Fulfilling potential

Published 12:18 pm Thursday, July 17, 2014

Northampton County Board of Education Chairwoman Marjorie Edwards (left) and Northampton County High School Principal Felicia Whitaker during his Wednesday visit to the Summer STEM Program at the school. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

Northampton County Board of Education Chairwoman Marjorie Edwards (left) and Northampton County High School Principal Felicia Whitaker during his Wednesday visit to the Summer STEM Program at the school. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

CREEKSVILLE – Whenever a teenager volunteers to attend summer school, it becomes a “sit up and take notice” moment in time.

The Governor of North Carolina did indeed take notice of that fact here Wednesday morning.

Pat McCrory visited the campus of Northampton County High School where the first-term Governor chatted with administrators, teachers and students, leaving him amazed over what he personally witnessed within the NCHS award-winning Summer STEM Program.

This marks the second consecutive year that Northampton students have opted, on their own accord, to sharpen their skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) over a four-week period.

The program – the brainchild of Liz Chen, Dale Hammer and Grayson Cooper, Teach for America instructors at NCHS – taps into the students’ ability to think critically and work as a team. The students complete project-based courses in math and science as well as an introductory computer science course in which they developed websites for small local businesses and learned about maintaining professional relationships.

McCrory said the idea of his Wednesday journey to Creeksville was predicated by a visit to his office in Raleigh back in April by the NCHS Teach for America instructors, joined by NCHS Principal Felicia Whitaker.

“They implored me to come see this program first-hand,” the Governor recalled. “They said I had to see it to believe it. Well, I saw it today and I believe it. I’m so impressed by your commitment here to think outside the box. You are preparing these students for the future by thinking outside the box. You, the teachers, are not just standing up and lecturing to the students, but by doing your instruction by allowing the students to solve their own problems; they’re learning by applying what they’re taught to real, modern day issues.”

McCrory said he strongly believed this type of teaching concept is the wave of the future.

He commended the students for their courage to use what is typically the lazy days of summer to add value to the educational process.

“What you didn’t do this summer was waste time,” McCrory stressed. “Life goes by very, very quickly, especially between the 9th and 12th grades, and then college. You have to take advantage of every moment and the best way to do that is to never stop learning.”

He added that the STEM skills they are now mastering will reap dividends in the future.

“You will be employable,” the Governor said. “When you graduate, it’s my goal to see you enjoy a great quality of life. You are also showing a higher level of physical and mental maturity that I never dreamed of obtaining when I was your age. That also gives you a competitive edge for the future.”

His advice for the NCHS students was the same words of wisdom shared by his father years ago….“fulfill your potential; cut off the TV and exercise your brain.”

“That’s what I saw today from you, the students, you were exercising your brain,” McCrory observed, adding that in one particular classroom he saw how the classmates played out their roles as data collectors and problem solvers and then swap out those positions. “That gives you an advantage in your academic future and your professional future. That maturity at such a young age is amazing to see. I encourage you to continue to build upon that maturity and you will fulfill your potential.”

He challenged the STEM Summer Program students to convince their peers to join that effort.

“Your generation has to step up, take responsibility and make our society even better,” the Governor remarked. “Tell your peers that they missed out on a good time, a productive time this summer. Maybe they’ll join you in this experiment that is helping you, and will help them, fulfill potential. What inspires me is seeing students like you and knowing you can fulfill your potential.”

Turning to the adults in the audience, McCrory urged them to join him in the ongoing battle he is waging within the halls of the State General Assembly to fight to protect teacher’s assistants, creating a career plan for teachers, and for upgrading technology in schools.

“I need your help in creating a career pathway for teachers, where we recognize them not only based on their experience, but also based upon their leadership skills, their market value and based upon their performance,” he stated. “That gives them a career plan, which gives them the confidence to enter the teaching profession. We’re paying our teachers right now based on the same criteria back when I was in school. That’s just crazy.

“I want to see our teachers have a chance to get promoted within the teaching ranks,” he added. “Right now the only way for you to receive a promotion is by being named a principal or superintendent, and those two different skills don’t always match.”

In a later interview with the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, McCrory said he just returned from Washington, DC where he lobbied federal officials to use North Carolina, especially the rural areas, as a model project to improve technology within schools.

“We want to improve technology school-wide, not just in one part of the school,” the Governor said. “We’re trying to get North Carolina to become the pilot project of how to get more technology, better communications, in our rural schools. I’m convinced that improving technology will close the gap between rural and urban schools….the poor and the rich. With technology you can have access to the best teachers in the world on your desktop.”

McCrory said he is waiting to learn if his efforts to obtain grant funding from the FCC for such an endeavor will be fulfilled.

Perhaps the national recognition recently earned by the Northampton Summer STEM Program will help sway that decision. Last month, Chen, Hammer and Cooper teamed to earn one of five national awards of $2,500 from Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards.

Chen told the R-C News-Herald that based upon last year’s success of the Summer STEM Program, she and her colleagues decided to expand that by offering character development to the 2014 curriculum.

“We offered a leadership development course to help our students increase their growth mindset and expose them to different career paths within STEM,” said Chen, who arrived in Northampton County in 2010 through the Teach for America program. “That course equips them with the skills to allow them to work better in groups. It gives them more exposure to real world problems and the training to solve those problems.”

As far as having the Governor to take the time in his busy schedule to come and see first-hand the impact the summer program is having at NCHS, Chen said that was a humbling experience.

“We had met with the Governor back in April and encouraged him to come here,” she said. “It’s a unique challenge when it comes to teaching in eastern North Carolina. We, to include the students, have overcome some of those challenges and we’re grateful for the opportunity to show the Governor what we have been doing and what we will continue to do to expand this type of program to other counties in our part of the state.”

Hammer, who arrived in Northampton County through Teach for America in 2011, met with then Northampton Schools Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy about the idea of developing the Summer STEM Program. Hammer built his plan around “summer learning loss” and preparing students, in advance, for their involvement in the rigorous AP courses that were waiting in the wings at the start of a new school year in August. Bracy found the funding and the Teach for America trio rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

The students bought into the idea and have since credited their teachers for “making learning fun.”

“Having a growth mindset means you can use experiences that others often view as failures in order to better yourself,” said senior Austin Watkins, one of the original participants of the Northampton STEM program.


About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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