STARKVILLE • The classroom was full and chaotic as college students peered over the shoulders of high school students who tackled complex mathematical equations. Boxes of equipment for physical experiments were strewn around the room and Global Teaching Project instructors and professors observed it all, helping when needed with more difficult physics concepts.
With the help of Ivy League tutors, dozens of rising high school seniors converged to talk physics and get the college experience in the Advanced STEM Preparatory Summer Program through the Global Teaching Project at Mississippi State University this week.
Aberdeen High School student Jaliyah Chandler loves science and participated in the program to learn a new area of the subject, but she struggles in math.
“At first, I was kind of scared and I didn’t really like it because I struggle in math, but then after the counselors helped me, I started to like it,” Chandler said.
In its third year, the program has grown and received national attention while leadership makes plans to expand. The program is intended to prepare rising high school seniors, particularly from rural or low-income Mississippi high schools, for taking advanced placement physics.
“These kids come in here scared to death, and you can see them hanging their head down low, thinking they do not know this stuff, but it is incredible to watch their confidence build day after day,” Summer Program Director Lizzie Brandon said
The program is privately funded and students chosen to participate are identified by their schools as having promise.
“Every school we serve is characterized by the U.S. Department of Education as rural, as low-income, although there is a range within the schools. We serve four of the 10 poorest counties in the country,” said GTP founder and CEO Matt Dolan.
In several public statements made this year, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has recognized the program as a viable option for bridging gaps in rural schools.
“It is an initiative in which Mississippi, often a laggard on educational issues, has taken the lead nationally in addressing a problem that affects almost every rural area as well as many urban schools,” Dolan said.
This week, 49 juniors and seniors from 13 high schools were joined via teleconference with a professor from the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics for a typical class and Q&A session. A presentation was also given about college applications and financial aid. Later, the students were able to try hands-on activities that demonstrated physics concepts.
In the indoor tennis courts on the college campus, students ended one day of the camp measuring the friction on their rubber shoes by playing a game of Tug-O-War with a large rope. Earlier in the week, the students measured the height of a flagpole on a drill field on campus without actually touching the top. And in another experiment, students pushed a Prius to measure mass.
The students visited the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems and the High Voltage Lab on campus, which is the largest high voltage lab in North America. Students also got the real college experience, eating meals at the campus food court and staying in dorms, then on Saturday, the students hit the town of Starkville.
“Not only are they getting a good fundamental knowledge of advanced placement physics, they are also getting a good fundamental knowledge of what they have to expect in the next two years and how to prepare for it,” Brandon said.
“They are making connections with students that they would never have made connections with before.”
Students represented a few northeast Mississippi school districts, including high schools in Aberdeen, North Pontotoc County and Houston.
The tutors come from Yale, MIT, the University of Virginia and other colleges and work with students twice per week during the school year via video conference. One program is held during the summer at MSU, one is at Jackson State University in the winter and one is held at the University of Mississippi in the spring.
Global Teaching Project Chief Strategy Advisor Kiran Ghia said the Advanced Placement physics exam is the toughest and has the lowest pass rate of all AP exams. Ghia said participating schools have asked for the program.
“We have all of these different supports and I think there is a reason for that. The students who come in represent the best that their schools have to offer, but the levels of preparation are perhaps uneven and they require some additional support having not perhaps taken on the rigor of an AP course,” Ghia said.
Anna Creekmore is a supervisory instructor with the program, helping with online homework, labs and lessons throughout the year. Creekmore said the number of physics teachers produced in Mississippi is very low.
“Less than one physics instructor between every major institution in Mississippi graduates each year,” Creekmore said, adding that when she graduated, she was the first physics instructor who had done so in five years.
The education system in Mississippi faces many obstacles from teacher shortages and limited educational opportunities to low academic achievement.
Dolan said the program originated in Mississippi and has now emerged as a model that can be applied nationally. He said the instructional content of the program has evolved and the program has received increased national attention for addressing teacher shortages in rural schools.
The Global Teaching Project is now actively working to expand the program into central Appalachia, a region Dolan says is burdened with multi-generational poverty.