Q&A with MSF College Chapter President Kaitlyn Barton

On November 19, the Mississippi First college chapter at the University of Mississippi focused on education by hosting a discussion titled, “Education in Mississippi.”  The educational panel featured Sen. Gray Tollison, Sanford Johnson, Dr. Melissa Bass, and Dr. Angela Rutherford. The MSF college chapter is dedicated to engaging students in the policy process and providing a hands-on experience in policy research and advocacy. MSF interviewed MSF college chapter president, Kaitlyn Barton, to learn more about her role in the MSF college chapter and the chapter’s recent public forum on education in Mississippi.

Tell us a little about yourself and your role with MSF College Chapter?

Kaitlyn: I am president of the chapter this year. I grew up in Mississippi and could not wait to get out.  Ole Miss was the only in-state school I applied to, and it was a last resort. However, money talks, and I ended up coming to Ole Miss for financial reasons. My first semester I attended a MSF meeting and I was intrigued by how passionate the students were about Mississippi. Honestly, I didn’t get it. But, they sparked my curiosity so I kept coming back. I realized how involved they were with policy. Everything was so hands-on. For once, I watched a student group actually DO SOMETHING. It was incredible. Slowly, I began to fall in love with my home state. There is such an incredible need here, and I have the ability to do something about it. We, as students, have the ability to do something. I cannot imagine just strolling through my education without ever stopping to consider how to improve the lives of others. To me, that is what my education is for.  MSF led me to realize the potential that Mississippi has. We can be the best. I am tired of being last when we have the ability to be first. Mississippi is diverse and full of talented people; we just need to give them the chance to shine.

Who sat on the education panel?

Kaitlyn: We had four panelists: Sanford Johnson, Dr. Melissa Bass, Dr. Angela Rutherford, and Sen. Tollison. We chose our panelists for a variety of reasons. Sanford Johnson, Deputy Director of Community Outreach, represented Mississippi First, our parent organization. Dr. Bass is an expert in education policy; she is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy Leadership at the University of Mississippi. Much of her research focuses on national service and citizenship. Dr. Rutherford was a teacher for fifteen years and offered an interesting teacher perspective. Currently, Dr. Rutherford is an associate professor of teacher education at Ole Miss. She also serves as director of UM’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction and the Willie Price Lab School.  Sen. Tollison represents District 9, which includes Lafayette County, and is the chair of the Senate Education Committee.  He was able to speak on past issues as well as the future of education in Mississippi. It was great to have him on the panel because he issued a challenge to the students: Be the change agents that Mississippi needs.

What were some of the key themes that came out of the discussion?

Kaitlyn: Student involvement in education policy is important. All of the panelists emphasized the importance of student involvement. We are the next generation of leaders, and we don’t have to wait to start leading. I think most students think, “I am the next generation, but it is not my turn to lead yet.” There is this idea that we have to “wait our turn.” I think that is ridiculous. We can make an impact here and now, and we should. We have fresh and innovative ideas and we shouldn’t be afraid to pursue them. That was the most important message from the panelists.

Other issues discussed were the implementation of Common Core and assessments, recruiting and retaining talented school teachers and leaders, and turning around low-performing schools.

How many students were in attendance and what where some responses you heard from students after the panel?

Kaitlyn: We had about 25 students show up, which is a HUGE turnout for the MSF college chapter. We also got great student feedback. Everyone stayed around after the panel to talk with the panelists and other students about the issues in education in Mississippi. It was refreshing and encouraging to see so many students passionate about education and really wanting to do something about it. I sat back and just tried to take it all in. There were conversations going on all around me and each one just as exciting as the next. For about twenty minutes, there was this incredible meeting of the minds. Ideas were flowing freely. The energy in the room was electrifying. Many students came up and thanked Christine and I for organizing a panel on education, and they expressed an interest in attending more events like this.
As a current college student, do you think it was important for the MSF college chapter to host a panel on education in the state?

Kaitlyn: Absolutely.  The positive feedback we received from our fellow students confirmed this. We, as college students, CAN be a force of change in this state and we need an environment where we can bounce ideas off of each other. We have to take advantage of learning opportunities like this. Not only did we learn from the panelists, but we learned from each other.

If I am being honest, I really think the panelists were encouraged by the turnout and the enthusiasm in the room. We ran out of time before we could address all of the questions that students had. It think that is what prompted the meeting of the minds after the panel concluded.