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‘The Hive’ impacts lives

WINDSOR — There was a need. One Economy had a desire to help meet it. Thus was the beginning of the alternative school which is housed at One Economy’s community resource center in Windsor known as “The Hive.” “There were 40 students in alternative settings last year and some days there would be only 17 in school,” said Vivian Saunders, who is the director of the Hive. “Now we have 25 students in our school and when you add Uplift Academy and Reclamation, there are approaching 75 students and attendance is good.” Saunders said she believed offering services to more students was important and that both she and One Economy wanted to be involved in the efforts. “It started because there was a lack of resources to serve those students,” Saunders said. The directors said Bertie County Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Chip Zullinger approached Sonya Murray, a vice president for One Economy, to talk about an alternative education setting in Bertie County. The company already had one in Chicago and it was successful, Saunders added. Bertie County offered the site of the former alternative school as a technology hive and alternative setting. When One Economy took possession of the building it had been vacant for two years and was in need of repair. Saunders led a team of AmeriCorps and Digital Connectors volunteers who renovated and painted the building. Now the building is fully functional with the front part serving as a community resource center and the back wing serving as educational hall, housing 25 male students who needed an alternative setting to excel in education. “We had 12 non-readers when we started the school year,” Saunders said. “Now those young men are going out into elementary schools and reading to Kindergarten students.” Saunders shares the credit between the desire of the young men to get back on track educationally and the work of Reading teacher Debra Jernigan, who she said worked individually and with groups to improve reading. James Bell, a Bertie High School and East Carolina University graduate who returned home to give back to his community, was quickly brought in to help at The Hive. He handles day-to-day operations of the school and also teaches several classes. “Mrs. Saunders approached me and asked if I would be interested in an alternative setting,” Bell said. “I’ve been involved every since.” Bell said some of the students at The Hive simply didn’t work well in a traditional school setting, but he also stressed the staff had learned quickly why they had problems. “Once we got to know them, we understood why they were acting out,” Bell said. “They couldn’t read. We understood and began working to solve that problem.” While solving the reading problem was important, a structured setting was also instrumental in solving any disciplinary issues. For that reason, the staff organized a Peer Review Team which helps handle any matters of discipline. “We allow the students to talk,” Saunders said. “When students are judged by their peers, they are more honest. I’m really amazed. It teaches them respect for themselves and allows them to show respect for others.” Saunders said the concept initially took time to mature. “Some of them said we called them out,” she mused. “We let them know that if you’re bad enough to do something, you’re bad enough to be called on it.” Both Bell and Saunders said disciplinary issues are few thanks to the way the school is set up. “They hate to lose the opportunities they have here,” Saunders said. “Dr. Z (Zullinger) has been great in giving us leeway to provide those opportunities.” Some of those opportunities include tickets to the Carolina Hurricanes hockey games and even a trip to see the Charlotte Bobcats play. Also, Bell coaches the boys in a YMCA basketball league and Saunders often takes them shopping to teach them how to handle such tasks in their own lives. One of the keys to the program’s success, according to both Bell and Saunders, is the afterschool program which is available to students. “They don’t want to leave,” Saunders said. “They get here at 8:30 a.m. and they often stay until the center closes at 9:30 p.m. They love to stay here and have the opportunities to work.” At the present time, the Hive has only male students, but the program is set up for either sex. “We have some students who are court-ordered to have limited contact,” said Dr. Zullinger. “We have chosen to place some of those students at The Hive.” The male-only setting, however, has helped the students in the Hive. “I think it helps tremendously,” said Bell. “We do have females involved in our after-school program, but I believe if we had females here on a day-to-day basis, some of the guys would try to show their testosterone. They don’t now because there are no females.” Saunders added, “I think not having females has aided our boys.” Each student enters The Hive on a two-year educational plan. Each of them is given an Individual Recovery Plan outlining everything the student needs to get back on track educationally. “We look forward to them reporting back to their respective schools,” Saunders said. There are four certified teachers on staff at The Hive. They are certified in the areas of English, math, reading and Exceptional children. While the students do use the Odyssey curriculum for certain subjects, Saunders said 80 percent of a typical day is being taught by teachers. While some of the students will have to remain in the alternative setting until graduation, they can earn their high school diploma and graduate with their class at Bertie High School. In fact, some of the students already attend certain classes on the Bertie campus as visiting students. While the Hive is just in its first year, Saunders and Bell said it has already touched lives. “When we first started we had to have a trust level between ourselves and the students,” Bell said. “We showed them we trusted them. It took a few months, but the peer review team and other facets of the school helped them get accustomed.” Saunders said the young men enrolled in the program have made it their goal to show what they can accomplish. “They love to be seen,” Saunders said. “They like having their picture in the newspaper or attending a board meeting. They want to show they’re on top. “They want to be out in the community,” she added. “They’ve just never been given the chance.” While the students strive to continue their work and the leaders continue to help, Saunders said the program is successful because the children want it to be. “It’s not what we’ve done,” she said. “The boys believe in themselves. The boys are looking forward to their future.”