March 15, 2012 9:52:38 AM
I grew up hearing about the MS School for Mathematics and Science but I never really got the chance to experience it. Demonstration School shared the MUW campus with MSMS, and I recall several science field trips to the school's labs. I knew they had a good reputation; my assistant high school basketball coach would even jokingly tell us not to brag when our junior team beat them because they would probably be our bosses one day. But, until recently, I hadn't seen the evidence of that for myself.
The opportunity arose once I volunteered to help coach the school's mock trial team. When I initially met the team, the diversity of the students was the first observation to jump out at me. There were not only white and black students but also Korean and Indian and Chinese. It was the most ethnically diverse group I've seen in Mississippi.
Over time, I realized this meant little to the students. They joked and socialized with each without apparent regard to their differences in color. They grouped and made friends like most do in high school, based on interests and personalities, and without self-segregation. The students, instead, often shared stories about their hometowns and former high schools.
I also quickly realized the school's reputation for bright students wasn't folklore. Their success rate is well established; the school's ACT and SAT scores are annually the highest in the state and they send students to top ranked colleges and universities every year. According to the MSMS Wikipedia page, "in 2011, two students enrolled at Yale, one at Georgetown, one at Stanford, three at the University of Pennsylvania, one at MIT, one at Caltech, and one at Duke among others."
From the beginning, the students lived up to the hype. The mock trial is a student competition organized by the Young Lawyers Division of the State Legal Bar. The students are given a fictional legal dispute and assigned roles to play for a trial. Each team has three lawyers and three witnesses. Learning how to be a lawyer and a witness in a few months wasn't a problem for these students, though.
The students asked questions. They paid attention. They even did their homework - for the most part. In fact, the major problem was the students numerous other commitments. They were all members of several clubs and organizations and had other contests or competitions, like model United Nations or Science Bowl. This meant practice had to work around academics and other responsibilities. Despite this and other unexpected challenges, the teams entered the competition able to conduct an entire trial, from questioning witnesses to giving opening and closing arguments.
At the regional competition in Oxford, the students were confident and ambitious. One team qualified for the state-wide competition in Jackson. There, the team didn't rank as high as I thought they deserved, but they had done so well it was hard to be disappointed. Plus, I knew they were all headed to great colleges and successful careers, and the experience would simply be one of the many memories from their time at the school.
In 1987, when the state legislature created MSMS, it was only the fourth public, residential high school for academically gifted students in the United States. The idea that Mississippi students from across the state and from various socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds could come together for their last two years of high school and succeed was untested. Twenty five years later, the success of the idea is clear. With good teaching and the right environment, Mississippi students are some of the smartest in the country. That much, I've certainly witnessed for myself.
Scott Colom is a local attorney. His e-mail address is [email protected]
Scott Colom is a local attorney.
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