Ohio Appalachian Collaborative Blog

It takes teamwork to make the dream work

It’s All About the Blueberries

by Pam Noeth, Ph.D. - Battelle for Kids, Director of Powerful Practices | Apr 10, 2015

Anita Eldridge, Principal at Morgan High School sees the need for change in education: “Let your love for kids guide you. It’s not education OR career – you need to be prepared for both.” And, so it is, at Gulfport High School in Gulfport, Mississippi. 

Educators from the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative (OAC) exchanged educational knowledge with this innovative district, in hopes of boosting the OAC’s own implementation of Career Pathways.  The learning from this trip was significant.

As Rob Clarke, Principal, Indian Valley High School found: “In the first meeting with Gulfport’s superintendent, you really came away thinking that we really need to re-evaluate what we’re supposed to be doing for kids. It’s not about PARCC, testing, etc., but giving them an array of options and counseling, advising, meeting with parents, beginning in elementary school. Their pathways begin in 4th grade. This was the focus from 4th grade through high school – what are you going to do with your life?” 

Gulfport Robotics LabThis is just one example of success that Gulfport has experienced since the Academic Institutes at Gulfport High School transformed its approach to begin talking about career path steps at a very early age. Curriculum is compacted beginning in middle school, so that students have two full years in high school to prepare for life after high school, whether that be entering the workforce immediately, attending a two-year school, or a traditional, four-year institute. Gulfport’s success has been rooted in its collaboration with local industry to place students in co-ops, work-studies, and internships early in high school, rather than traditionally doing this during the second or third year of college. The planning and experiential path to a job isn’t just the responsibility of teachers and administrators in Gulfport. Parents are critical components to success and accountability and if they don’t attend scheduled meetings at the school, educators go to their homes to ensure they're engaged in their student’s success. 

As the nation’s school districts spend more and more of the school year focused on testing, Gulfport is going in the opposite direction. Instead, they’re questioning how testing prepares students for college and the job market, and choosing to focus on real-world prep. And, it’s working – 40% are graduating from college, up from a Mississippi state average of about 25%. This is a vision and an agenda for education reform. 

But the biggest takeaway from the process?  Blueberries. Every staff member at Gulfport has a blueberry – an at-risk student that they mentor to success. This is inspired by Superintendent Glen East’s story where a prominent ice cream maker was meeting with teachers.  A teacher asked the entrepreneur, “What do you do with your batch of bad blueberries?” He responded, “We throw them away.” The teacher said, “We don’t throw away our blueberries. We take them all. Every one.”

And so it is, at Gulfport High School in Mississippi, where the mission statement reads: “Every decision: What’s best for kids? Every time.”

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