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Madisonian dedicates himself to his students in Mississippi

By Jason Storbakken

The public-education system in Mississippi is one of the worst academic settings in the nation. The state has failed to meet the needs of its student population and over the past decade Mississippi has been reaching out to recent college graduates and former Peace Corps volunteers to serve as teachers for two-year contracts. During a trip to the Mississippi Delta I visited my friend, Casey Munz, and had the honor of observing his classroom for a school day.

Munz, a Madison native and UW graduate in economics, has taught math at Simmons High School in the Mississippi Delta town of Hollandale for nearly two years. Munz was born in a house on Blair St. on Madison's isthmus and attended Malcolm Shabazz City High School. During his studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he volunteered as a math tutor at Shabazz. After receiving his degree from the UW, Munz was looking for an opportunity to teach. He considered Teach for America but ultimately decided on the Mississippi Teacher Corps.   

During my day in Munz's classroom I found the atmosphere to be relaxed and geared towards learning. Munz, who teaches geometry and pre-Algebra, presented the lesson while the students took notes. Afterwards he had the students work on practice exercises. Most of the students were well-behaved and intent on learning the subject matter. A dress code of khaki pants and a white or blue polo shirt is enforced. Corporal punishment is also enforced and during my visit to the school at least one student, although not from Munz's class, was sent to the principal's office "to be spanked," as one of the students put it.

During Munz's two years in the Delta he has earned his Master's Degree in Education from the University of Mississippi. Munz has lived in Greenville his entire stay in Mississippi. He commutes 30 minutes to Simmons High School each day and on weekends he was commuting two-and-a-half hours to Oxford to attend graduate courses. He also spent two summers studying at the UM in Oxford.

His tuition and fees were paid by the state because Munz is a member of the Mississippi Teacher Corps, a program facilitated by the UM. The objective of the program is to provide teachers to Mississippi school districts where an inadequate supply of teachers exist. There are currently 40 members of the Mississippi Teacher Corps. An average of 20 new teachers enters the Teacher Corps every year, coming from many different regions throughout the nation.

Mr. Munz, as his students call him, teaches deep in the Mississippi Delta in the predominantly African American town of Hollandale where the White residents send their children to private schools, otherwise known as "segregation academies." At his high school there are no White students and Munz is the only White male teacher.

It wasn't until October of 1969 that the Supreme Court mandated that every school district had to terminate dual-school systems and operate only unitary schools. A precipitous decline in White enrollment immediately followed, hand-in-hand with the emergence of private academies, built to accommodate White students dropping out of public schools.

"Nervous, uncomfortable, and uncertain," is how Munz explained his initial feelings as a White teacher in the Delta. Now, Munz says, "after being there for almost two years, they are my kids. I treat them like people and expect them to do the same to me.

"Teen pregnancy, 17-year old freshmen, and poverty are combined in the Delta, creating one of the most adverse teaching environments in the nation," says Munz. In his two years in the Delta, Munz is proud to say that he has "seen students go on to attend regional colleges and witnessed our basketball team win state. After leaving here I will miss the students more than anything." The students have showed their appreciation towards Munz by electing him as the “Teacher of the Week” at the beginning of the school year.

Munz is nearing the end of his teaching contract and is now pursuing multiple teaching positions across the nation in an attempt to further enable his career in education. Munz is considering employment in New York City, New Mexico, Las Vegas, Washington D.C., and many other places.

"My experience teaching in the Delta has helped me to appreciate the quality of education offered in Madison's public schools," Munz says. He hopes to eventually return to Madison as a math teacher at Shabazz City High school "to give back to the community." Until then he hopes to continue his education and enrich his experiences as a teacher.

For more information about the Mississippi Teacher Corps, go to their Web site at www.olemiss.edu/programs/mtc

 

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