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STAR Teacher Inspires Students to Explore Science and Engineering


Chemistry teacher Richard West-Griffin joins the Jackson Academy faculty this fall and brings with him a garland of Star Teacher honors strung together by his philosophy that “It’s all about the kids.”

West-Griffin’s interest in chemistry began in his pre-teen years with summers spent in school in Naperville, Illinois. At North Central College he was too young to be in the summer program, but enrolled thanks to the guidance of a caring teacher – who was also his godmother. In nearby Chicago, a chemistry set caught his eye.

“Go get it,” she told him. “From that day forward, I just got fascinated with chemistry,” West-Griffin says. By the age of 13 he was studying chemistry and physics, and was completely fired up for science.

His passion for science continues to burn brightly, igniting sparks in his students. “You show excitement and be sincere … and have a passion for it, and the kids will see that” —and they will also draw inspiration from it.

This Star Teacher’s honors could fill a flag. He earned several at Bailey Magnet School in the ‘90s and added seven to his collection while teaching at Clinton High School in the 2000s. The STAR program recognizes students for scholastic excellence, and the teachers those students found most inspirational in their studies.

“I’ve got so many kids now that I taught that are chemical engineers, it’s amazing,” he said, “medical doctors, yeah — all kind of engineers,” says West-Griffin. At Clinton High, he started a biomedical research course as a way to push his brightest students. As a high school teacher West-Griffin “always wanted to deal with those who were preparing themselves for the next level.”

“I’m a teacher first,” says West-Griffin, but he is also a former coach. At Mississippi Valley State University, he coached NFL football great Jerry Rice.

With the birth of his youngest son, Zeke, 15 years ago, “Mama said no more coaching,” he said, chuckling over his wife’s insistence. “She said, ‘I raised the first five, you’re going to raise this one,’ and I said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’”

Outside of class, he’s working on his third degree black belt in Taekwondo. He’s also a minister. “That’s my passion. I draw everything from that,” he said of his faith. He and his wife are involved with several ministries at New Mt. Calvary Christian Center.

“West is “a Mississippi legend,” said Jackson Academy Upper School Dean Steve McCartney. “I was fortunate to work with him in the 1990s at Clinton High School and saw this master at work firsthand. His classroom experience, content expertise and commitment to students has been recognized and celebrated for three decades, but, more importantly, he is a great man.”

“I want to have an impact,” West-Griffin said. “I want to make sure that … we can make an impact on some kids’ lives that may not have had that interest in chemistry or scientific fields, that will fall in love again.”

“We need more medical doctors, we need more research scientists, we need more engineers,” says West-Griffin. He wants students to develop a passion for science as a career. Building on the foundation laid by the STEM programs at JA, this STAR teacher is poised to continue inspiring students to explore the world through the lens of science.

Apple Distinguished School


What is an Apple Distinguished School? This designation is reserved for programs that meet criteria for innovation, leadership, and educational excellence, and demonstrate a clear vision of exemplary learning environments. JA is Mississippi’s first K3-12 school to receive the designation and is part of a small group of schools and colleges worldwide recognized as Apple Distinguished Schools.

“An Apple Distinguished School must provide tangible evidence of academic accomplishment and offer an innovative and compelling learning environment that engages students,” said Cliff Kling, JA president. “Teachers have enhanced the teaching and learning occurring inside and outside of the classroom by incorporating innovative use of technology.”

What is Apple Teacher?

An Apple Teacher has participated in a self‐paced professional development program created to empower and support educators. Apple Teachers provide Multi-Touch Apple Teacher Starter Guides in iBooks for Mac and iPad, so they always have the tools they need to connect with their students. The program is available to all educators and is free for all schools and districts.

In Sandra McKay’s American and English literature classes, being an Apple Distinguished School creates a paperless space where students build skills in creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. “I think the one-to-one program has made us all better teachers,” says McKay. Through this program, our teachers are supported and empowered to educate the leaders of tomorrow with the leading technology of today.

JA Baseball Coach Named to Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame 

Recognizing his baseball career spanning high school, college, and professional competition as well as coaching, a selection committee representing all aspects of Mississippi sports has named Jay Powell a 2017 Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame inductee. The official induction ceremony is Saturday, August 5th at the Jackson Convention Complex. Powell is joined by Marcus Dupree, Rick Cleveland, Bob Braddy Sr., Leslie Frazier, and Eugenia Conner (posthumous).

Powell joined the JA coaching staff in 2005 and completed his tenth season as head coach of the JA Raiders baseball team this past year, advancing to the MAIS playoffs. He led the Raiders to a state MAIS title in 2011, prompting the Mississippi Legislature to honor the team with a resolution for an extraordinary season.

Prior to joining the JA coaching staff, Powell pitched in the major leagues for 11 seasons. One of his notable years was 1997 throwing for the Florida Marlins. Over 79.2 innings, Powell made 74 appearances and had a 3.28 ERA, which helped lead the Florida Marlins to a World Series championship. He played for Mississippi State University, where he was the fourth 1st round pick from MSU in the MLB draft, and West Lauderdale High School, where his team earned a state championship.

For additional reading, visit this link to the Sun Herald:

Theatre Program Shines Bright Under Director Kerri Sanders

fullsizeoutput_b65From a life bright with stage lights, Kerri Sanders brings an abundance of experience and knowledge to her new role as Jackson Academy’s theatre director. In her Theatre and Theatre Tech classes, Sanders will guide students in the many facets of theatre while she also directs JA productions, including this fall’s Mary Poppins. For Sanders, teaching theatre at JA is an opportunity to help students grow in their pursuit of significance and purpose.

“So much of JA’s mission aligns with my own mission,” says Sanders. “Nurturing students, preparing students to be who God created us to be as we’re moving forward.” The mission, talent, and facilities available at JA attracted Sanders to the school. The positive environment had a special draw for the thespian. “Our goal is first to nurture and encourage kids,” says Sanders. “I think it’s so important to have a positive environment for the arts and a place where kids feel safe, you feel safe to be creative, safe to be yourself.”

“It’s a funny thing when you discover your purpose and you find that you’re most comfortable when it’s challenging you,” says Sanders, “I have to be doing this.” From a one-woman production of Little Red Riding Hood, given for her grandparents when she was 4 or 5 years old, to her recent position as education director at New Stage Theatre, Sanders has rarely known a time apart from the art. High school involvement in community theatre and a Bachelor of Arts in theatre from Belhaven University convinced Sanders that the stage was the place for her talents and purpose to merge. She even met her husband through theatre.

Having loved her six years spent at New Stage, Sanders found the collaborative spirit at Jackson Academy a natural draw. “Theatre is a team sport, for sure,” says Sanders. “If you design lighting and you have no actors to focus your light on, then you’re just shining a flashlight in the dark.  The same is true for actors – we all need each other in the theatre.”

Sanders plans to channel the excitement and support for theatre that is already in place at JA as she leads students and expands the program. Starting an International Thespian Society troupe at the school and increasing the number of competition opportunities for JA students are two of her priorities. She will also draw on her contacts to bring professionals from the theatre community to educate and encourage students.

At the end of October the cast of Mary Poppins will take the stage under Sanders’ direction, with more than 125 students slated to delight audiences with the classic musical. Before the phrase “I can’t, I have rehearsal” becomes a necessary mantra, Sanders is busily preparing for the year. At home in Brandon with her husband Michael, German/Australian Shepherd dog Kora, and their cats Hermione and Dobby, she relaxes by growing vegetables in the couple’s garden. Earth, rain, and a lot of light combined with Sanders’ care grow the plants, like the students she’ll encourage to discover their talents and interests under the stage lights.

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