March 22, 2014 11:40:13 PM
We have probably all heard of Emma Thompson, the glamorous English movie star. Columbus can lay claim to another precious Emma Thompson, this one a recent graduate of The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science.
Our Emma started a program called WILL, which stands for Women Influencing Lives Through Literature. WILL is an amazing concept developed by Emma when she was only in the ninth grade. At that time, she recognized that "the new freedoms of junior high, and less guidance, often meant that some of her classmates were losing focus." The program aims to foster their ambition and develop the critical thinking and speaking skills so crucial to success.
She says, "At this age, many of my friends began to lose sight of their academic aspirations. This crisis is particularly pivotal for young girls."
WILL was realized in Emma's senior year at MSMS. Then, she was able to introduce books that would inspire teens to achieve and learn to observe the world around them. Another byproduct was the building of a personal library.
Let's face it, bibliophiles, books are expensive. Enter First Book of Lowndes County, Mississippi, which funded a grant to buy some books the girls could keep. The Exchange Club of Columbus chose Emma to receive the title of "Youth of the Year" in 2012. With that honor came a small stipend to buy more books.
Becky Maurer of First Book introduced Emma to Jamie Davidson, librarian at Columbus Middle School. From there, some of the eighth-grade teachers recommended students who would enjoy WILL and benefit from it. Only 14 girls were accepted in the group the first year, leaving many others disappointed. (Sorry, boys.)
Emma chose a few titles from an age-appropriate reading list. One was "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens," a self-help book written by father and son Stephen and Sean Covey. This book will remain in the program every year. They had an opportunity to read some wonderful fiction, as well, specifically "The Giver," a Newbery Medal winner by Lois Lower. Another favorite was the classic, "Lord of the Flies," by William Golding. Some stories were chosen for their insight into other cultures and exposure to people these students may never have an opportunity to meet. Others had messages of leadership, inspiration and setting goals.
Emma Thompson has graduated and is now a freshman at North Carolina State University, where she is majoring in chemical engineering. However, her legacy has not ended. This year, MSMS seniors Sabrina Moore and Monica Kala have taken the reins of WILL. When they graduate, others will follow, keeping this wonderful program alive.
The actress Emma Thompson may continue to grace red carpets and win awards. But I believe that the Emma Thompson who spent two years in Columbus as a student at MSMS is destined for much bigger things. Her positive impact as a mentor and muse will encourage and motivate young girls for the rest of their lives.
Emma says, "Ultimately I want WILL to blossom across the nation and unite young women through a common desire to succeed. I want to help young ladies not only to be academically motivated but also to be motivated by their own passions and beliefs." I have no doubt that she will.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.
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