Four days after graduating from East Mississippi Community College (EMCC) on May 7, 2019, Alexis Turner walked across the same stage in the college’s Lyceum Auditorium to receive her high school diploma from the Golden Triangle Early College High School (GTECHS).
Fast forward to today, and Turner, 22, who resides in Starkville, is in her second year teaching seventh grade mathematics at Partnership Middle School, which is located on the campus of Mississippi State University. In December, she will graduate from Mississippi University for Women with a Master of Arts in Teaching. She credits her time at GTECHS with much of her success.
“When people ask me about GTECHS, I tell them if they have the opportunity to go to GTECHS, do so,” Turner said. “If you are looking for something different and don’t know what it is you are looking for, come to GTECHS and you may find it. I love GTECHS and always recommend it.”
Founded in 2015 as a pilot school on EMCC’s Golden Triangle campus, GTECHS was Mississippi’s first early college high school and was the result of a joint effort by the Mississippi Department of Education and Mississippi State University’s Research & Curriculum Unit to explore ways to increase high school graduation rates. When EMCC offered space for the experimental high school, GTECHS was formed.
Turner was among the first group of students at GTECHS, which was initially comprised of 61 freshmen. Turner said no one knew what to expect given that it was unchartered waters for students, faculty and staff.
“It was like we were all learning the ropes as we went along,” Turner said.
The following year, as Turner and her fellow classmates entered their sophomore year, another group of about 60 freshmen were enrolled. About 60 students were added the two subsequent years until all four grades — freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior — were filled.
A chance to push herself
Freshmen at GTECHS primarily take high school classes their first year, with most students opting to enroll in an increasing number of college courses at EMCC as they progress through their sophomore, junior and senior years.
A Starkville native, Turner spent the last year-and-a-half of middle school in New Hope. During eighth grade, she saw a flyer about a new high school opening on EMCC’s campus.
“I remember filling out the application that day and as soon as my mom walked through the door, I said, ‘Mom, sign it. I want to go,’” Turner said. “I felt like I wasn’t being challenged enough and wanted something more. Knowing that I could take college courses that might be at a higher level than what I was currently learning made me feel like that would keep me busy and keep me engaged. That’s exactly what it did.”
She pushed herself, enrolling in courses at EMCC like chemistry and calculus, while most of her classmates were taking biology and college algebra.
Turner was the guest speaker during the GTECHS Class of 2023 graduation ceremony this past May. During her introduction, GTECHS Principal Jill Savely said of Turner, “She truly made her four years at GTECHS count. I grimaced every semester when I looked at the math classes on her schedule: calculus IV, differential equations, linear algebra.”
Turner earned an associate degree with a concentration in mathematics from EMCC. She was among 41 of the 54 GTECHS Class of 2019 graduates to earn enough college credits to graduate from EMCC that same month with either an associate degree or a technical certificate. That success rate continues today. Thirty-six of the 45 graduates – 80 percent — of the GTECHS Class of 2023 were also awarded a technical certificate or associate degree.
Some things have changed since Turner first enrolled. For one, in July 2021, EMCC assumed administrative control of GTECHS. Savely and many of the original staff and instructors are still employed at the school and handle day-to-day operations.
“All of the GTECHS teachers and staff are amazing to me,” said Turner, who was a member of Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society at EMCC and was among six GTECHS students in 2017 to compete in the 15th annual Team America Rocketry Challenge’s Final Fly-off in The Plains, Va. The GTECHS team was the only team in Mississippi to qualify for the national contest.
Turner was also among a select group of students chosen to sit in on interviews to fill teaching positions at GTECHS. She recalls taking notes during the interviews to highlight areas in which she thought the applicant had given a great response.
“I never knew those notes would one day apply back to my life,” Turner said. “I remember when I had my interview at Partnership, I felt confident because I had seen teachers interview so many times.”
After graduating from EMCC, Turner earned a bachelor’s in mathematics, with a minor in management information systems from MUW. She initially enrolled at MUW on a mathematics education track, but later changed her major to engineering.
While tutoring students in college algebra and intermediate math as a peer mentor at MUW, Turner discovered that she really enjoyed teaching, so she earned an education certificate in addition to her master’s degree in mathematics.
Turner served a required internship as a teacher at Partnership Middle School, where she continues to work today. She is licensed to teach math, science, history and technology courses.
“The reason I became a teacher is I want to give back and help kids grow,” Turner said. “I feel like in order for me to do that, I have to teach what is for me my strong suit, and that is developmental skills in math, so I plan on continuing to do that.”
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