City Council Member James Taylor convened the first-ever meeting of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Education Coalition Tuesday at City Hall.
“I believe in order for students to be successful, it takes a community approach,” said Taylor, who as a member of the City Council has little sway over school system issues but is looking to make a difference anyway. “It’s about us all coming together and pulling for the best interests of our students … My goal is to bring everyone together to provide the most successful services we can provide for our students.”
A main thrust of the coalition will be to administer the Youth Build USA program, a federally-funded program that puts high school dropouts who meet certain criteria to work rebuilding their communities. The coalition has received a three-year grant in excess of $1 million to engage 300 young people between the ages of 16-24 in the program.
John Davenport, vice chair of the Board of Education and the only school board member on hand at the meeting, has high praise for the program. “I’d like to say we’re going to put you out of business because we don’t have any dropouts, but we do have dropouts,” he commented. “I think this is wonderful that we have a program that addresses that.”
Davenport added that he was especially pleased to see that youth with criminal records being offered a second chance through Youth Build.
“I’ve always thought by giving them the skill sets, they can begin to build a future … and we can really start making a dent in the problem,” he commented. “I think you’re right on target.”
The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, the Forsyth County Public Library and SciWorks are among the agencies that have signed on as members of the coalition. Some member organizations have already committed to step up their efforts to partner with local schools.
“SciWorks up until now has not done a good job of fulfilling its mission within the community. Our challenge as I see it is to help students imagine their future here and I don’t think SciWorks has done a good job of that,” said Paul Kortenaar, who recently became the executive director of the innovative science museum. “I think we need to build a stronger relationship with the community and the school system. We’ve been working on how to redevelop our programs to be more appropriate to the schools and to the kids.”
The Arts Council has long been actively engaged with schools, according to President and CEO Milton Rhodes, who said the Council reached 43,000 local school children through its funded programs last year.
Rhodes said there is room for improvement. He hopes the coalition will allow the Arts Council to reach out to students in new and different ways.
“We think all kids and young adults have talent and it’s very important for us in the adult community, the older community, to recognize that talent,” Rhodes said. “…It is a symbiotic relationship that has to be developed among our children and our teachers around the community.”
The Chamber of Commerce supports area youth through initiatives like “Graduate. It Pays.,” a mentoring program for students who are at risk of not graduating from high school in four years’ time.
“The Chamber and the business community totally understands the connections between economic development and education,” commented Rodessa Mitchell, The Chamber’s vice president of Education and Membership. “We have been working for a number of years to try to create a better outcome for students.”
For over a decade, The Chamber has overseen a literacy based program that places community volunteers in Title One schools to work with students in kindergarten, first and second grades. It also hosts the Robot Run, a program held in conjunction with Forsyth Technical Community College designed to get students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
“Everything we do is a partnership,” she said. “We believe very strongly in partnership and the strength of partners.”
A two-decade old City of Winston-Salem program known as Section 3 will also come under the Coalition’s umbrella, Taylor said. The program provides job training and employment opportunities for low income residents, explained Sharon Johnson, project supervisor for the city’s Community and Business Development department.
“The program is well known. No matter where we go all over the city, we see people whose lives have been changed by Section 3,” Johnson said. “We’re doing great things. We’re looking forward to working with all of you and we’re excited about taking Section 3 to the next level.”
Easton Elementary Principal Beatriz Veto urged the coalition members not to leave younger students out of the equation.
“Don’t practice that deferred maintenance,” Veto implored them. “…Don’t focus on remediation. Let’s do it right the first time.”
Taylor thanked Veto, who is new to Easton, for her passion and commitment to creating positive change for her students.
“That’s exactly the energy that we needed here today,” said the father of three. “These are things that we can work on and that is what I’m committed to doing.”
The Coalition is slated to meet again in early summer. For more information or to get involved, contact Community Liaison Vanessa Smith at 336-734-1256 or firstname.lastname@example.org.