Bertie High receives AT&T grant

Published 9:47 am Tuesday, December 27, 2016

WINDSOR – It’s going where it’s needed the most.

On Dec. 8, communications giant AT&T awarded a $125,000 grant to Bertie High School – one of several schools in eastern NC to receive the support – that will be able to provide BHS students with school-wide and wraparound services aimed at increased attendance, improved behavior, enhanced coursework and to engage more parents and families in student success.

The program will be administered by Communities in Schools of North Carolina (CISNC) and was officially launched with a program at Bertie High School Auditorium.

The funding was part of a larger $750,000 Aspire grant awarded in August, to CISNC from AT&T to support CISNC’s Powering the Future program, which serves students in grades 9-12 in six rural high schools where graduation rates are far below the state average, and fewer than 25 percent of students are grade-level-proficient.

AT&T Aspire is AT&T’s signature philanthropic initiative that drives innovation in education by bringing diverse resources to bear on issues that include funding, technology, employee volunteerism, and mentoring. Through Aspire, AT&T has passed the $250 million mark in its plan to invest $350 million into education through 2017.

“For every young person, a high school diploma is essential, not only for future success in academics or their career, but as a milestone which affirms they can accomplish what they set out to do,” said Venessa Harrison, president of AT&T North Carolina. “Through Aspire, we support programs that invest in students, especially those who need it the most, so they can walk across the graduation stage with excitement, prepared for success in the next chapter of their lives.”

CISNC is a leading partner in providing Integrated Student Supports or what they call “wrap-around services” to propel student success in more than 300 schools across the state. These services are based directly inside schools with student support specialists. Tailored to each student’s specific needs, student support specialists create personalized toolkits for success and an educational experience where students can learn, thrive and power the future.

“Basically, we look out all across all of the state and when the AT&T grant opportunity came up we tried to look at what would be the best plan for the most kids who needed extra support,” said CISNC State Director and COO Jill Cox. “We looked at schools that were under-performing across the state and had similar challenges with their students. The state board said they were aware of a real need up there (northeast NC), but they didn’t see us having a presence in this part of the state.”

Bertie High School students face a combination of academic and non-academic barriers. Compared to the state graduation rate of 85.8 percent, Bertie High School students graduate at a rate of 79.8 percent. Within Bertie County, nearly 46 percent of children under the age of 18 live in poverty.

“We said finding resources was a challenge, but this gave us an opportunity to bring resources to this part of the state and look at another schools in Bertie County that have low proficiency rates and how we can wraparound the extra support that helps insure that those students are going to be successful,” Cox continued.

Reaching students who are most at risk of not thriving in school and removing the multiple barriers that limit their success is accomplished by placing a student support specialist in the school to engage with school leadership, teachers and students. CISNC has a two-prong action plan for Bertie High School: to create a comprehensive school plan to address school wide needs and to drill down to create individual student success plans for those who need intensive help.

“When kids come to school in poverty we know they bring extra challenges with them,” Cox noted. “We had to find a way to jump into the path of those extra challenges and peel them away so they can benefit from what the school has to offer once they get there.”

“Our approach to helping students succeed has been successful in schools across the state,” said President and CEO of Communities In Schools of North Carolina Dr. Eric Hall. “By providing and coordinating the right services and supports for each school and each student we serve, we are able to see 98 percent of our high school students graduate. I’m proud of the work we are doing and the partnerships emerging here at Bertie High School.”

Azareel Young recently joined Communities In Schools as a student support specialist at Bertie High School. Young previously worked as a correctional case manager at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution. He has looked at the needs of the Bertie High students across the board and has worked with BHS principal Calvin Moore to create a needs assessment so as to best figure out how to best target the CISNC services at the school. They will also try to identify the students Young needs to work with one-on-one or small group basis.

“The assessment will tell us what are the greatest areas where we should be focusing school-wide support,” said Cox. “It could be things like bullying prevention or ways to teach children and families how to apply for financial aid for school; this will give us the road map for that.”

Cox says the reason high school students are primarily targeted is because they are much closer to moving onto the next step whether its college or career.

“We want to look closer at all the (school) districts where we’ve done expansion and how we back out now so we can reach children at earlier stages and have a pipeline of support for them all the way through their high school experience,” she said. “We hope we can build the pipeline back to the elementary school level for the kids and the community.”