Honors program keeps state's brightest challenged

June 8, 2018 11:09:52 AM

Mary Pollitz - mpollitz@cdispatch.com


When Ceana Palacio, 15, first moved to Gulfport from Texas she was worried she wouldn't find a challenging educational curriculum. 


"(One thought I had was) what am I going to truly gain from moving here?" Palacio said.  


Then she discovered Mississippi Governor's School.  


Starting June 3 and continuing through next week, Palacio has spent her days on Mississippi University for Women's campus, studying philosophy in the mornings, discovering the ins and outs of political campaigning in more laid back classes in the afternoon, making friends and getting a feel for what college life will be like. 


"It has definitely changed my leadership experience," she said.  


Palacio, and 75 other rising high school juniors and seniors moved onto MUW's campus on Sunday for MGS's two-week program. The residential honors program is funded by MUW and the state. 


Royal Toy, director of MGS, said due to state budget cuts, the program had to condense three weeks of curriculum into two, which included eliminating some MGS traditions. 


"The line item in the state budget changed," Toy said. "It changed the entire structure of the program."  


The scholars, in this year's two-week program, are studying the same amount of course curriculum and hours as the previous three-week program, spending longer hours each day in the classroom and lecture setting. Toy said the program has also cut some MGS traditions, such as leadership activities, and found other ways to implement them into classes.  


The integrity of the MGS has not altered and the academic course load remains the same, Toy said. Current MGS scholars are still getting a feel for the academic and social aspects of college.  


"It's designed for gifted students and highly academic students," Toy said. "It provides them a realistic view for what college might be like for them. They develop lifelong friendships and attachments to individuals in the program." 


The program is broken into two sessions, with scholars taking morning classes in an academic major such as economics or psychology and afternoon classes in more relaxed, fun "interest area," which includes studies on subjects like "the history of Disney." 


Sixteen-year-old Catherine Li, of Starkville, chose to study entrepreneurship and economics as her major course and "Speak up, stand out and run for office" as her interest area. "Speak up, stand out and run for office" is a course designed to teach scholars how to run an effective political campaign. Li and Palacio attend those classes together.  


"I want to go into business and economics and definitely want to be involved in politics," Li said. "The past generation's voting turnout hasn't been very (good), especially where I live, so I think it's really important to spread the message and vote."  


Throughout this year's studies, Li has focused on economics and entrepreneurship, specifically in Mississippi.  


"We've been studying the history of Mississippi," Li said. "Once you know a little bit of history, you can start improving on it. It definitely opens your eyes to the good contributions Mississippi has made."  


Li, whose older sister first attended MGS, has felt comfortable with her fellow scholars and has full intentions of returning to the program as a staff member, something plenty of former scholars have done.  


Heath Stevens, who attended the program as a scholar, has been involved with MGS for the past twenty years. This summer, he teaches a psychology course to the scholars. 


"I knew I wanted to give back to the program, because I just want to try, in some ways, to facilitate an experience that will also get the younger generation a little bit excited about learning."  


This year, unlike previous years, has been more difficult, according to Stevens. He said some staff and faculty have noticed a difference with the course load after having to condense three weeks of course time into two.  


"I wish we could get more funding so we could go back to three weeks," Stevens said. "I think we could impact a lot more students with a three-week program."