Grant brings extra science learning to Tucker class


Students at Tucker Elementary School who are on a hybrid schedule since starting back to school Monday will get some extra help in their science studies, thanks to a grant their teacher, Ashland “Coby” Willis, has received.  

The Society For Science and the Public Advocate Program has presented Willis with a $5,000 grant which she will use in her classroom. Its purpose is to engage students in research, science and engineering. It will provide supplies students can take home and use during their time away from the classroom due to the COVID-19.

“We have purchased ‘Dive‘N’ kits for every student,” Willis said. “They will be able to take the kits home. Students create a model they build and test. They find out the problem and engage the problem. It gives them hands-on experience.

“Last year, we had the kits for groups of two or three students. They would create a model and test it by using science and engineering practices and engineering processes,” Willis said.

The hybrid schedule will limit Willis’ time with her students, who will only be coming to school twice a week and will work at home the other two days.

Students come to school in two shifts: Monday and Thursday. and Tuesday and Friday. Students attend virtual classes on the other three days. Wednesdays are used for extra cleaning and virtual teaching. Principal Gene Cliburn said two-thirds of the students are following the hybrid schedule; the rest are 100 percent virtual.

Willis has lived in the Tucker community all of her life. She attended Tucker Elementary School. She went on to attend school at Choctaw Central and was a member of the Lady Warrior basketball team where she started at point guard.

Willis graduated from Choctaw Central in 2010 with Top 10 honors. She then attended East Central Community College for one year and Meridian Community College for one year where she received her A.A. degree. When she started out, she wanted to be a nurse. But she changed her major after the first year to teaching,

She began her career in education as a teacher’s assistant at Tucker Elementary School in 2012. She went back for her bachelor’s degree in 2016 at Mississippi State University-Meridian. She completed her studies in May 2019 and was hired to teach science at Tucker.

“Science and math were my two concentrations,” Willis said. “This was the available job opening. I teach grades 4-8 and have about 50 students total.”

Teaching the different grade levels means she must have five different lesson plans each day.

“Two of them, my fifth and eighth-graders, are state tested,” Willis said. “The curriculum rolls off into the next grade. I had fourth-grade last year so I could prepare the students for state testing the next year,

“They didn’t get to test last year because of the COVID-19 but I am hoping for high scores this year.”

Willis loves her life in Tucker.

“I am very community-oriented,” Willis said. “I started the PTO back up when I was student teaching. This is the second year I am PTO president.

“When I went to school here, I had wonderful teachers and counselors. When I came back to work, some of my teachers are now my co-workers,” Willis said.

She is married and has three children: Jacoby, Jacaius and Jacaiya Willis.

Coby was praised by her principal, Gene Cliburn for her initiative and hard work.

“Coby is a great teacher,” Cliburn said. “She is very passionate and very caring. This grant is going to bring extra learning in for the students. She is working on her counselor’s degree and I think her talents will fit that nicely.”

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