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VARDAMAN, Miss. (WCBI) – A local elementary school is recognized by state education officials for maintaining standards among all racial subgroups. And its done it with one of the state’s highest concentrations of foreign and minority students.

It is a few days before Christmas break and these Vardaman Elementary students are learning their consonants.

In less than 10 years, the percentage of Hispanic students at the school has more than doubled, from 20%, to 42%. It’s fueled by Hispanic families moving to the area to work in furniture jobs or the growing sweet potato industry.

“Most of those students come to us speaking no English whatsoever in K 4 so we begin in K 4 with about half of our students not speaking English,” said Principal Dedee Lee.

Teachers began preparing years ago for the challenges posed by the dramatic demographic shift.

“The teachers got together and began researching and finding different ways of teaching,” Principal Lee said.

Their efforts are paying off. The school has earned the state’s second-highest rating and was recently honored for closing the achievement gap among all racial groups.

It helps that the community gets involved with its schools. And that many of the migrant families come to town realizing the value of a good education. Principal Lee says another reason for the success at Vardaman Elementary is a belief in demanding standards and the freedom the staff has to try new approaches. If something works, they keep it. If it doesn’t, they try something else.

That strategy helps teachers like Annie Anderson find creative ways to immerse students in the English language.

Anderson has been at the school 15 years and says it is rewarding to see students quickly master new skills.

“It’s unbelievable to see a kid who starts off speaking no English and when they get to third and fourth grade they are scoring proficient on their MCT test,” Anderson said.

For helping all students achieve and maintain academic success, Vardaman Elementary is making the grade.


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