by Trey Vernaci
On Wednesday, Jan. 22, students and faculty from Hastings College celebrated a remarkable week of learning and community engagement at F. Jones Corner hosted by Millsaps’ own 1Campus1Community.
Located in rural Nebraska, Hasting College is a small liberal arts institution with a graduate program in education. Current Millsaps faculty member Ann Phelps attended Hastings College, and her father is a professor in the education department there. Hastings offers courses in what they call a “J-Term,” an intensive course taken between the fall and spring semesters in a place other than Nebraska to allow the students to engage with and learn in another area’s culture. Historically, Hastings has taught its Multicultural Education trip in Chicago, Ill. The leading professor of the course passed away about a year ago. The new professor decided to bring the program to Jackson.
Phelps, director of the Faith and Work Initiative too the J-Term while at Hastings, and speaks highly of it. “It changed my life and set me on the path that I am still on, doing the work that I do,” she said. “Next to Nebraska, the second highest majority of Hastings-trained teachers work in Chicago, as they feel a sense of calling to help there. Hopefully, after this week, a couple of them will consider staying here. Hastings produces remarkable teachers, and I would love to have them in the Jackson Public Schools.”
This past week, the students learned and studied about multicultural education, particularly teaching with poverty in mind as well as the concept of racial integration in Mississippi. The students taught in the Jackson Public School District including Brown, Forrest Hill, Power APAC, Lanier, and other schools in Jackson.
“This class made me realize that I wanted to teach, but I also wanted to do so in a way that was sort of different,” Phelps said. “It has been really fun for me to see my home that I grew up in, come to my new home. My job at Millsaps is to see where particular strengths and particular needs meet. I feel that Hastings has needs that Mississippi can meet, and Mississippi has needs that Hastings can meet. Teaching is one place where that really can happen.”
Phelps added that the teaching opportunities are especially great for young teachers. “From my experience in Mississippi, I have noticed that this is a place with a lot of problems, but those problems are what makes it so great,” she said. “This is a place where as a young person with energy, I can be a part of something magnificent. This is a place where young people are flocking to be a part of changing things; to be a part of helping solve the problems that have been created by lack of knowledge.”
Not everything the Hastings students experienced this week was positive. They spent time in Jackson schools, where they saw an education system in worse shape than what they are used to. To wrap things up on a high note, 1C1C hosted a social event at F. Jones Corner for individuals at Hastings, Millsaps, and the surrounding Jackson area to come together and enjoy a night of music, socialization, and fun. The Amazing Lazy Boi Band played an incredible set list and made the evening delightful.
“Tonight was an opportunity to enjoy a loose, social, casual evening with the people we have worked with this week, the Millsaps students, and faculty and staff,” Jordan Binfield, a graduate student at Hastings College, said at the event. “The music is great and it gives people the opportunity to get out of the professional setting and teaching in order to have a good time. Everyone is having a blast and I couldn’t imagine a better way to send us out to go back to Nebraska.”
Phelps added, “Tonight is all about showing them that interesting, fun, cool people live here and love it, and this is a place with rich culture and all kinds of opportunities. This is a place where they can become a really full version of themselves.”
Binfield noted the racial and societal differences between Jackson and Nebraska made the experience particularly educational. “It has been really great because, where we come from, we have a predominantly white, pretty sheltered, stable education system, and we just wanted to come and experience what Jackson has to face,” Binfield said. “We don’t want to come off as that we have everything figured out; we just want to bring what we have learned into the schools and really learn how amazing educators are facing some really tough battles here in Jackson and the Mississippi school system. It is really great for our younger students, because it is something that they have never experienced and probably will never have had the chance to come down and see if we wouldn’t have done this class.”
Millsaps students got something out of the event as well. “It has been fun. We have an awesome band playing and the atmosphere is great,” said Alessandra Rincon, a freshman at Millsaps. “I have had a chance to meet about eight of the students from Hastings, and they are great individuals. They told me that they are so glad that they came to a school like Millsaps because everyone has been very welcoming and nice.”
The students from Hastings College have made their trip back to Nebraska, but their efforts to learn, grow and make a difference in our community will be evident throughout the Jackson Public School system.