Bertie builds bridge#8217; for educational future 09/01/2008 Contributed Article WINDSOR – A bridge is defined as any structure built for the purpose of providing passage over an obstacle. In short, i

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 1, 2008

Contributed Article

WINDSOR – A bridge is defined as any structure built for the purpose of providing passage over an obstacle. In short, it is a way to bring things together.

Historically, three bridges have connected Bertie County to the rest of the world. They are the Roanoke, Chowan and Three Rivers bridges.

On Aug. 28, a host of nearly 200 visionaries joined to celebrate the opening of the county’s fourth and newest “bridge” n one that will provide a route to educational excellence. This newest bridge is about connecting together to make education, quality of life and economic vitality the best they can be.

The privately sponsored event was hosted by the Windsor Bertie County Chamber of Commerce, Bertie County Peanuts n Powell and Stokes, the NC Northeast Commission, NC’s NE Alliance for Agricultural Biology, Perdue Farms Inc. and the Windsor Cook Club. These visionary institutions wanted to spread the word about the dramatic and exciting choices being opened for the county’s youth so they becomes Bertie’s business, civic, agricultural, governmental, educational and religious leaders in the future.

The event was held at Southwestern, site of the New Early College programs that allow Bertie County students to get a head start in life by graduating from high school with their first two years of college behind them. The evening focused on two unique programs, the Shaw University Cadet Program and the Bertie School of Agri-Science.

Farming and farm related industries and businesses account for a greater percentage of revenue in Bertie County than any other county in North Carolina and they need high tech employees.

Keynote speeches were presented by Dr. C.G. Newsome, President of Shaw University, and Norris Tolson, President of NC Bio-technology Center.

The activities were initiated by Bertie County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Chip Zullinger and Rickey Freeman, Chairman of the Bertie County Board of Education.

Carol Atkins, Director for Educational Programs for Bertie County, gave the first presentation of the evening… the Shaw Cadet program, one that brings university professors to Bertie to provide a four-year degree for homegrown students who attend college in Bertie and teach here after graduation.

This program not only helps address the availability of quality teachers issue, it makes possible the university setting (early college) through which any Bertie student can get university level instruction free of charge without leaving the county.

The Shaw Cadet Program will improve education, quality of life and the economic base of Bertie County. Already this visionary program is attracting state and regional interest and soon it may be the model for university and K-12 partnerships throughout the country, but it started first in Bertie County thanks to visionary educational leadership that works every day in building bridges.

One of the highlights of the evening was when Atkins introduced the Shaw (Bertie) Cadets, the first class of the new Shaw University Campus. They are Kelly Cummings, Shaterri Palmer, Jasmine Cowin, Marvin Outlaw, Doug Jernigan, Sheriqueenma Artis, Kevin Cooper and Jarvis Bell.

The next presentation was by William Peele III, principal of the new Freshman Academy, a special program designed to reduce the frustrations felt by many first year high school students at the dramatic change in school atmosphere when they enter high school. This transition of leaving middle school and starting high school is traumatic for almost all students. It is said that we &uot;lose&uot; most of our dropouts in this first year, even if they actually don’t leave until later in the high school process.

The next presentation was made by Constance Richardson, Bertie County Director of Federal Programs, who explained the success of the C.G. White &uot;More at Four&uot; Pre-School and their hopes and dreams for the second facility at Askewville to reduce the long drive for many of these very young children.

Glenwood Mitchell, Principal of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics School, made the next presentation, talking about the opportunities this school provides for Bertie students interested in pursuing science, math and engineering careers.

The next two presentations were about the Agri-Science School of the Southwestern Early College High School. Introductory remarks were by Bobby Occena, principal of the new school.

This is the first school of its kind in North Carolina and the first nationwide calling a minority based area home. Agri-Science and Biotech industries are one of the fastest growing career paths in the United States and this partnership will bring six world class research laboratories to the Southwestern school site. In addition to state of the art “hot house” programs, these labs will include a biodiesel project that can be used as a catalyst to develop an alternative fuel industry here in Bertie County.

Occena then introduced the first teacher recruited for the new school, James Guard, North Carolina’s Outstanding Agriculture Teacher of the Year who is also President of FFA North Carolina.

Benjie Forrest, Eastern Regional Agricultural Coordinator for NC State, talked about his work at the Vernon James Center and the dreams he had of helping make the Agri-Science School something that will really make a difference in the careers of Bertie students and the future of the local area.

Tolson gave an inspirational speech about the future of Agri-Science and biotechnology in North Carolina. He also spoke enthusiastically about the leading edge role Bertie County is playing in this exciting effort.

Dr. Newsome’s speech was an inspirational way to close the evening. He spoke of growing up in Hertford County, the times he competed in athletic events at Bertie High School, the aunt that taught and retired from Southwestern School, the history and tradition that is being rekindled by re-opening this great facility, and the love for kids who are starting their careers by attaining a degree from a University that created, as a spin-off, so many of the great colleges and universities of North Carolina.

The two keynote speeches put into perspective just how exciting this time is in Bertie County history.

The organizing committee for the event included Ollie Bond, Collins Cooper, John Davis, Buneva Everett, Charles M. Harden, James T. Heckstall, Nancy Joyner, David Peele and Ronald Wesson.

(This article was contributed to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald by the Bertie County Patriot, an online blog that can be viewed by visiting