Teach For America Greater Delta 2004
Principal, Mt. Zion Elementary School
Anna Mims grew up with educators throughout her family. Still, she weighed a prodigal path – law school – as she neared graduation from Duke University.
“I realized I just wasn’t ready for that,” she recalled. “I wanted work that allowed me to give back to a community like the one where I grew up in Lake City, South Carolina.”
In 2004, Teach For America Greater Delta (TFAGD) fulfilled her wish … at Quitman County Elementary School in Lambert, Mississippi.
“It was a Title 1 school in the heart of the Delta,” said Mims. “My classroom had almost nothing – one desktop computer, a few pieces of furniture, and only a few books. It was bare bones. The first thing I did was paint.”
Her aunt donated 200 books from her school in South Carolina. Mims’s landlord drove his pickup to town and brought back a whiteboard. Mims readied for students just in time – one first-grade class of 25 students in a school with six classes per grade level. Ninety-eight percent of her students were African American.
“I loved those classes,” remembered Mims. “Teaching a child how to read … unlocking that sense of confidence and discovery … is incredibly powerful.”
Mims might still be in Mississippi except for Cupid’s arrows.
During her second year at Quitman County Elementary School, another TFAGD teacher, Jared Hove, arrived. While he and another male teacher looked for living spaces on their own, they temporarily slept on couches in the house rented by Mims and her female TFAGD roommate.
Anna and Jared married a couple of years later, then went on to adventurous international teaching opportunities in the Middle East and Myanmar.
Eventually, they settled in South Carolina. Mims became principal of Mt. Zion Elementary School in 2020.
“Some people see a principal’s role as a disciplinarian,” said Mims. “But I see myself as a cheerleader.”
“When a student makes a mistake, our attitude is, ‘Okay, that’s not good, but let’s figure this out, so we make better choices next time,’” she said. “Everybody makes mistakes. It’s better to make them when we’re kids instead of adults.”
The philosophy bears fruit. Last year, Mt. Zion had the highest growth in math scores in the district. Amazingly, student scores during the pandemic were higher than before it. The pandemic has nevertheless slowed progress as Mims and her team work to transition the school to a STEAM- and project-based learning model.
“We’ve had kids who missed 20 days a month with COVID,” she said. “Parents get sick and can’t bring kids to school. Kids get quarantined. It’s hard to put your stamp on moving water.”
Regardless, the joy Mims found in Mississippi endures as it has with many Teach For America colleagues across the country.
“Almost all of us from our Mississippi teaching assignments stayed in education,” said Mims. “Some stayed in classrooms, and some went to administration. If you take passionate people and expose them to the needs of education, they will work together to try to change the world.”
She added, “My building here at Mt. Zion is full of teachers with these shared beliefs. They believe that all children deserve access to a quality education, and they deserve it in a school within their own neighborhood.”
“Every child deserves a great school. That’s the best thing we can give them. That’s what keeps us coming in every day,” concluded Mims.