I recently led a training session with staff at Mullins Alternative School. At the outset, I never imagined the rich history that exists in this rural Mississippi location. I have worked with alternative programs before, primarily organizations located in urban areas serving traditional K-12 age learners, and each one is unique. I’ve worked with programs whose learners are juveniles trying to avoid incarnation. Other times, I’ve worked with residential programs for children who don’t have another option. However, I’ve had less experience with programs like Mullins Alternative, which work primarily with adult learners who are simply in dire need of a step up in life. That made my recent experience there that much more impactful.
I’ve found that all alternative learning programs have one key thing in common: a dedicated staff constantly seeking ways to make their learners’ journeys successful. The Mullins Alternative staff certainly fits this profile. However, the first example of this dedication lies with the namesake of the school, a dynamic educator and trailblazer in the African American community.
Mullins Alternative School is located in Brookhaven, which is just about halfway between Jackson, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana. It is housed in the same building as the Fannie L. Mullins School. Miss Fannie Lockwood Tate was born in Ohio in 1869 and arrived in Brookhaven in 1907 to fill a teaching position. She married and then taught for over 40 years in the segregated system of the Deep South. “Miss Fannie” made many sacrifices to teach in Mississippi, including leaving her family and giving up rights she had in a northern state, such as the right to vote. However, her love of teaching learners who needed education to lift them out of poverty made those sacrifices more than worth it.
To appreciate my respect for Mullins’ namesake and the current staff, keep in mind my own background. I worked in a suburban middle school teaching math in southeastern Pennsylvania. I have had little exposure to the challenges faced by those who are not able to finish high school and often struggle to find a job that pays a living wage. I can’t comprehend the fear that comes with surviving from paycheck to paycheck, or needing to make a choice between heat and food. These situations are more easily recognizable to me as the basis for books and movies like The Help than as many individuals’ day-to-day reality.
This is why I hold deep appreciation for the dedication of the Mullins Alternative staff. They were not content with simply assigning their learners a GED® prep course and letting them work through their learning path. Instead, they were searching for effective tools to fill knowledge gaps and improve writing skills. So, throughout the course of my session with the Mullins staff, we began to explore their Plato Courseware subscription. The Edmentum solutions for the ASVAB could be used to build up vocabulary. The preparation courses for ACT WorkKeys® would help learners develop job skills. The offerings for use with TASC® writing sections would address grammar and mechanical weaknesses in learners’ writing. The staff members I worked with were amazed at the depth and the extent of the material available to them. I left them feeling empowered to move their learners closer to earning a GED diploma, which may lead to more fulfilling lives—which, in turn, left me feeling fulfilled.
We know that technology can resolve many current education issues in an efficient way. However, the key is to use technology effectively. To that end, it takes dedicated teachers who are willing to go beyond the easier path. Based upon my interaction with the Mullins Alternative staff, I know that dedication, as well as the spirt of Miss Fannie, is alive and well in them.
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TASC and Test Assessing Secondary Completion are trademarks of McGraw-Hill Education. Copyright © 2015 by CTB/McGraw-Hill LLC.