JROTC) program graduated, and many went on to attend institutions of higher learning. These graduates consider retired U.S. Army Col. Paul Willis the driving force behind their success. Willis, an Edwards native and Alcorn State University graduate, came to Jackson with an impressive military career under his belt after serving 25 years on active duty as a transportation corps officer. His service took him to various places throughout America and Germany, but a teaching assignment at Chicago State University sowed the seeds for what would become his postArmy career. “I absolutely loved that experience. I said if I ever had a chance to go back and do teaching at the college or high school level, I would certainly take advantage of it,” he said. His chance came 17 years ago, and he retired from the Army to join JPS as the director of Army instruction. Willis oversees JPS’ seven JROTC units, which see an average combined enrollment of about 1,800 cadets yearly.

“If They Can See It, They Can Be It”

When Willis joined JPS, he felt the JROTC curriculum, which focuses on leadership and character development, was tremendous, but he believed 26 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021

more experiences outside the classroom would benefit the cadets. “It sounds like a trite statement, but it’s so true: If the students can see it, they can be it.” While Willis visited the campus of Mississippi State University (MSU), a happenstance meeting led to the creation of some of these opportunities. As they passed each other on the campus grounds, then-university President Robert Foglesong struck up a conversation with Willis and expressed interest in having JPS students visit the campus. That summer, a group of JPS cadets participated in Young Guns, a weeklong leadership development program for incoming high school seniors, at MSU.

Later, when Young Guns faced elimination, Willis worked with MSU to revamp it with a STEM focus and secure more funding from the Army. The program, now known as leaderSTATE Leadership Development Camp, has grown from a single, one-week event for 60 JPS students to six sessions that serve 360 students each summer from Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. After the success of leaderSTATE, Willis helped establish similar programs at William Carey University, Jackson State University (JSU) and the University of Southern Mississippi. These accomplished programs caught the attention of universities outside of the state and were replicated.


Top: Retired U.S. Army Col. Paul Willis (standing) addresses cadets preparing to compete in the 2019 Jackson Public Schools (JPS) Cadet of the Year Competition. Pictured (from left) are 1st Sgt. Shone Bounds, JPS’ JROTC operations officer, and Cadet Jeremiah Meeks, who was a junior at Callaway High School in 2019. Meeks is now a freshman enrolled at Jackson State University. Bottom: Willis presents a 2019 Drill Team Competition Award to Cadet Micha Lee, who was a junior at Forest Hill High School at the time. Lee graduated from Forest Hill in 2020 and is now serving on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps.

“People from Florida, California, Georgia and Alabama — they all started coming to Mississippi State to look at our program,” he said. “They took the blueprint that was developed at Mississippi State.”

Turning Resources Into Opportunities

Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Edwin Butler, who is the current JROTC bureau director at the Mississippi Department of Education, said exposure is an important component of JPS cadets’ success. Willis, he said, has a talent for gathering the resources needed to find and create these opportunities. “Col. Willis is good at building partnerships, creating a vision, having folks understand the importance of what he’s trying to do and having them buy

into that,” Butler said. “He has a huge network of people that help and support him.” For example, Willis secured funding from 100 Black Men of Jackson to send students to the National Flight Academy in Pensacola, Florida, for what Willis described as “a premiere aviation STEM experience.” “Those experiences with aviation have really heightened interest among our students. Right now, we’re on the verge of establishing an aviation academy within [JPS] for those students who specifically want to pursue a career in aviation,” Willis said. Delta State University, the only fouryear college in Mississippi with an aviation program, is supporting the school district’s effort to develop the academy.

JROTC is commonly thought of as a recruitment tool for the armed forces — a misconception identified by both Willis and Butler. While any cadet who aspires to a future in the military is supported, Willis believes higher education — traditional universities, trade schools and everything in between — is a crucial part of most cadets’ journeys to success. He works with his instructors to make sure all seniors have time set aside for applying to institutions of higher learning.

Encouragement is Contagious

U.S. Army Reserve 1st Lt. Agodtis McClendon, a former JROTC cadet and graduate of Murrah High School, said Willis provided a pivotal moment of encouragement during his college selection process. Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 27


Willis suggested McClendon consider Marion Military Institute, a competitive two-year college in Marion, Alabama. McClendon, expecting to continue his ROTC experience at a more accessible public college in his home state, had not considered Marion a possibility, but Willis’ confidence in him led him to learn more about the institution. After a rigorous application process, McClendon was accepted into Marion’s two-year early commissioning program, which allows students to expedite their college ROTC training and gain commission as a second lieutenant. He also received a scholarship and completed the program as command sergeant major of his battalion. “[Willis] believed I could do something, and two years later, I did it,” McClendon said. “That, to me, just speaks volumes of the support the program has and the influence it can have on students.” Willis continued to encourage McClendon throughout his college

Willis (standing, right) addresses cadets preparing to compete in the 2020 JPS Cadet of the Year Competition. Pictured (from left, facing the camera) are Cadet Tyra Patterson, a Jim Hill High School senior; Cadet Christopher Washington, a Lanier High School senior; and Bounds. career and invited McClendon to speak to JPS cadets about his experiences. McClendon found encouraging others helped him to push through the hardest days of training and coursework. McClendon continued his education at JSU and became a social studies

teacher at JPS’ Blackburn Middle School. He remains involved with the local JROTC program by assisting with events and speaking to and mentoring cadets. With Willis’ guidance of JPS’ JRTOC program, cadets are sure to find success during and after high school.

news & notes

Pontotoc Welding Students Complete Projects

Pictured from left to right are Daelan Hollingsworth, JC Silver, Donivon Owen, Colton Sappington, Aaron Pannell, Brady Shettles, Tristan Gazaway, Cayden McCollum and Refrigerated Solutions Group’s Kerry Hodges.

28 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021

Welding students from Pontotoc County School District’s Pontotoc Ridge Career and Technology Center completed two hands-on projects — rolling material carts and signposts — for Refrigerated Solutions Group in New Albany this academic year. Starting from a blueprint, students went through every step of the fabrication process under the guidance of their instructor, Chad Whisenant. Working in teams, class members rotated through the different steps: measuring, cutting, grinding, fitting and welding. These projects were a great opportunity for students to see a real-world application of the skills they learned and to put those skills into action. Refrigerated Solutions Group’s Kerry Hodges took delivery of the finished products, which were used in the company’s office.

news & notes

VWSD Schedule Change Allows for Youngest Engineering Completer Aisha Williams, a sophomore enrolled at Vicksburg High School, was set to become her district’s youngest engineering program completer this spring thanks to a scheduling change for the academic year. This year, the Vicksburg Warren School District implemented a five-by-five schedule for all high school students in which students attended five classes in the fall semester and five different classes in the spring. This schedule allowed students to complete some programs within a year’s time. Williams and other students learned how to use AutoCAD design software and other programming applications, among many other lessons and tasks. “I wanted to take this class to see if engineering was the career path I wanted to pursue,” she said.

Curriculum UPDATE Curricula up for approval by the State Board of Education this academic year and expected to go into effect for the 2021-2022 academic year: •  Advanced Manufacturing

•  Horticulture

•  Computer Science and Engineering

•  Industrial Maintenance

•  Food Products (Meats) •  Forestry

•  Keystone •  Television and Broadcasting

•  Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning

Download the latest curriculum resources at For the latest curriculum revision schedule, click Pathway Resources and then Proposed Revision Cycle. Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 29


PRIZE Gulfport Auto Teacher Lands Funds for Shop Upgrades


Heather Craig


he Gulf Coast’s environment — the accessibility to a nautical life and the dangers the water brings with it — shaped Robert Caylor’s life with as much force as tides eroding a beach. The current Gulfport School District (GSD) auto mechanics teacher, whose efforts recently brought in a large cash prize that will upgrade school equipment, originally dreamed of a career involving the water. He first pursued a life in the U.S. Navy — an obvious choice for a young man whose father spent years on aircraft carriers at sea. His imperfect hearing, however, required him to give up that dream. He naturally turned to what he saw as the next best thing: marine biology. Caylor soon found himself stretched between his habitat and his family ties, a battle of nature versus nurture consuming all his time. After working all week for the National Marine Fish Service, he would then toil for his dad at the family’s Long Beach auto shop on the weekends. “He had so many cars waiting that I’d work all weekend long and then go back to work on Monday,” Caylor said. “From the very start, he was splitting the profits with me. I was making more in those two days on the weekend than I was all 30 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021

week long in my regular paycheck. I did that for about a year, and then I was at the point of exhaustion.” Soon, Caylor opened his own shop in Gulfport, quitting his job as a marine biologist and following in his father’s footsteps instead. “I mean, I love marine biology. Biology was fun, but I liked being able to provide for my family too, so I saw where auto mechanics was a good job for me,” he said. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed his shop, Caylor found himself again bending to the forces of nature. “Hurricane Katrina said, ‘No.’ My shop was three blocks off the beach, and

it was destroyed. It was a rental, and my landlord decided to rebuild [differently]. My house was also destroyed, so we were having to rebuild that. I had two FEMA trailers sitting in my driveway, three kids and my wife,” he said. “It was not a good situation, so we had to focus on that.” Not long after his house was finished, Caylor’s son — then a high school senior — told him Gulfport’s auto mechanics teacher was retiring after a 30-year career. Caylor was quick to apply for the position and started the next year. That was 15 years ago, and Caylor has found nothing short of success as Gulfport’s auto mechanics instructor. After a lengthy application and


Opposite page: Gulfport School District’s (GSD's) Robert Caylor (left) works with students on Project Mustang. Top left: A Toyota truck is pictured at the GSD automotive shop. The district's automotive program completes about $30,000 in free auto repairs each year. Bottom left: A GSD student works in the automotive shop. Bottom right: Caylor receives the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence last fall.

interview process, he was presented this year with the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, which gave $35,000 to Gulfport High School (GHS) and $15,000 to Caylor. “At first I thought they were calling looking for one of my colleagues,” he said. “Only three teachers in Mississippi have ever received the Harbor Freight award, and all of them are at Gulfport." The award will enable Caylor to achieve many dreams for his program, including replacing lifts and other aging equipment. He also said he hopes to buy all his students matching, personalized

mechanic shirts to show their team pride and buy needed parts for Project Mustang, a restoration effort involving a car he donated to his school. The award will also benefit more than Caylor’s class. Some of the money will go toward the school’s new STEM Haven, a venture that provides space for students to work on CTE projects alongside academic teachers and other students, rounding out their opportunities to learn both the hands-on side of their projects and the theory and implications of their work with additional

resources from classes like math, science, English and history. “We’re an academy that they designed around CTE, so we’re part of the main campus now. I want to be able to buy some equipment for STEM Haven so students will have what they need out there and at home,” he said. The award comes as no surprise to Gulfport CTE Director Tom Wallace, who said Caylor is responsible for making the GHS automotive program “one of the strongest in the state.” “He has an unwavering commitment to help his students achieve their

"We are extremely proud of Mr. Caylor’s award with the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program. This acknowledgement shined a spotlight on his dedication to his students and garnered the GHS automotive program national recognition." Tom Wallace, Gulfport School District CTE director Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 31


Caylor and his students listen to a speaker at a recent automotive seminar. personal goals. He also connects them with local business and industry partners to provide them with tremendous experience that helps prepare them for the workforce,” Wallace said. “We are extremely proud of Mr. Caylor’s award with the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program. This acknowledgement has shined a spotlight on his dedication to his students and garnered the GHS automotive program national recognition.”

Caylor offers so much more than his award money to Gulfport students. GHS Principal Oswago Harper said Caylor “has been a vital member of our CTE program for many years. His capacity is extremely high, and he does an outstanding job imparting knowledge to our children. “His students always leave the automotive technology courses with great working knowledge, and they are well prepared to pursue future ambitions,” Harper added. “Most of all, Mr. Caylor

is a man of great integrity. He is always teaching our students valuable life lessons that will impact them for a lifetime.” Caylor’s situation at Gulfport is nothing short of ideal. While he works hard and advocates for his students and program regularly, he said he couldn’t be successful without support from GSD. “I don’t know of another district that just provides everything like they do,” he said. “They are just like, ‘What do you want? What do you need?’ They make sure we have it.”

news & notes

Lauderdale County FBLA Members Design, Donate Puzzles

Future Business Leaders of America members from Lauderdale County School District’s Northeast Middle School pose with residents of their local Aldersgate retirement community after donating puzzle booklets in March. 32 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021

Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) members from Lauderdale County School District’s Northeast Middle School spent two weeks this academic year designing approximately 100 word search puzzles for residents who live in the local Aldersgate retirement community. The FBLA officers presented the puzzle booklets to the residents in March.

news & notes

Neshoba Students Earn OSHA Certification Thirty-nine Neshoba Central High School (NCHS) students earned Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 10 certification this year, putting them a step ahead when they enter the workforce, administrators said. The certification program provides students with basic and advanced training about common safety and health hazards on the job. Students received OSHA 10 course completion cards at the end of the training. The certification, administrators said, will help students secure future jobs in a number of industrial fields. The group included 25 engineering students and nine agriculture/National FFA students. Engineering, agriculture and digital media are three career and technical education programs offered at the high school. Engineering teacher Sedera Anderson initiated the OSHA classes, which students took last semester while the school was on a hybrid schedule. The students — many of whom aspire to work in engineering, architecture, computer science and music production — underwent at least 10 hours of online training on 14 different levels. “They had to complete each level and score 70 or above to move to the next,” Anderson said. “They had to pass the final exam, which covered all levels, with a 70 or above score.” The levels included fire hazards, ladder safety, hazardous materials, ergonomics and other areas. Agriculture instructor Derek Huffman said the certification is already paying off for some of his students who have part-time jobs. “From a vocational setting these days, having OSHA certification gives these students an advantage,” he said. “Some businesses in our community have already offered some of our students a pay increase. If they go into a vocational workforce setting after school or college, they have to meet OSHA guidelines. The certification gives them that advantage.” NCHS Assistant Principal Dana McLain said these students would have an advantage over other uncertified job seekers with the same qualifications. The OSHA 10 certification program, she said, was “just another example of how our district is really investing in our students. We really want them to excel once they graduate from us.”

From top to bottom: • Engineering juniors receiving certification include: (seated, from left) Tyler Smith, Zoie Herring, Justin Hendrix, Briauna Eubanks and Hunter Bavetta; (second row, from left) Noah Clark, Noah Savell, Matthew Pecoraro, Tony Riddle Jr. and Grayson Fulton; and (back row, from left) Cameron Hamilton, Braedon Raffield, Tony Grant, Bryceton Spencer and Kaden McDonald. Not pictured is Omarion Stribling. • From left to right: Engineering seniors earning certification include Damien Clark, Zavibien Welch, Ethan Bounds, Mary Kate Moran, Logan Flowers and Caleb Belk. Not pictured are Devin McCoy and Fiona Hurtt. • From left to right: Agriculture students earning certification include Hunter Beason, Eli Richardson, Natalie Verry, Abigail Fortune, Maleah Barrett, Wyatt Bryan and Joe Frank Byrd. • Engineering students Logan Flowers (left) and Aaron Le recently earned OSHA 10 certification. Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 33

spruced UP


Clinton, Cleveland CTE Programs Celebrate New, Improved Spaces

Carl Smith


f your surroundings influence how you think and feel, then career and technical education (CTE) teachers in Clinton and Cleveland should be in a good mood after recent construction and renovation projects at the two city school districts. Clinton Public School District (CPSD) officials gathered this winter to dedicate new additions to Clinton High School that provide a needed spatial expansion to programs, while Cleveland School District educators say they’re enjoying the fruits of their labor — and donations from the community — after a multi-year effort to spruce up the CTE shop. “It’s always a great thing when communities come together to support CTE,” said Dr. Aimee Brown, the Mississippi Department of Education’s CTE leader. “My hat goes off to the Clinton community members who supported construction of new CTE facilities and to businesses and residents of Cleveland who provided supplies and donations to their local facility. Improvements ensure these facilities will be up to par for students in the future.” 34 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021

Top: Danielle Woodruff, a sophomore Culinary Arts I student at Clinton High School (CHS), serves refreshments to attendees at December’s open house event dedicating CHS’s new career and technical education (CTE) space. Bottom: Officials cut a ceremonial red ribbon during the CHS open house event in December. Pictured from left to right are architect Gary Bailey, Derek Holmes, Matt Thomas, Paula DeYoung, Bernard Kines, Felicia Gavin, Clinton Public School District (CPSD) Superintendent Tim Martin, Brett Robinson, CPSD CTE Director Bill Hardin and Brad and Jamie Fountain of Fountain Construction.

Clinton’s New ‘Bookends’

Proximity was one of the key factors behind CPSD expanding its high school’s CTE space. In the past, career-technical programs were housed at another building adjacent to the old high school. There, students would simply walk across the street to the old vo-tech, said CTE Director Bill Hardin. After a new high school was constructed in 1996, district officials began having a conversation

about reuniting CTE programs with the new facility. “About 12 years ago, leadership began hearing about career academies. They visited other high schools and began thinking about the value of having career-technical programs in closer proximity with academic programs, that way they could collaborate with each other and strengthen both. The idea became we’d move CTE programs to the high school so we could do that,” he said.


Those conversations turned into support and action, as the school board approved a $15 million project that constructed two additions — one on each side of the facility — that gives the high school approximately 59,000 square feet of CTE space on two floors. The project represents a 70% expansion of CTE-dedicated learning space from the district's previous mark, Hardin said. “Used to, I could walk into every classroom in about three minutes in the old building. Now? It takes me a little longer,” he joked. “We like to say we’re the bookends with academics in the middle. We’re the ones holding it together.” CTE programs moved into their respective spaces before the start of the 2020-2021 academic year. On the west end of the building, information technology, engineering, automotive and carpentry classes share the first floor, while Teacher Academy, health science and law and public safety classes are located on the second floor. The east side is reserved for communications-, arts- and business-related pathways, including digital media, broadcast journalism, work-based learning and culinary arts. Hardin said approximately 435 students were enrolled in CTE classes this year, which is an increase of 60 students from the previous year and former facilities. “Our outlook involves a two-prong approach: grow the programs we have now and look to expand in the future,” he said. “There’s a little room to expand now, and we’re not going to let up on doing that. Being here will help with growing our programs. “The community’s reaction has been so favorable,” Hardin added. “Everybody knows the value of CTE. We’re doing what we can to prepare tomorrow’s workforce.”

Cleveland Piecemeals Improvements

Renovation projects at the Cleveland Development and Technology Center became an all-hands-on-deck affair for Nathan Richardson and his community. In the last few years, district employees improved portions of the center’s spaces — specifically those for automotive, welding and construction classes. Projects included everything from simple acts of touching up walls with paint to bringing the shop up to standard for Automotive Service Excellence certification, and many supplies to accomplish these upgrades, which also included supplying students with new tools, were donated to the center by local businesses. Richardson, a CTE instructor of 20 years with a 30-year history of driving school buses, involved his students with many of the projects that breathed new life into the facility. “It took almost all of [the previous academic year] — from the beginning of the school year all the way to right before coronavirus hit — to get the shop

Top left: Cleveland School District (CSD) senior Kashum Williams (left) stains and reupholsters a chair as part of a dining room makeover project as construction instructor Nathan Richardson inspects his work. Top right: CSD senior Marcus Idleburg services an engine at the Cleveland Career Development and Technology Center (CCDTC). Right: Carl Woods, a junior at CSD, works on a lawn mower at the CCDTC. Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 35


Parents tour CPSD’s new CTE facilities during December’s open house event.

cleaned up and ready so they could paint. The building was built back in the 1970s — that’s decades of grit and sawdust. Teachers and instructors always left little pieces of themselves behind,” he said. “I had the kids involved in cleaning and getting the place ready. That gave them a sense of pride. They can look back and say, ‘I helped do that.’”

Both Richardson and automotive technology instructor George White said putting new tools in students’ hands will immediately improve learning. “A lot of people don’t understand the commitment when you talk about upgrading. It takes a lot to upgrade our shops,” Richardson said. “My average class is about 15 kids, but sometimes

I even have 20 kids in a class. With three classes a day, that’s a lot of wear and tear on tools and batteries.” “Fixing things up and getting new tools gets kids in the right mindset and gives them a vision of what they’ll see if they go into real-world automotive service settings,” White added. “We’re giving them more hands-on experiences with these new, updated tools. Once they leave, they’ll know how to use modern equipment.” Both instructors said they were thankful for the community stepping up and providing the center with the much-needed supplies and donations that made the renovations and improvements possible.

news & notes

LBHS Students Use VR to Augment Education Long Beach High School’s (LBHS’s) Teacher Academy used Lenovo virtual reality (VR) headsets this year to take their studies off campus without actually leaving. Students planned tours or other VR activities based on objectives in the Mississippi College- and CareerReadiness Standards and other teacher requests. Although they primarily used Google Expeditions, Long Beach High School Teacher Academy students are shown wearing they enjoyed other options, including YouTube VR Lenovo virtual reality headsets as a representative of the company and Movie VR. The VR activities allowed students assists with the technology’s implementation in the classroom. to get clinical hours without having to enter another building and lead English classes through Ancient Greece, Jay Gatsby's mansion and into a Trojan horse. Other LBHS students also utilized VR during the year. Biology students ventured into a cell and the skin system, humanities classes toured famous world civilizations, U.S. history classes toured the Supreme Court and psychology and theatre students took career expeditions to get first-hand looks at prospective careers. 36 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021

We can’t tell your CTE story until you tell us your


Want to have your students, program or career and technical center spotlighted in Connections? Here’s how:



IDENTIFY a new CTE activity, community service project or cutting-edge method of delivering instruction in your own classroom, school or district you feel should be shared across the state.


the release and photos with us via Be sure to include “Connections” and your school district’s/CTC’s name in the subject line, and contact information for yourself or the class/program teacher and links to your district’s and school’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts in the body of the email.



what’s happening in the classroom with pictures of teachers, students and professionals working together. Be sure to only photograph students who have returned signed photo release forms to the school district.



a press release with information about the activity or event. Well-written press releases and photo information blurbs answer the five Ws of communication: who, what, when, where and why.

From there, our staff will reach out to possibly develop and publish your story! There is no deadline for submissions, as our staff can publish your work on our Connections website and to social media at any time.

Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 37




What is your favorite career and technical education (CTE) class? Culinary Arts is my favorite CTE class because I have a passion for cooking and baking. Being in the kitchen allows me to express myself in a way that I love.

GRACIE GRAHAM • Senior • Clinton High School, Clinton Public School District

38 CONNECTIONS Spring 2021

Who is your favorite teacher or school district employee? Chef Catherine Bruce is my favorite teacher because she allows me to make creative decisions for myself. I also feel as though she is an easy person to talk to and gives amazing criticism and advice. What is your proudest accomplishment as a student? I am proud of becoming Chef Bruce's first student intern. It is not only a big milestone for the CTE department, but also a big milestone for me because I have found a love for the art of culinary through Chef Bruce's guidance.

What clubs, organizations, activities or sports do you enjoy participating in the most? Culinary, Anchor Club and Diamond

Dolls are a few extracurricular activities I enjoy because they all give me a chance to provide for others in a way I cannot on my own. I love to provide for others in ways that come easy to me like cooking and helping. What jobs or careers interest you the most? Opening my own restaurant has been a dream of mine for the past few years because I can provide a place for families and friends to join together and have comfort foods. I hope to also have a bakery inside or near the restaurant I open.




Why did you become a teacher? I love seeing how passionate these students are and how excited they are to learn. Teaching inspires me to continually learn new skills in the kitchen. What has been your greatest success as a teacher? I love seeing the amazing creations these students make in the kitchen. I just give them the tools and basic skills and set them free to play!

How do you motivate your students? That's an easy one — food! They know that their reward for hard work is to sample their creations. What advice would you give firstyear teachers? Remember that you are there to serve, and with that service mindset comes humility. Don't be afraid to tell a student that you don't know the answer to their questions. You can learn together!

CHEF CATHERINE BRUCE • Teacher/Counselor • Clinton High School, Clinton Public School District • Culinary Arts



Proctoring • Canvas • CTE Pathways • Parent Resources & More! Spring 2021 CONNECTIONS 39

New Starkville Class Introduces CTE to Young Students����������� p. 16 TELL YOUR STORY! Email your CONNECTIONS news to

The Mississippi Department of Education Office of Career and Technical Education and Workforce Development does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, or disability in the provision of educational programs and services or employment opportunities and benefits. The following office has been designated to handle inquiries and complaints regarding the nondiscrimination policies of the Mississippi Department of Education: Director, Office of Human Resources, Mississippi Department of Education, 359 North West Street, Suite 203, Jackson, Mississippi 39201. 601.359.3511.

Published by the Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit.

Connections Spring 2021  

Connections is Mississippi's biannual career and technical education magazine, highlighting our diverse educators, students, and practices.

Connections Spring 2021  

Connections is Mississippi's biannual career and technical education magazine, highlighting our diverse educators, students, and practices.

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