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Poplarville School Board

An otherwise positive overview from principals of two Poplarville schools was dampened by statistics that Superintendent Carl Merritt says mirror middle schools nation-wide.

The information was included in a report to the Poplarville School District board Monday evening by Middle School of Poplarville Principal Leah Stevens. Lower Elementary School Principal Diane Herndon also gave an overview of that school.

Despite all the positive things at the Poplarville middle school, Stevens told board members Monday night that there was a mental illness crisis happening, indicative of the problems faced by students in that age group nation-wide.

“I want you to be aware of all the wonderful things, but I also want you to be aware of the things that we face with these kids daily,” Stevens said. She asked the board to consider the need for additional counselors for that age group.

Stevens said the Middle School listed five pregnancies among the approximately 521 students currently enrolled. There were also 11 reported threats or aggressions.

She cited statistics from the Pine Grove Mental Health Center in Hattiesburg for the current school year for the Pine Belt area that includes Poplarville, listing approximately 20 suicide attempts, 11 self-mutilations, and other problems. She presented the board with a graph to illustrate “what we’re facing at the Middle School.”

“I can understand why these statistics would alarm you…,” said board member Rev. Larry Head, sitting in for board president Curt Stasny who was absent. “I for one am shocked; I didn’t realize it was like that.”

Stevens said she didn’t think people were aware of the situation, thinking of middle schools as an extension of elementary school. She said instead it was “more a preliminary to high school.”

To combat this negative trend, Stevens said her school has started a Project Seventh Grade to increase drug awareness.

“Anybody that thinks that we do not have drugs on the Middle School campus, you need to get your head out of the sand because it’s there. … we really are in a crisis with these kids.”

On the positive side, Stevens also thanked the board for providing academic coaches that are helping students in preparation for the MCT2 state-wide testing that is coming up.

“Our focus this year when we started from day one is “The Race Is On,” she said. “We know we’ve got to get the kids where they need to be for MCT2 testing which is a huge difference from anything that we’ve ever done before.”

She said there has been an increase in the academic rigor because in addition to the skill level the students need to know, they also need to know how to apply that knowledge — what she called “the new thinking curriculum.” Also, to help the students and teachers in the changes, the school is in the process of increasing parental involvement.

The school has also seen a huge increase in use of the library as students are reading more, she said. “This is a real bragging right.”

She said 19,386 books were checked out of the library last school year, but that amount had jumped so far this year to 23, 594 books — a 22 percent increase.

At the Lower Elementary Herndon said it had been a busy year “and it’s not over yet.”

She said the theme that exemplified the school for her was “The Place Where Happiness Begins.”

“Because, that’s where our little ones start and we’re excited they get started there and they get a good start there,” Herndon said.

She said the MCT2 realigning scores from last year were up 10 points in the second grade. Another thing the school worked in conjunction with the Upper Elementary was a better transition between the second and third grades.

The school is also attempting to learn how their students learn best and adjust teaching methods to that. She also said the new assistant principal position and the literacy coach position have helped free her for other duties and the thanked the board for establishing them.

She said one of the big goals at the school was improving student attendance.

“It’s important to instill … culturally, in order to change this idea about attendance, to make students want to be at school and, to make parents understand how important it is to be at school, it must start at our level,” Herndon said.

The school board’s regular meeting schedule is 7 p.m. the second Monday of each month at the district office on South Julia Street unless otherwise noted.