HED:Educators mark AEE successes

By Jennifer Ginn

Daily Journal

The Association for Excellence in Education has sown a lot of seeds in the past 16 years, with benefits that will last beyond the life of any garden.

On Tuesday, AEE conducted its annual meeting at First Baptist Church with the theme of "Education is in Full Bloom."

Teachers, students and administrators were there in full force to show their appreciation to the group that has done so much for them.

What AEE does

AEE is a group of private citizens that raises money to support programs in the Tupelo Public School District. With more than 400 private and corporate members, the group has donated $1.6 million to Tupelo schools over its 16-year history.

As guests entered for the luncheon, a long hall was filled with projects being funded by AEE at schools across Tupelo. The projects are as varied as the children they serve.

At Joyner Elementary, almost $700 was donated by AEE in the 1998-99 school year to fund the Joyner Kindergarten Cafe.

The money was used to buy supplies and equipment for two kitchens at the school. Students read books, such as Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham," and headed into the kitchen for a related cooking experience.

"We've been cooking at least once a week," said Tina Gary, kindergarten teacher. "It has developed their vocabulary immensely. It exposes them to words they haven't been exposed to. It also gets children to follow steps, learn sequencing. You've got measuring cups and you've got to measure it exactly. They learn that if they follow the steps exactly, they get an end product they get to eat.

"I think it's wonderful. (AEE) gives us programs that otherwise, we couldn't do. That (cafe) is one of the children's favorite centers."

At King Intermediate School, AEE has funded several small grants and one large one.

Small grants are worth a maximum of $500. Such projects have included math games to reinforce math skills and an art studio for gifted students. A large grant - worth about $1,500 - has provided equipment for all fifth-grade students to explore wetlands.

One of the more unusual projects at King has been an after-school chess club for special education students to teach them critical thinking skills.

"This is fantastic," said fifth-grade teacher Vicki Kornfuhrer. "First, they've learned something a lot of other children have no concept of. In the afternoons, you're likely to see them in the SPED (special education) classroom, huddled around a board playing their teacher. It's very analytical."

Advocate awards

During its annual meeting, AEE also presents two Advocate for Education awards to those who go above and beyond the call of duty to support public education.

The Jack Reed Sr. Award is given to an individual while the J. C. Whitehead Award is given to a business or industry.

Billy Crews, publisher of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, was presented with the Jack Reed Sr. Award this year.

"I'm stunned," said Crews, who didn't know in advance he would receive the award. "I was surprised because my perspective on how to build on the success and improve Tupelo schools is not always in a cookie-cutter mold.

"Public schools are what's distinctive about our community, in the South and in the nation. We get a lot more out of our public schools than we actually contribute. The dividends are far greater than our investments."

Crews - the father of three school-aged children - has been associated with public schools for years. He is a past president of AEE, a former Tupelo School Board member and is active in parent-teacher groups.

"If you look at any aspect of public education ... Billy Crews has been one of the most ardent supporters," said Karen Holliday, AEE president. "Despite his busy work schedule, he continues to make time whenever asked on behalf of public education and has devoted countless hours in ensuring that all children enjoy a quality, public education experience."

The J. C. Whitehead Award this year went to North Mississippi Health Services.

"Its corporate culture nurtures the involvement of executives and workers in public education," Holliday said. "This corporation's financial support for AEE has been longstanding in our community. They are one of our larger contributors. They've helped us on a number of projects."

Bruce Toppin, attorney for the hospital, accepted the award. He said education is stressed by all hospital employees.

"All our employees are dedicated to the health care of the community they serve," Toppin said. "I also think all our employees are dedicated to education. Education is just as important as health care."

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