Education tops group discussion

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 23, 2008

NATCHEZ — Representatives from various civic groups in Mississippi gathered at Alcorn State University’s School of Business on Thursday to “root out poverty” — the theme of a public conversation about the region’s poor.

Sponsored by AJFC Community Action Agency, Inc., the “Poverty Dialogue” encouraged solutions in the areas of education, health, housing, service delivery, economic development and public policy.

The liveliest discussion concerned education. Panelists were Judy Heard, special population coordinator at Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Delores Irving, vice president of the Mississippi Parent-Teacher Association and Nita Thompson, executive director of the Mississippi Head Start Association.

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The women agreed that molding academic curriculum to fit the future demands of the workforce is necessary.

“Our education system, the decision makers, are operating 20 years in the past and sometimes we have to re-educate our educators,” Irving said. “We’ve got to open our eyes to the global society and elect people who understand the education system.”

Irving added, “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, we just want to make sure the wheel is turning.”

The panel also talked about parents and personal responsibility. The women insisted educators and social service agencies cannot shoulder the responsibility alone.

“I encourage (parents) to develop habits or a lifestyle to read to your child, talk to teachers and talk to your child about the values of education,” Thompson said.

“Having a child doesn’t automatically make you aware of all your responsibilities,” Heard said.

The panel later discussed the availability of college grants and scholarships, and encouraged parents and students in the audience to complete an innumerable amount of applications to avoid college loans and years of debt.

Thompson said the costly college tuitions are putting working parents in poverty and suggested parents plan their child’s education as soon as possible.

“The time to start thinking about your child’s education is pre-natal,” she said.

Thompson educators, parents and students are responsible for maximizing the resources available to them and being good stewards of federal, state and local dollars.

Irving said a lack of publicity and manpower leaves parents and students uninformed about grants and scholarships.

“We only have three counselors at Natchez High School. It’s almost impossible for three counselors to meet with all the graduating seniors,” she said. “There has to be education in the community to let them know of opportunities. How many people know the PTA gives out scholarships?”

Only Irving raised her hand.