JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – The third-grade reading test was an eye opener for Mississippi parents.
The initial results showed that thousands of students might have to repeat the third grade, but there was one success story that stood out in Jackson.
When the results of the first test were released 28 percent of Jackson Public School third graders failed.
But, a school in South Jackson, Key Elementary, was much better than average – only 14 percent failed.
That number dropped to less than 5 percent after retesting.
In a special report, WJTV’s Brittany Noble-Jones shows us that despite some very real problems, often right down the road or around the corner; they found a way to succeed.
For the very first time, the principal at Key Elementary opened up her school to us.
She allowed us to see the challenges they face and what it took to take her D-rated school to a B.
It’s something many people thought was impossible.
Welcome to South Jackson. An area, WJTV visits often after reports of crime.
“I was trying to hand my son a paper that he needed for school and the next thing you know, we heard gun shots,”
At the beginning of this school year, some JPS parents felt helpless.
Shots were fired near students waiting for the bus.
A man was shot in the chest and the shooter drove off.
“I’m going to put it like this. When someone asks me where I stay and I tell them, South Jackson … they figure this is a bad area and no one wants to be here,” John Mitchell, a Parent of a Key Elementary student, said.
Imagine a student walking past these abandoned southside properties, to school.
John Mitchell protects his kids the best he can by walking them to the bus stop every day. Mitchell is known at Key Elementary school for being one of the most involved parents.
“You can see their grades going up? I can see their grades going up, like my son. We had a problem with him focusing, staying on track, paying attention. You can see more of the attention and wanting to know more stuff that he didn’t know,” Mitchell said.
He credits Principal Dione Woody for the change.
She joined the school just two years ago and in that time, improved the state rating for the school. They went from a D to a B. Now they are working on that A.
“I know that all children can learn my motto is “no matter who you are, no matter what your zip code is, children can learn. All children are born with brains,” Dionne Woody, Principal of Key Elementary, said.
Woody first made some staff changes.
Now, Ms. Camesha Hatchett works as an interventionist.
Her job? To work with the bottom 25 students in the school.
These are kids who may need more one on one support to get ahead.
“For me you had to change your mindset no matter where they are where they come from what they do who they see how they got up that morning when they come to school we want to make sure that they are learning,” Camesha Hatchett, a teacher at Key Elementary, said.
Key is a safe place for students. The windows and walls are covered with their school work and learning materials.
Before they get started each day, they shake off their worries with their own motivational song – a song unique to students at Key.
“What I tell the boys and girls when they walk through the double doors in the morning time. No matter what’s going on when you walk through those double doors, we’re here as a mother, a counselor or whatever you can do to provide. When you’re down just like adults, you have to put a smile on your face,” Woody said.
“Don’t let where your school is or the environment affects the student’s growth. It does not matter where the building actually is- it is what’s going on in the inside that matters,” Woody said.
This learning style is not only changing lives inside the classroom. .. it’s helping parents too.
Mitchell admits he’s had some tough conversations with his kids at the dinner table.
“My kids doing their homework at first, daddy did you go to college. You know when that came up … with the answer was so … started thinking on myself if. I make you go to school every day and give you my best then I’m going to give you my best,” Mitchell said.
That’s right, Mitchell went back to school and will soon be approaching his graduation.
Something that makes teachers at Key Elementary proud.
“We are, we do just like everybody else. We want to make sure our scholars know they are just like Madison and Pearl. We can compete just like everybody else,” Woody said.
Principal Woody says she’s successful because of her superintendent
He has been working to implement new programs in the district, and other parents can expect to see changes too.
Her advice to people in struggling schools….well she wants you to know- “You can do it too. Just stay positive and motivated.”