Program will promote math, science in Delta

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON - Delta students in Mississippi and neighboring states will receive a nearly $17 million shot in the arm from the National Science Foundation and private sources, University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat announced Tuesday.

Ole Miss will oversee the program, which targets greater literacy in math and science from kindergarten through the 12th grade, Khayat said.

Some 32 Mississippi Delta counties, including Benton and Marshall in Northeast Mississippi, will benefit. The tri-state effort also will consist of 11 Arkansas Delta counties and 21 Louisiana Delta counties.

In total, the program will serve an area encompassing 557 schools and 237,146 students.

Funds for the Delta Rural Systemic Initiative will come from a $10 million grant from the federally funded National Science Foundation and from $6.6 million in contributions from various private sources.

The program was announced Tuesday afternoon during a news conference at the state Department of Education office in Jackson.

The University of Mississippi will work closely with the state Department of Education to administer the program in the Mississippi counties and will work with similar agencies in Arkansas and Louisiana.

"We are very excited about this good news for education in Mississippi," Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham said in a news release.

The goal of the program will be to establish "leadership institutes" that will be used to help improve the quality of math, science and technology education for students in the region.

"With the advent and rapid growth of technology, literacy also must be addressed in terms of mathematics and science, since these are the gateways to the technological age, now and in the future," said Charles Alexander, a math professor and director of the Center for Science, Engineering and Mathematics Education at Ole Miss.

He led the effort to secure the grant to create the Delta effort.

The effort is important for the region because the Delta generally has the highest levels of poverty. Alexander said students from poor backgrounds, such as many of the children in the Delta, generally fall behind in math, science and technology.

The goal of the program is to try to help the students excel in math and science and to give the students the tools they need to pursue careers in math, science, engineering and technology.

"This is a very promising opportunity to elevate the quality of math and science teaching in our schools," said U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., in a news release. "Evidence has shown dramatic improvements in student performance when computers and other technologies are used in the classroom."

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