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Local schools garner global attention in 2012

January 7, 2013

Students and teachers from Starkville and Oktibbeha County schools earned regional, national and international attention throughout 2012, earning awards, winning competitions and pursuing enrichment opportunities.

Students in the Starkville School District made waves in robotics early in 2012 when Armstrong Middle School's Gladiators advanced to the FIRST Lego League international competition in Lakeland, Fla. They faced 63 teams from countries including Japan, China, Germany, South Africa, and Brazil. In May, just before the competition, teacher Jackie Wilt said that the students also faced their own limits.

"(Other) things come easy to them, and this program pushes them," Wilt said in May. "They really have to use a lot of critical thinking and problem-solving skills."

Another victory for the SSD in robotics came when the Millsaps Career and Technology Center's Boosting Engineering Science and Technology (BEST) Robotics team reached the regional South's BEST competition in Auburn, Ala. in December. Faculty coach Denise Adair said the team placed eighth out of 42 teams in the Overall BEST Award ranking and second in the display booth category.

"We are the only team that finished in the top 10 that has not had 10 (or more) years of (experience) competing in the regional competition," Adair said. "It is unheard of for a second-year team — and a first-year regional team — to finish in the top 10.  Also, the second in booth construction award is the first award ever to be won by the Mississippi BEST Hub."

Musicians at SHS garnered national and international attention in 2012. In December, two SHS students — Andrew Rogers and Jacob Easley — earned positions in the Mississippi Lions All State Band, which will journey to Hamburg, Germany in July to perform with musicians from around the world. In November, Mary Kate Hughes earned a slot in the National Honor Choir, slated to perform in Dallas, Texas in March.

Starkville High School art students also earned national acclaim. In March, senior George Bennett earned a gold medal in the 2012 National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, taking him to Carnegie Hall for the awards ceremony. In May, senior Maggie George placed in the top ten in the 2012 National PTA Reflections Contest, and in April, junior Seoin Jeong was named overall winner in the Congressional Art Competition for Mississippi's third congressional district, putting her self-portrait up for display at the U.S. Capitol for a year.

In July, junior Rex Ames represented SHS in Washington, D.C. as one of 98 nationwide delegates to American Legion Boys' Nation, where students conduct a mock political process. Another student honored in Washington, D.C. in May was Decorda Owens, a seventh grader at East Oktibbeha County High School named as one of five "Military Kids of the Year" by Our Military Kids.

During the fall, West Oktibbeha County Elementary School received a QDI of 176 — the highest of any school in the city or county — earning seventh place on a list of 20 Exceed Schools statewide for its strong academic performance amid a high poverty rate. WOCES Principal Andrea Temple said in October that she was proud of this achievement and thankful to the faculty and staff who made it happen.

“Our faculty and staff are committed to improving student performance each day. As a team, we focus on how we can improve instruction and the lives of our students,” Temple said in October. “We motivate our students to strive for excellence. If they encounter problems, we teach and model strategies to implement that will decrease or eliminate the challenges."

2012 also brought the spotlight to other area faculty and staff. In July, SHS economics teacher Ginger Tedder attended a New York Stock Exchange Euronext workshop in New York City, and she was selected for a fellowship that funded several of her expenses. In September, SSD professional development coordinator Theresa Pitts christened the USNS Choctaw County as one of 28 sponsors who graduated with U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. In November, the SSD became the sixth school district in Mississippi to earn the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 6 Cent Certification, rewarding nutritional improvements with 6 cents for every meal the SSD sells. SSD Child Nutrition Director Beverly Lowry said in November that the certification required compliance with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

“The most challenging part of the regulations for me has been the addition of minimum and maximum requirements to grains and meat (or) meat alternates,” Lowry said. “For example, in grades 9-12, you must have a minimum of 10 grains per week and a maximum of 12 grains per week, and with meat or meat alternate, you must have a minimum of 10 ounces of meat per week and a maximum of 12 ounces of meat per week.”

Sometimes, national attention came to the area in unique ways. SHS Senior Brian Xu was named a semifinalist in April for the 2012 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program, but he also earned national attention in June when the Huffington Post published his graduation speech.

Finally, schools also took important action at the local level, with no national or regional fanfare needed. Sudduth Elementary School started the academic year in August with smart boards in all of its classrooms, and in October, it opened a Friendship Playground designed to accommodate students with special needs.

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