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September 8, 1998

New School, New Opportunity for South Mobile County

Ed Lathan, principal of Alma Bryant. Photo by L.D. Fletcher
by Edmund Tsang

The new Alma Bryant High School, which opened last week, is offering many learning opportunities to its 1,300 students that were previously unavailable at the two schools that merged to form Alma Bryant -- Alba High School in Bayou La Batre and Grand Bay High School in Grand Bay. According to Ed Lathan, principal of Alma Bryant, a school, community, and business partnership allows the school to take advantage of technology to access learning resources beyond the high-school campus, and to implement attractive programs of learning that aim to help students complete schooling and be prepared for work or college.

"We have an organization called South Mobile County Educational Foundation. It is a group of business people and community leaders in the entire south end of the county. What they have done is that they have enabled us to get monies through grants that a local school cannot get." So far, Lathan said, over $1 million has been raised or committed to equip Alma Bryant with the latest technology, including two computers in every classroom.

"We are going to be able to access distance learning," Lathan said in an interview in late August. "If I have a kid who wants to take German or Russian or Chinese, we can set the student in the telecommunication room and bring the classroom from any number of universities in the state that offer these language programs."

The use of compressed video and high-speed data transmission technologies also allow for more active learning, Lathan said. "If our twelfth-grade government class has an issue in the state legislation that they are concerned about, because the state house has the same technology as we do, we can take our government class into the telecommunication room and have a one-on-one seminar with State Senator [Steve] Windom or Representative [Phil] Crigler or the Governor," Lathan explained.

The use of technology is just one way in which the school is trying to meet the curriculum needs of all Alma Bryant students, "from the honors programs to the vocational programs," Lathan added.

Technicians setting up the Aquaculture Center. Photo by L.D. Fletcher.
Lisa Walsh, coordinator for the Alma Bryant school's aquaculture program, said the idea for the program came from South Mobile County Educational Foundation and Auburn University. "Commercial fishing has been harvesting at or near its maximum yield," Walsh said. "So aquaculture makes sense for southern Mobile for the long term."

Under the program students will learn how to take a natural resource and make it into a marketable product. "But they will learn more than just the business end of it, because the class is built on math and science, in addition to business and marketing," Walsh explained, "By taking care of species that have value in the seafood and ornament-fish market from finger-size to maturity," Walsh said students will learn species biology, water chemistry, nutrition science and other subjects hands-on. Auburn University will be providing red snapper, koi, and catfish for the project, Walsh added.

"The ship-fitting program is the only one such program in the nation," E. Allen Horn of South Mobile County Educational Foundation said. Horn explained that the ship fitting program aims to provide high-school graduates with a marketable skill and is partnered with Steiner Ship Building of Bayou La Batre. After completing two years of the four-year program at Alma Bryant, students will continue apprenticeship at Steiner, leading to national certification by the Department of Labor. Another school-to-work program is the marine technology program, Horn said, which is one of only three such programs in the U.S. The program will prepare students to work in any one of a number of off-shore jobs in which workers must pass mandatory certification.

Honor Guards at the opening ceremony of Alma Bryant High School. Photo by Sheila Hagler
Principal Lathan said that in addition to academics, the school is also prepared to meet the extracurricular needs of the students. "I keep saying this, and this is not meant in a negative way -- all kids do not come to school just for the books. Every kid has a niche," Lathan said. "It may be sports. It may be band. It may be the arts. It may be track. If we can't service that niche and that need, they are going to find it somewhere else, something to put their energies in."

"The whole philosophy behind our school is that we want to make this a place that our kids don't have to leave the campus to get what they want. In the past, if students wanted to take part in drama or dance, they had to drive thirty miles to Mobile. We now offer dance, band, art, drama and a number of subjects that students didn't have an opportunity to take before," Lathan added. "Our vision is that we want this to be the hub of south Mobile county not only for our kids but also for the entire community. When it is finished in a couple of months, we will have an auditorium that seats 750 that we can use for concerts and drama and other programs for the community that the people can enjoy and don't have to leave this end of the county."

Alma Bryant will be linking two communities that had "80 years of rivalry" in football, Lathan said. "We hired our head coach last year, and his schedule was set up where he spent half a day each at Alba and Grand Bay, working with the kids," Lathan said. "But the way communities are nowadays, with transportation and communication, and the kids play summer balls together and they date the same boys and girls, they have meshed together well. I am pleased with our school band and football team."

Lathan added that 95 percent of the school staff were in place since last April, and he credited the dedicated staff who held meetings on their own time in the evening to prepare for the new school year.

Once the school year settles into a routine, Lathan said he would like to network with the rest of the schools in south Mobile County. "We are probably the only 'pure' feeder system in Mobile County. All the elementary school students in south Mobile County will come to Alma Bryant," Lathan explained. "When a kid starts kindergarten, eight years later he is going to be our student. Our goal is for us and our feeder system to work together to better prepare students for success. We want elementary and middle- school teachers and students to use our facilities."


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