Category Archives: Gaston County Schools

The Public Library’s Role in Early Literacy

SEABROOK SAYS: Is it just too much to ask that Gaston parents and their close associates DO SOMETHING to improve the reading at an early childhood age?  Imagine how much better Gaston would be if all could read.  Schools and libraries are engaged.  So, what about the adults? NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Did you know that the week of April 8-15, 2017 is designated as National Library Week? It’s a great time to celebrate all the ways that public, school, and special libraries serve the needs of communities and people…of every age, background, and walk of life. Libraries have a long history of being community gathering places and of providing educational and entertainment opportunities for everyone. In today’s digital age, libraries can reach even more people through virtual services: providing online reading, listening, and informational services around the clock from the comfort of a laptop, e-reader, or cell phone.

Founded over 110 years ago, the Gaston County Public Library recently updated its mission and vision statements:

Vision Statement:   A versatile community center, open to all, that evolves with changing technology and social trends to empower lifelong growth, learning, and education.

Mission Statement: Meeting individual and community needs through information, education, engagement, and enrichment.

One of the most important ways that your Public Library has and continues to meet these goals is through its leadership in the area of early literacy. Librarians have traditionally focused on helping their youngest patrons acquire the building blocks they need to become successful readers and students.  Through baby, toddler, and preschool storytimes, each featuring stories, songs, and activities developmentally appropriate and targeted to the specific age group, library staff engage the children and model suggested methods for parents and caregivers to make learning fun for the little ones. Many studies have shown that basic activities such as talking, playing, singing, reading, and writing with preschool children are crucial to their future success when they begin school.

But despite the Library’s ongoing efforts to reach our youngest citizens, there are many, many children in our community who arrive at the kindergarten doorstep without these essential pre-literacy skills. For this reason, the Gaston County Public Library has been working with many community partners, including the Partnership for Children of Gaston and Lincoln Counties, the Gaston County Department of Health and Social Services, the Gaston Literacy Council, the United Way of Gaston County, the Gaston Family YMCA, Gaston County Schools, Boys & Girls Clubs of Gaston County, and the Gaston Gazette, to form the Gaston Early Literacy Collaborative (ELC).

The Gaston ELC is affiliated with the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading and the NC Early Childhood Foundation and has been working on ways to more adequately prepare our kids for reading and school success.  Most significantly, the Gaston ELC has organized an event entitled “Literacy Builds Gaston,” an Early Literacy Convening to be held on Friday, May 12, 2017, from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm at the Main Library, 1555 E. Garrison Blvd., Gastonia.  At this event, local organizations such as churches, neighborhood groups, book clubs, and service groups will be able to hear about successful early literacy techniques and programs that they can implement in different parts of our community, to help parents and caregivers get their babies, toddlers, and preschoolers ready for school.  There will be inspiring messages and question and answer sessions where specific program ideas will be discussed, and assistance will be provided for groups who are considering implementing an early literacy program.

This is a problem that all of us working together can solve. If we can do our part to help our youngest residents be fully prepared for school, the chances of them staying on grade level, staying in school, and graduating will significantly increase, and this will benefit the entire community.

If you want to find out more or would like to attend the May 12 event, please contact Sarah Miller at the Gaston County Public Library, 704-868-2164, ext. 5538, sarah.miller@gastongov.com

Laurel R. Morris
Director, Gaston County Public Library

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The Power of One

SEABROOK SAYS: Gaston County now has about 300 mentors for students.  The need is far greater.  Have you ever given serious thought to mentoring a kid for one hour per week? Elizabeth and I did.  The benefits to the Seabrooks and Phillip, the student, were huge.  Step forward – give mentoring a try.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

He’s a high school student. Good grades and social interactions haven’t come easily for him.  His home life is economically challenged; he has not grown up with a father figure or the advantages that others might take for granted. Is he another statistic destined for failure?  Perhaps. Except this student experienced the “Power of One,” the power of one caring adult … his mentor.

Our most recent success story for Gaston County Schools’ Mentor Program is a young man who recently landed his first part-time job at a local restaurant. Making the difference in this outcome was his mentor, a caring gentleman who built a relationship with the boy going back to elementary school. While most mentor relationships in our schools involve shorter time periods, this particular one has navigated many ups and downs, challenges and disappointments, and the routine of regular visits that sent a simple message: “I’m not giving up on you.” It was the mentor who coached his mentee on interview skills, handshakes, eye contact and what it would take to keep his first experience in the workplace positive. That’s mentoring at its best!

Gaston County Schools’ Mentor Program is in its 24th year of matching caring community individuals with deserving young people. Regular weekly meetings and activities at the child’s school help provide encouragement and valuable life skills that build confidence and self-worth.  This year, 257 mentors answered the call to volunteer in over 35 schools. That number sounds large, but immediately shrinks when you compare it to the 32,000 students attending Gaston County Schools. Wouldn’t every child benefit from a visit by a wise friend with experience?

The question I always ask at the start of every mentor training session is, “Who mentored you?” Think back — you may not have been part of a formal mentor program, but was there someone in your life who nudged you to try something out of your comfort zone? Was there a person who always seemed happy to hear your good news or just made you smile? Was there someone who was a comfort or just listened to you when life’s disappointments seemed to make it impossible to get back up? That’s mentoring!

“Young people with mentors, especially at-risk youth, have more positive visions of themselves and their futures, and they achieve more positive outcomes in school, the workplace and their communities,” writes David Shapiro, president and CEO of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. “As a society, too often we leave these powerful human connections to chance. We must close the mentoring gap for the good of young people and our country.”

January is National Mentoring Month. It was launched by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership in 2002 to focus attention on the need for mentors. It is an invitation to individuals, businesses, government agencies, schools, nonprofits and faith communities to come together to increase the numbers of mentors for our young people. I am proud to say that each of those six community sectors are represented by the 261 current mentors in Gaston County Schools.  As wonderful as that number sounds, more mentors are needed. There are children waiting.

Becoming a mentor for Gaston County Schools requires a short approval process and training session that equips new volunteers with some starting strategies. The mentor program is school site based, meaning all your interaction occurs on school grounds during the school day. You can choose a time that works with your schedule. Weekly visits with mentees averages about 40 to 50 minutes. Time is spent doing fun activities that the student and mentor choose, but usually revolve around meaningful conversations. You may request to work with an elementary, middle or high school student.

Gaston mentors come from all walks of life and possess the single best characteristic, the ability to listen. A one-year commitment to the mentor program is requested. Many mentors, after building strong relationships, have remained with their mentees for several years and in some cases to graduation. Numerous proud moments and “Power of One” stories have emerged from Gaston County Schools’ Mentor Program. Will you consider sharing your powers with a deserving child? That’s mentoring!

Valerie Yatko
Director, Business and Community Partnerships
Gaston County Schools

For more information contact Valerie at 704-866-6329 or vayatko@gaston.k12.nc.us

Investing in Educational Excellence

SEABROOK SAYS: Everybody knows Jennie Stultz.   But, for sure, everybody odes not know she is the leader of the Gaston County Education Foundation. This organization raises funds to meet needs that the Gaston County Schools budget cannot afford. Read on.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

The Gaston County Education Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit, was organized in 1992 to raise funds for extraordinary initiatives not covered in the regular Gaston County Schools budget.  Since our inception, we have funded over $950,000 in grants to Gaston County Schools teachers.  Our funds, raised through private and corporate investments, are housed within the Community Foundation of Gaston County.  A broadly-based board of directors directs the programs of the foundation and maintains our corpus of funds to create a valuable resource for Gaston County Schools.

Receiving a good education is a key component to each person’s quality of life. Providing a channel of educational excellence is the main objective of the Gaston County Education Foundation.

The Gaston County Education Foundation (GCEF) has lead positive change in the following capacities:

In the mid to late 1990’s, GCEF served as a vehicle for major contributions and investments in the building and development of Highland School of Technology, by providing a 501c3 organization to channel major grants, to include a $1 million grant from the N. C. Department of Public Instruction.  This N.C. School of Excellence now boasts a 100% graduation rate!

The Ron L. Ensley Grants awarded yearly to deserving teachers, provide funding for innovative teaching that otherwise would go unfunded.  Teachers must justify expected outcomes to include improved student performance in End of Grade and End of Course testing.  Sustainability and transferability are key components to the grants awarded.  An average of $50,000 each year is awarded in grants.

An annual Teaching and Learning Conference is held in August for all teachers.  The GCEF funds the cost of two renowned keynote speakers who open the two-day session with inspiring messages and praise to begin the new school year.

When the S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) initiative was being launched, GCEF pledged a three year funding commitment totaling $15,000 to establish S.T.E.M. in all Gaston County Schools fifth grade classrooms.

For the past ten years, the Gaston County Education Foundation has funded the handbooks for Gaston Together’s “Pride in Gaston County” program which reaches every third grader in Gaston County Schools.

“Are You Smarter than a Gaston County Fifth Grader” has become an epic event.  The yearly tradition pairs area businesses with local elementary schools for a friendly competition to raise funds and raise friends through the Education Foundation.  At least 9 of the 12 schools involved are Title 1 schools.  The members of each corporate team visit the school building team spirit, mutual cooperation and studying the questions to be posed from the standard End of Grade and End of Course tests. This opportunity offers students, who are ethnically diverse, a positive experience with professionals.  The students come to realize the capacity for local jobs and personal success.  The event celebrates 360 participants and an auditorium full of raving fans and serves as a major source of our grant funding.

The GCEF has provided creative leadership and problem solving through a diverse support base of educators, foundations, corporate partners, and advocates for public education to determine our most critical funding priorities.  As greater needs are identified by Gaston County Schools, the GCEF can continue to be a vehicle by which larger investments can be channeled.  The GCEF also offers opportunities for funders to earmark monies for a specific need they wish to meet, to include individual scholarships, memorials and honorariums.

Our foundation has developed the expectation that positive outcomes are not optional,  they are expected.

Our principles are paramount to the educational excellence required to keep our county competitive for growth and sustainability.

If you are inspired by our work, we want to partner with you as an individual, business or organization by:

  • Volunteering for any of our signature events or serving on our board of directors
  • Sharing monetary investments which build our capacity to build our grant awards.
  • Earmarking and directing donated funds for particular initiatives.
  • Donating funds to honor or memorialize friends and relatives.

We can broaden our sphere of influence through greater connections county-wide.  You can be that one connection that strengthens our public schools, one student at a time!

For additional information, go to our facebook page: Gaston County Education Foundation, our website at: gaston.k12.nc.us/gaston county education foundation, by phone at 704-874-1876 or 704-616-8613 or by email at gceducationfoundation@gmail.com.

 Jennie Stultz
Executive Director

Snap, Crackle and Pop

SEABROOK SAYS: Carolyn Niemeyer gives every day to the Gaston community! Very few citizens will ever know how much she does. The back pack program she brings is incredibly successful.  Read her article and ask yourself’ “Can I help kids get food for the weekends?”  More readers need to step forward and help. How about you?  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

How many of us have heard this phrase on TV and associated it with popular cereal?  Likely, many of us could just go to the kitchen in our homes and find cereal to eat.  What about the students in Gaston County who would not have had that opportunity if not for the BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc.?  The food bags received on Fridays have meant the difference between being hungry over the weekend and having meals to eat.  The students are so anxious to get the weekend food they start asking their teachers on Friday morning, “Are we getting our food today?”

The Gaston County Schools currently report that 66% of the student population is eligible for free lunch. This is a 10% increase in need from 2011 when the BackPack Weekend Food Program began.

The US Census Bureau reports that 44% of households in Gaston County have yearly income of $35,000 or less. These statistics indicate a need for economic improvement in our area.

The BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc. has grown from providing weekend food for students in 17 schools in the beginning to 43 schools currently.  The program provided almost 300,000 meals to 950+ students this year.  The operation of the program has grown out of the space at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and will start the new school year in a larger warehouse space on Linwood Rd.  It is anticipated that the program will begin with around 1,000 students.  Just imagine how many volunteers this will take to get the food from the truck to the back packs of the students!

The good news is that with so many caring people in the community the task will be accomplished. The number of students in need will increase in the near future and food costs will continue to rise as much as 5 to 7%.  A registered dietician assists the program to provide menus that meet the caloric and nutritional needs of the students K-12 within the budget for the meals.

Many schools and teachers report that the students have hope when they receive the weekend food bags. Hope that someone cares about them weekly, not just one time. Surveys report that there has been an increase in positive behavior and daily work in the classroom because they are not concentrating on their growling stomach.  As a community, it is our mission to encourage these students to stay in school and receive their education.  Without education these students will have difficulty finding jobs that will sustain themselves or their families. Individual failure leads to family failure and community failure.

The BackPack Weekend Food Program, Inc. is totally run by volunteers. Local churches and community groups provide funding for about 70% of the students. The remainder of funds come from grants, donations and fundraisers.

For more information about the program, how to make a donation, or volunteer, please visit our web site at http://www.backpackweekendfoodprogram.com.

You always stand taller when you kneel to help a child.”

Carolyn Niemeyer head shot

Carolyn Niemeyer Community Volunteer

 

 

How Being Mentored Helped Me

SEABROOK SAYS: Every story I ever heard about mentoring has mentioned benefits to both the mentee and the mentor.  Matt Adams’ story may be the best of all!  Has the time arrived when you should be mentoring for an hour per week?  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

A mentor is defined by Webster’s dictionary as, “someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less-experienced, and often younger, person.” While this is certainly accurate, it does not fully convey the impact a mentor has on someone’s life. To me, a mentor is someone who makes such an indelible impression on the life of a young boy or girl that they become better equipped to realize their full potential. A mentor can play a fundamental role in altering a young person’s course in life for the better. It is, however, even more than helping them develop life skills that will propel them to eventual success. It oftentimes satisfies an emotional need that a young girl or boy is not having met, which carries an even more profound effect than equipping them for success.

How do I know this? I, myself, have experienced the positive effects of having a mentor. When I was five years old, my mom and dad split-up. My dad moved about two hours away and aside from my mom and brother I had no family around. We lived in a low-income part of Gastonia and, statistically speaking, the prospects for my life grew dimmer. By God’s grace, though, there was a man that had already been in my life, named Doug Mincey, who recognized that I needed a strong, male influence and he heeded the call.

What this man has done for me, in my book, places him among the saints. He was a giant to me then and is still a giant to me today. Writing briefly about him here frankly does not do him the justice he deserves. While my mom undoubtedly had the greatest influence on me, Doug would be a very close second. As someone himself who had the cards stacked against him, he instilled in me the belief that through hard work coupled with determination I could accomplish whatever I wanted. What I learned from him was to not let your circumstances define who you are but to use those circumstances to define yourself. I would say, though, that it wasn’t really what he taught me directly that impacted me. It was the example in his own daily life where I really paid attention. Among some of the things his example taught me was about the importance of faith, showing compassion to those less fortunate, conducting oneself with the utmost integrity in your profession, giving back to the community, and showing an undying devotion to family.

Doug has been more than a mentor to me. He has been one of my very best friends. I can say with certainty that my life would have been far different without his influence.  He has been with me during the highs of life and there for me during the very lows. I haven’t always followed his example and have made many mistakes, some of which I’m sure were disappointing to him, but he’s always been there to guide me back to where I need to be and has done so with grace and love. I owe a lot to him and could never repay him. I will be forever grateful to him for being that strong, male role-model that I needed but most of all for showing me unconditional love. I know my mom was very grateful as well and I believe she’s in heaven right now asking God to bless Doug as much as possible simply for the role he has played in my life.

I want to thank him, his family for sharing him, and to all those out there that take the time to mentor. You may not ever know fully the impact you are having but I can assure you it is positive. If you are considering becoming one, I’d encourage you to do so. You may just change a life.

Matt Adams
Senior Personal Banker
CommunityOne Bank, N.A.

 

The Power of a Mentor

SEABROOK SAYS:  Matt Kuiken, the lead pastor at First ARP Church, is leading the initiative to recruit adults to mentor our kids.  Read on, get inspired, become a mentor, share the benefits!   NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO? 

I was back in my hometown several months ago and I ran into him. John Raudenbush is a guy about fifteen years my senior.  He is an easy-going fella, with a sly smile, a sharp wit, and twinkle in his eye.  When I was in high school John was one of my mentors.  Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea – John would never call himself that.  But John did for me what a mentor always does.  He engaged me and gave me attention.  He encouraged me in various aspects of my life.  He motivated me to pursue God’s call on my life by affirming me.  He mentored me.  So when I saw John recently, I thanked him.  I told him I appreciated the role he had played in my development and that any success I have had is in part due to his influence on me (I don’t hold him responsible for the many failures).  I wasn’t prepared for his response.  Tears filled his eyes.  It was honestly kind of uncomfortable as he told me that he never realized that I looked up to him like that.  But I could tell that he felt honored and affirmed to be considered a mentor.  In that moment we stood on holy ground.

A mentoring relationship, whether formal or informal, is a sacred space. It is life on life impact.  It reminds us that our most formative experiences come not through interactions with programs or abstract principles but with people.  Mentoring, at its most basic level, is simply one person intentionally investing in another.  I have been blessed to be the recipient of such mentoring relationships.  In High School it was John Raudenbush.  In college it was quirky Mike McGhee.  In Seminary it was the Rev. Ryan Laughlin.  Who has it been for you?  In his book The Mentor Leader, Tony Dungy writes, “Building a life of significance, and creating a legacy of real value, means being willing to get your hands dirty. It means being willing to step out in your life and onto the platforms of influence you’ve been given and touch the lives of people in need.  If you want to make a difference in the lives of the people you lead, you must be willing to walk alongside them, to lift and encourage them, to share moments of understanding with them, and to spend time with them, not just shout down at them from on high.  Mentors build mentors.  Leaders build leaders.  When you look at it closely, its really one and the same thing.”  If you have been blessed with a mentor at any point in your life, it is now time for you to pass this gift on.  There are a myriad of different ways to do this, but let me give you one opportunity that easy and available to you right now.

Did you know that every year there are students within the Gaston County School System who step forward and request an adult mentor only to be told that there are not enough adults willing to mentor them?   Of course I’m sure they don’t actually tell the kids this.  But kids are smart; they get the picture.  To be without a mentor is to be without a crucial lifeline.  We have a tremendous opportunity here as leaders within Gaston County.  It is not just to be a mentor our selves, but to encourage others within our sphere of influence to be a mentor as well.  And here is the big thing – it doesn’t take any special skills, or abilities, or talents, or a certain personality – to be a mentor.  It just takes a willingness to show up, for an hour a week, and to invest your life in someone else’s life.  That’s it.

This year there are 238 active adult mentors in the Gaston County School System. My hope is that this number continues to grow.  My hope is that Gaston County becomes a model, not just in the state but also in the entire country for student mentoring.  How cool would it be if it was the rule, and not the exception, that all community leaders in Gaston County were also mentors?  What if mentoring was the culture of our public schools, our private business and organizations, and our entire community?  I am convinced that this reality would contribute dramatically to the flourishing of our county on numerous levels.

If you are not yet a mentor in the Gaston County School System, I encourage you to contact Valerie Yatko, Director of Business and Community Partnerships for Gaston County Schools, to let her know you are interested in getting involved. You can reach her at vayatko@gaston.k12.nc.us or 704.866.6329.  Thanks in advance for your involvement.

Reverend Matt Kuiken
Senor Pastor
First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

 

Ask Yourself

SEABROOK SAYS: Remember all of the good stuff as we all work to solve our problems.

Continuous Improvement

Ask Yourself:  Can Gaston get the big things done?

We have many critical issues that need our attention.  Here are a few:

  • Greater access to Charlotte
  • More jobs that our people can handle
  • Better education so more are qualified for better jobs
  • Attack poverty and keep poverty from draining us dry
  • Some houses of worship consistently make huge contributions, others offer very little engagement beyond trying to take care of their own

Here are good and big things happening now:

  • More than 30 churches and many volunteers are active with the Back Pack food program
  • Community leadership will get better at multiple levels
  • Completing the Loray Mill project
  • Created, built and are operating the Highland School of Technology
  • Decreased teen pregnancy rate more than 30%
  • Became an All American City – twice
  • Unemployment rate dropped to 5% after loosing our textile industry
  • High school graduation rate has become much higher, the dropout rate much lower
  • 19,000 students are now attending Gaston College
  • Greater Gaston Development Corporation is actively helping Gaston County grow and finding jobs

All of us must continuously improve in all that we do!

Are you supportive of the changes needed?

Bill Seabrook
Digging Deeper