Category Archives: Education

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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Manufacturing Our Future

SEABROOK SAYS: Thanks to Pat Skinner for leading Gaston College to becoming one of the best (of not the finest) in North Carolina. Julia Allen, the college’s chief development officer, writes about the Advanced Manufacturing program bring introduced and becoming operational soon at Gaston College. Gaston County is a manufacturing place where people should have high interest in this new technology! NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

This time of year reality sets in for many high school seniors and their parents that graduation day is near. If you are a parent or guardian finding yourself in this position, research shows that you have more influence over your child’s educational and career choices than you may think. With that in mind, consider that the average four-year college graduate of the Class of 2016 left campuses all over the country with over $37,000 in educational loans, and many of them are still seeking jobs because they did not gain skills necessary to move seamlessly into a career.

Society has created the illusion that the only key to a meaningful and lucrative career is a degree from a four-year college or university. I ask that you consider that there are other options, ones that are just as good and maybe even better for your son or daughter, which can easily be found close to home at Gaston College.

Gaston County’s largest employment sector is manufacturing. Over 15,000 of our friends and neighbors work within this sector; and over the past five years, the number of manufacturing jobs in our county has grown by 6.5%. It is estimated that over the next ten years an additional 3,500 positions will be available due to an aging workforce and industry growth. While the numbers seem positive, they present a challenge for the ongoing health of our local economy. The single largest frustration voiced by local manufacturing executives is that they are not able to find skilled employees for the jobs they have available.

One of the cornerstones of Gaston College’s mission statement is that we provide “educational programs and services responding to economic and workforce development needs.” To that end, we are excited about the upcoming completion of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing. The College has a deep commitment to train workers for advanced manufacturing programs, and that was the case long before the term “advanced manufacturing” was the buzz word of the day. This new facility will dramatically increase the College’s capacity to train the next generation of manufacturing employees to meet regional needs, and it is possible because of strong support from local, state and federal agencies as well as the Golden LEAF Foundation and private donors. Our community has invested resources in the College so that we may now employ them to train your sons and daughters for careers that will challenge and sustain them for life.

We need your help to change the perception of how a future in manufacturing may look. While 70 percent of Americans view manufacturing as the most important industry for a strong economy, only 30 percent of parents encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career. Few graduating high school seniors are aware of the opportunities within the manufacturing sector, or their expectation of industry is dark and dirty—yet that image is grossly outdated. Many manufacturing facilities today are cleaner than most offices in downtown high-rises, and they are staffed by well-trained, educated professionals who are highly skilled and are on the cutting edge of today’s innovations in robotics, mechatronics, 3-D printing, automation and more.

Gaston College will open the Center for Advanced Manufacturing this summer; and it offers affordable Associate Degree programs in fields such as Mechatronics, Nuclear Technology, Robotics, and Alternative Energy. Students are taught by caring faculty, in state-of-the-art facilities, to prepare them for challenging and rewarding careers. The College is doing its part to support local industries – industries that pay average annual wages well above Gaston County’s $42,158 median household income; we now need you to encourage your children to envision their future in advanced manufacturing.

For information about programs or enrollment, please contact the office of admissions at 704-922-6232 or visit our website at http://www.gaston.edu.

Julia P. Allen
Chief Development Officer
Gaston College

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