ALEX QUIGLEY '99 FINDS HOPE AND DESPAIR IN THE MISSISSIPPI DELTA
It was an hour into the school day and Alex Quigley '99 was standing in front of a room full of kindergarten students. The students were sitting on a carpet, each child assigned to a colored square. Quigley, motioning with a pointer tipped by a yellow star, looked like he was waving a magic wand.
"Who knows a word like bat?" he said. "Bat. Bah-tuh."
"Cat," a boy named Tony said.
"Good," said Quigley.
"Fat," said a little girl named Quintina.
"What letter makes the 'fuh, fuh' sound?" Quigley asked.
Quintina looked stumped.
"Fuh, fuh," Quigley said, his pointer at his side. "Call someone to help you."
Eventually someone came up with the answer and the class moved on, the children blissfully unaware that they are being educated by a game young teacher working to try to make a difference in what is arguably--if you can judge a school by its students' performance on standardized tests--the worst elementary school in Mississippi, and one of the worst schools in the country.
Quigley arrived here in September 1999, sent by Teach for America, an organization that dispatches recent college graduates to schools where teachers are in critically short supply. A government major from Wellesley, Mass., who spent his junior year at the London School of Economics, Quigley had hoped to be assigned to Washington, D.C., but he did include Mississippi on his preference list, and that was like buying a one-way ticket to the Delta. Days after finishing a crash Teach for America education course, Quigley arrived in Quitman County. He was given emergency certification and a room full of expectant second graders. This year, one kindergarten class didn't have a teacher and was staffed by substitutes. Says Dr. June Jordan, the school principal: "We work with whatever we can get."
Quitman County Elementary School has about 620 students, kindergarten through third grade. The students travel as far as 20 miles by bus to the single-story brick school in Lambert, a smattering of mostly dilapidated buildings set in the seemingly endless cotton and soybean fields of the northwest Delta. With the exception of a single storefront used for a community center, Lambert's entire downtown is boarded up. With the exception of about eight children, all of the students at Quitman Elementary school are African American.
HOW SHOULD WE TEACH?
Small Triumphs: Alex Quigley '99 finds reason for both hope and despair in the Mississippi Delta
A Ray of Hope: Brittany Ray '93 inspires where she found her inspiration
An Education CEO: Robert Furek '65 brings accountability to Hartford public schools
Charting Success: James Verrilli '83 directs charter school turn-around in Newark
Perspectives on Reform: Colby experts discuss reform and the purpose of education
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