Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest

Since the first Hwy 80 Songwriters fest in 2013,

which was made possible in part by an AT&T grant, the purpose and mission of the Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest were to expand the songwriter’s platform and territory, provide education in the songwriting craft for songwriters of all ages and levels of expertise, to build and support the creative economy in West Alabama and East Mississippi and to ignite the public’s understanding and appreciation for songwriters and their craft. Venues this year have included City Hall lawn, Demopolis, AL, Hal & Mal’s Restaurant and the Arts Center of Mississippi in Jackson. Now, the Montgomery Institute invites you to enjoy the Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest in Meridian from July 28-30, 2016.

The Fest, through The Montgomery Institute,

was awarded a $4,100.00 from the Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC). This grant is a portion of the $1.5 million in grants the commission will award in the 2016-2017 and will be used for the 2016 Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest. The grants are made possible by continued funding from the Mississippi State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Organizations that support the arts play a pivotal role in growing Mississippi’s creative economy,” said Malcolm White, Executive Director of MAC. “The Mississippi Arts Commission is pleased to support their work, which reinforces the value of the arts for communities and for the economic development of our state.”

The Mississippi Arts Commission, a state agency,

serves the residents of the state by providing grants that support programs to enhance communities; assist artists and arts organizations; promote the arts in education and celebrate Mississippi’s cultural heritage. Established in 1968, the Mississippi Arts Commission is funded by the Mississippi Legislature, the national Endowment for the Arts, the Mississippi Endowment for the Arts at the Community foundation of Greater Jackson and other private sources.  The agency serves as an active supporter and promoter of arts in community life and in arts education.

The mission of The Montgomery Institute

is to “upbuild the people and places of the East Mississippi and West Alabama region guided by the leadership legacy of G. V. ‘Sonny’ Montgomery.”  To accomplish its mission, TMI has undertaken initiatives in leadership development, rural place building, educational enhancement, workforce development, research and information dissemination, regional cooperation, and innovation.

On July 28, Squealer’s Restaurant and News Restaurant

in North Meridian welcome local and regional songwriters and with rounds beginning at 6:30 pm. On July 29, in downtown Meridian at 7 pm, Weidmann’s Restaurant, The Brickhaus Brewtique and The Echo Downtown welcome nine Mississippi/Alabama songwriters from outside the region. No matter what venue you choose, before the night is over, audiences will hear every songwriter come through their venue.  See the Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest Facebook page for more details.

On July 30 at noon, the historical Soule Feed Steamworks

welcomes Tricia Walker, Grammy Award winning songwriter, Director of Delta Music Institute and a MAC Roster Artist, who will facilitate the pro songwriting workshop. At 2:30 pm Shawna P (Pierce), a finalist in The Voice, whose mentor was Shakira, will facilitate a vocal performance workshop for all ages interested in singing and performing. ShawnaP facilitates these vocal workshops all over Alabama, from Muscle Shoals to the FloraBama. At 4:45 pm, the Open-Mic session begins, which is open to all ages and levels. The Grand Finale begins at 7 pm with Tricia Walker, ShawnaP and MAC Roster Artist, three-time Blues Award Winner and eleven-time Blues nominee Eden Brent.

The Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest would not be possible without grant awards from The Meridian Council for the Arts, Community Foundation of East Mississippi, and the Mississippi Arts Commission. Financial sponsors include Mitchell Distributing, Structural Steel Services, Mississippi Main Street and Mississippi Writers Guild. In-kind support comes from Kabana Productions, Soule Steam Feed Works and Mississippi Public Broadcasting and Supertalk Meridian 103.3. Media support includes The Radio People, WMOX, WTOK, The Meridian Star, The Meridian Family of Stations, The Eagle. Other support includes the City Meridian, Lauderdale County, East Mississippi and West Alabama and the communities therein.

Please check the Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest Facebook page for more details or call 601/880-1089



What Happened to Recess?


Hard realities for Mississippi, like top national rankings in obesity and poverty and bottom rankings in education, often keep our lovely hospitality state in a negative light.

In a former study by the College of Health at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM),

approximately 95 percent of Mississippians surveyed believe obesity is a serious problem for the state and would support a law requiring at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity in schools. Plus, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) reported that active children on nutritious diets perform better in school.

So with these statistics, why do schools leantoward a “no recess” policy?

One reason has been to concentrate solely on academics. Another has been to avoid lawsuits arising over playground injuries and other safety issues. Most disciplinary problems like bullying and heated arguments happen during play time, but then carry over into the classroom and end up in the principal’s office.

Still, will sacrificing recess solve these problems?

Not hardly.

Studies reveal that children are more attentive after recess and that cutting recess and confining students to the classroom leads to increased fidgeting, restlessness, and the inability to concentrate, according to Dr. Tony Pellegrini, professor of child development at the University of Georgia.

Dixie Tibbetts, a gifted education teacher at Oakland Heights Elementary and Carver Middle School in Meridian, Miss. said that during playtime life skills and intellect are applied, adapted, and understood.

Children are free to create and imitate social situations,” said first grade teacher Elise Dickerson. By observing play and listening to children’s conversations, recess becomes a good opportunity for teachers to address personal and social conflicts in the classroom.

Teacher Brandi Smith added that during recess students use imaginations while also exercising.

Playworks, a national nonprofit organization, currently serves approximately 3,100 students in the Jackson Public School District, which include Bradley, Brown, Galloway, Johnson, Oak Forest, Smith and Wilkins public schools.

“Many children haven’t learned basic communication and social skills or game etiquette which requires teamwork and collaboration,” said Christy Wilson, communication director for Playworks national team. If something goes awry on the playground, children may lack the tools to resolve an argument over a game. Therefore, the conflict ends up in the classroom where the teacher must focus on the two kids still arguing while the other students wait. “That is lost learning time for the student and teaching time for the teacher,” said Wilson.

Schools are under increasing pressure to improve test scores and achievement. With limited teaching minutes in a school day, recess is often cut. According to a Gallup poll survey, one in five principals reported cutting recess minutes to meet testing requirements. However, according to the Jackson area Playworks executive director Ashley Nichols, the majority of parents and teachers support recess and consider it a necessary part of the school day.

Participating schools in the Playworks program are provided with a trained adult that acts as program coordinator, said Nichols. “Each coordinator works full-time at the school and becomes a member of that school community.”

In 2010, Playworks surveyed nearly 2,600 principals and teachers at their partner schools nationwide. The report revealed that schools using the Playworks program reclaimed a national average of 24 hours of teaching time formerly lost to resolving recess conflicts.

Additionally, Playworks, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Association of Elementary School Principals sponsored a Gallup poll for 2,000 principals nationwide.

Key findings from the poll were:

  • Four out of five principals reported that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement.
  • Two-thirds of principals reported that students listen better after recess and are more focused in class.
  • Virtually all believed that recess has a positive impact on children’s social development (96 percent) and general well-being (97 percent).

While Playworks targets urban, low income areas, any community can utilize the Playworks model, said Wilson.  Playworks will train schools and districts to do what they do: teach kids how to play.

Using techniques like ‘rock, paper, scissors,’ said Wilson, solves disagreements over issues like whether or not a ball is in or out. Instead of stopping the game to argue for 5 minutes, the issue gets resolved in 3 seconds. Students don’t question that paper covers rock or scissors cut paper. Everyone gets back into the game.

With organized play, school nurses don’t hand out as many Band-Aids and with fewer conflicts, principals bond with students through play instead of discipline.

“If kids feel safer, they’re more likely to come to school,” said Wilson. “We can’t underestimate those things.”

By Richelle Putnam


Photo Credit: Rabbitsfoot and Dreamstime Stock Photos

Early Explorers of the South

Part 1


Hernando de Soto, the second son of Francisco Mendez de Soto and Leonor Arias Tinoco,

was born between 1496 and 1501 at Jerez de los Caballeros in the province of Estremadura, Spain, according to A History of Mississippi, Volume I, and was described in Bolton’s Spanish Borderlands, as being:

“A man of blood and iron, wherever he ‘found resistance’ there Hernando de Soto was roused to action.  He brooked neither opposition from foes nor interference from friends; and for him, no peril, no hardship, would surpass in bitterness the defeat of his will.  His nature was to be read plainly in his swarthy, strongly lined face and burning black eyes, and in the proud carriage of his head; so that, though he was hardly more than of medium stature, men remarked him and gave him room.  He had an agreeable smile at rare moments; and he was renowned for courage, and his skill as a horseman was noted among those lover of horses, the Spanish nobles.”

In 1539, in search of riches, De Soto landed south of modern Tampa Bay, Florida

with 620 dressed in coats, steel breast-plates and helmets. They clung to shields, swords, lances, arquebuses (a crude gun), or cross-bows. Among De Soto’s men were a physician, a ship carpenter, calkers, and a cooper for boat building, as well as armorers and smiths, with their forges and tools, as mail shirts had to be mended, swords had to be tempered, and iron chains and collars for slaves must be kept in good repair.  Accompanying clergy and monks would attempt turning conquered pagans into Christians while De Soto sought knowledge of the country from them. Supplied with iron handcuffs, chains, and neck-collars for captives, they proceeded through the land, driving hundreds of hogs across the country with them. De Soto’s treatment of the Native Americans met on his journeys would be cruel and oppressive. However, natives had already suffered great cruelty from Spanish explorer Panfilo de Narvaez and they greeted the new explorers with vigorous opposition. During the bloody chaos of a Spaniard attack on the Indians, a voice bellowed out in Castilian tongue, “I am a Christian! I am a Christian! Slay me not!”

The Castilian in Indian guise turned out to be Jean Ortiz, a native of Seville,

who for twelve years had been living among the Indians. He had almost forgotten his own language, but had learned various Indian dialects from passing from one tribe to another, as a fugitive or in barter. Knowing Ortiz would be beneficial as his interpreter, De Soto furnished Ortiz with clothes and a horse and asked him to join the expedition. In his journal, De Soto wrote:

“Indeed I do not know what would have become of us if we had not been so fortunate as to have met with him.”

Through all his journeys, the only riches De Soto received were pearls from a beautiful Indian princess he had held hostage until her escape.

On one expedition, De Soto encountered Chief, or Cacique, “tushka lusa” (tushka meaning “warrior”, lusa meaning “black”),

translated as Tuskaloosa and later as Tuscaloosa, who was head of the Mobilian Indians and known also as the Black Warrior. De Soto seized Tuscaloosa as his hostage to secure safety from the Indians. But Tuscaloosa had already summoned his men to be ready for battle in Mauvila (modern day Mobile). Tuscaloosa requested to be released, stating: “If your chief knows that is best for him, he will immediately take his troops out of my country.”

In the battle of Mauvila, thousands of Indians were slain, one hundred and fifty Spaniards were severely wounded, and eighteen killed. The pearls of the Indian princess were lost, along with any other treasures De Soto had secured.

In late July, 1540, after recuperating for twenty-eight days, Hernando de Soto led the Spaniards from the Warrior River to the Tombigbee into heavily timbered forests cane-filled bottom lands where they probably took advantage of Indian trails.  Where De Soto and his men actually entered Mississippi is unknown, though it is thought to be a few miles from Columbus. In dire straits when they finally reached Mississippi, the Spaniards’ once glistening armor and swords were now beaten and dulled by battle. Their clothes were either lost or so tattered, that grass mats had to be woven and worn as substitutes.

After De Soto died of fever on May 21, 1542, his men, fearing the Indians might dig up and desecrate his body, wrapped De Soto’s body in cloaks filled with sand and laid him to rest in the Mississippi River.


De Soto was probably not the first white man to view the Mississippi River,

but because he was perhaps the first to approach it by land, he has often been credited for the mighty river’s discovery and this expedition firmly fixed the Mississippi River on white man’s geography and boosted Spain’s “first” claim to the Mississippi Territory.



by Richelle Putnam





A History of Mississippi, volume I, copyright 1973 by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Standard Book Number: 0-87805-013-2.

Mississippi, A History by John K. Bettersworth, copyright 1959

Paths to the Past, an Overview History of Lauderdale County, MS Laura Nan Fairley and James T. Dawson, 1988, Quail Ridge Press

Greenwood Leflore and the Choctaw Indians of the Mississippi Valley by Allene De Shazo Smith, C. A. Davis Printing Company, Memphis, TN, 1951 ISBN

Dunbar Rowland and A. G. Sanders, eds., Mississippi Provincial Archives 1729 – 1740 French Dominion (Jackson: Mississippi Department Archives  and History Press) Vol. 1 pps 21-54


Choosing the Perfect Pet


With every “bundle of joy” and the pitter-patter of little feet throughout the house

come sleepless nights, strict feeding times, and overwhelmed family members.  But with patience, consistency and devotion, your new pet…you did know I was talking about a pet didn’t you?

The first 4 to 6 weeks in a new home can be challenging for the pet, as well as the pet owners. Pets need time to adjust to the new family, environment, schedule, expectations, etc.

“When looking for a pet, you need to consider your household,”

said Debra Boswell, Executive Director of Mississippi Animal Rescue League (MARL). “Just as a baby’s diaper is changed throughout the day, a six-week-old puppy needs that same kind of attention because its bladder is not fully developed either.”

For instance, if you’re gone 10 to 12 hours a day, it will be hard to housebreak a puppy.

A cat might be a better choice since they’re more independent and content with their own company—most of the time.

Before making a final decision, potential families might visit MARL several times and even bring the family pet to meet the one being considered for adoption.

Dr. Joey Burt, Director of Animal Health at Mississippi State University’s School of Veterinary said, “Pets live long lives, so the children are going to grow up with the pets. It’s an opportunity for parents to provide children the thought process about what it takes to be a pet owner.”

Before choosing a pet, parents must be willing to accept some responsibility for the pet’s care, bearing in mind the age of the children and the household environment.

“One of our adoption guidelines is children under the age of six shouldn’t have a puppy under 4-months,” said Boswell.

She added that puppies are high-energy and need an awful lot of time, so an older pet might be more feasible. Toddlers are energetic and have very high squeals that can excite puppies.  If a toddler gets a little rough, like pulling the pet’s leg or tail or ear, the puppy may say “ouch” with their teeth and a kitty may grab hold with its claws.

“To smaller children, there’s not much difference between a stuffed animal and a live one. These are things to think about,” said Boswell.

Dr. Burt said that, as a general rule, cats are not good for children under the age of three. “Likewise, neither do big dogs and small children mix too well.”

The needs of the family right now might differ from their needs down the road.  Families must realize the long-term investment of a pet, like medical care and nutritional needs. Plus, pets need enriched environments complete with toys and puzzles. Smaller pets, like gerbils, can live up to five years; dogs and cats live ten years or more. However, birds can live up to 40 or 50 years!

Some good exotic pet choices for children are guinea pigs, rats, geckos, rabbits, and bearded dragons.

“[Exotic animals] can absolutely be family pets,” said Dr. Burt. “But most require a little bit more knowledge and a little bit more care than the traditional dogs and cats.”

Many pets end up in shelters because owners didn’t consider the long-term responsibility and dedication needed to care for their pet.  More than 4,000,000 animals die in animal shelters each year.

“That’s the main reason to adopt from shelters,” said Boswell. “You’re helping to save the life of an animal.”

Shelters across the nation are packed, with 20 to 25 percent of the adult population being purebreds. Those considering a purebred should research the breed to learn about its special needs or concerns. However, mixed breeds often make the best pets, said Boswell.

“A pet as a gift is never really a good idea. A gift certificate would be better, because choosing a pet is a personal decision,” said Boswell.

A Christmas gift under the tree for your child can be a basket from Santa complete with pet bed, toys, a book and video on pet care and a gift certificate from the animal shelter where lots of pets anxiously wait for a family and a place to call home.


Richelle Putnam










Previously published in Well Being Magazine

What Does It Mean To Be Mentally Healthy?

Too often I hear someone call to another, “Crazy,” when she or he says or does something unexpected, out of the ordinary or strange. I began to wonder is they really know what they are saying. Issues about mental illness have such stigmas in some places that people don’t allow themselves the opportunity to learn what is means.

Characterized by how people think, feel and behave,

we all have degrees of mental health just as we all have degrees of physical health. And, we all have stuff (fears, insecurities, appetites, prejudices and dislikes that may be outside the mainstream) that we keep under rap. But does that make us crazy? The answer is no. More is needed to make a diagnosis for a psychological disorder (also known as mental Illness). The word insanity (a legal term) often adds confusion to the mix. Because we can’t see what’s happening for our own thick skulls, some people think mental illness is an illusion and “all in our heads.      According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which a person realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. Mental health can be viewed on a continuum, starting with people who are mentally well and free of any impairment in their daily lives, to those who might have mild concerns and distress, to others who  might have a severe mental illness.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health,

more than 26 percent of the adult U.S. population has a mental health disorder, with over 22 percent of cases being considered “severe.”

Diagnoses of mental health disorders are made by appropriately trained Doctors of Psychology and Psychiatry,

not by Dr. Google, Dr. Family member or Dr. Friend. It requires learned  interviewing skills and an understanding of the cluster of signs and symptoms that affects daily functioning in important areas of life. Since we are all in the center of our own universe, we are likely to be impartial in understanding our own functioning.

Mental health is also involved in our physical health.

In reality, the two coexist. When someone has physical problems, chronic and pain, or breathing problems for instance, they are likely to also have depression, anxiety or some other diagnosable mental disorder. Also, difficult family relationships are often present in mental disorders. Too, many mental health disorders exacerbate physical concerns or disorders. Someone who suffers from chronic migraines might also suffer from an anxiety disorder. Obesity contributes to the severity of symptoms of depression. Poor anger management is associated with high blood pressure. Behind every medical illness, it is possible to find a mental health concern as well.

Still, most people will go to a doctor for a physical problem,

only 1 in 3 people seek treatment for their mental disorders while nearly 100% will seek help from a doctor when they have a high fever or a broken bone.

A team approach to treatment is the best and most successful approach to healing. Physicians, nurses, dentists, psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health counselors, and other mental health professionals need to collaborate to provide a complete treatment plan. An example is when the doctor who dispenses medication for COPD collaborates with mental health workers who help to allay the patient’s anxiety and fears of death.

Too often, when catastrophic events happen,

the perpetrator of the events are thought to be mentally ill. It is easy to blame or stigmatize others when events that cannot be understood using our rational minds occur but it’s neither accurate nor fair. More information is needed. For instance, I’ve know people who headaches were so severe they wanted to shoot their or someone’s else’s brains out.

What’s a Person To Do?

  • Educate yourself about what is means to be mentally healthy. And see if you can figure out where you fit in the continuum.

  • Recognize that happiness and tragedy are a part of the human condition, and authentically experience all the emotions open to us.

  • Find coping strategies and recognizes the connections between and use of thoughts and feelings and behaviors and let others, even professional trained to do that kind of work, help in making sense of them all.

  • Find your place of peace where there is balance in your social, emotional and psychological life.



Dr. Rachell Anderson is a native of Tunica, a licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a Private Clinical Practice in Springfield, Illinois for many years. She now lives in Tunica and writes with the Tunica Chapter of the Mississippi Writers Guild in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at WWW.drrachellanderson.com for more articles and books.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Is The Keyboard Mightier Than The Pen? Keep Old School in Children’s Learning

Education has gone high tech.

When I started my first teaching job, the ditto machine was my friend. The messy, purple inked contraption made it possible to spew out handouts, tests and homework assignments for my students. Technology moved from there to the mimeograph machine to the photo copier to the power point presentation. White boards have replaced black boards and technology in education has changed the way teachers prepare and teach and the way students interact and receive what is being taught. Students take notes on their laptops and tablets and in 2013, cursive writing was dropped from the Common Core Curriculum Standards that is shared by all states. Children and now required to learn to use a keyboard and print rather than the loopier cursive.

The debate has erupted about whether this is a good thing.

At first glance, the battle between keyboards and pens might seem to be a battle of resistance to change and technology is merely another tool that we’ll get used to. But researchers have studied both sides of the issue and found advantages to each.

Pens and keyboards bring into play very different cognitive processes. As a result, it helps to know what you get when you choose one or the other.

Those who support the keyboard suggest that typing is faster and students can have more information for their disposal. According to Anne Throwback, associate professor of rhetoric and composition at Oberlin College in Ohio “What we want from writing is cognitive automaticity, the ability to think as fast as possible, with whatever technology we use to record our thoughts. This is what typing does for millions.” In addition, proponents of the keyboard argue “what really matters is not how we produce a text but its quality. When we are reading, few of us wonder whether a text was written by hand or word-processed.”

In a paper published in April in the journal Psychological Science, two US researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, claim that note-taking with a pen, rather than a laptop, gives students a better grasp of the subject. They hypothesize that handwriting requires different types of cognitive processing than typing on a laptop, and both have different consequences for learning. You can only write so fast, so your brain is forced to do more as your hand writes the crucial data. They believed writing longhand is a workout for the brain. And, because writing is slower it’s more useful in the long run. Writing involves the whole body and results in a greater amount of conceptual learning.

Using college students as guinea pigs, Mueller and Oppenheimer put their theory to the test.

They divided groups of students into keyboarders and hand writers for taking notes in class. They gave them a week to study their notes before a test. Those who wrote their notes outperformed laptop users. This suggests longhand notes may have superior external storage as well as superior encoding functions,” Mueller and Oppenheimer write.

According to Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva, “Handwriting is a complex task which requires various skills. Children take several years to master this precise motor exercise: You need to hold the scripting tool firmly while moving it in such a way as to leave a different mark for each letter.” The body remembers-making the learning long lasting. There is an element of dancing when we write by hand, a melody in the message, which adds emotion to the text.

Another study from 2010 found that the brain areas associated with learning “lit up” much more when kids were asked to write words like “spaceship” by hand versus just studying the word closely.

But does all this really change our relationship to learning?

Studies show there are additional advantages to writing some things by hand that include:

  • Handwriting stimulates more effective memory cues because you’re forming the context and content in your own words.

  • Handwriting reveals aspects of our personalities. How do you want to be seen by your grandchildren?

  • One of the most effective ways to study and retain new information is to rewrite your types notes by hand. That helps to increase performance on material on which you’ll be tested.

For me, there are many reasons to use both.

What’s A Person To Do?

  • Use pen and paper to make your brain sharper.

  • Use the keyboard to get more written material, faster.

  • Use pen and paper to become a better writers.

  • Use pen and paper to learn a new skills.

  • Use both for acquiring and reproducing materials on which to be remembered or tested.

© Dr. Rachell N. Anderson, Psy. D. June 3, 2016


Dr. Rachell Anderson is a native of Tunica, a licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a Private Clinical Practice in Springfield, Illinois for many years. She now lives and writes with the Tunica Chapter of the Mississippi Writers Guild in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at WWW.drrachellanderson.com for more articles and