07/31/12 — Back to school ... for teachers, parents

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Back to school ... for teachers, parents

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 31, 2012 1:46 PM

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Sonja Emerson, principal at Dillard Middle School, moderates a panel discussion composed of middle and high school administrators Monday during a pre-conference kicking off the seventh annual Summer Institute for Wayne County Public Schools. The event, which continues through Thursday with workshops, is being held at Mount Olive College.

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Steve Hill, executive director of N.C. Eastern Region: STEM East, speaks about the importance of STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math-based programs in educating youths for the future. Hill was the keynote speaker for the conference.

MOUNT OLIVE -- Preparing students for the future needs to begin at the middle school level, says Steve Hill, executive director of N.C. Eastern Region: STEM East.

The keynote speaker at the seventh annual Wayne County Public Schools Summer Institute, held Monday at Mount Olive College, stressed the importance of a STEM -- or science, technology, engineering and math-concentrated curriculum -- education.

"We're looking five to seven years out," he said. "What kind of work force are we going to have?"

Programs like the New Schools Project and Career and College Promise have been introduced in recent years to shore up schools in preparation for the internationally competitive workforce youths of today will face.

"What that means is high school now starts in seventh grade," he said. "If we wait until a kid is in 11th grade to influence what career they go into, we're way too late."

Hill said he has worked closely with business and industry, seeking their input on what young people need to know to become employable in the future.

"We start out with the end in mind," he said, noting that the state doesn't have an unemployment problem, but rather one of employment, "because there are businesses out there that people are just not qualified for."

Monday's pre-conference kicked off a packed scheduled of workshops for new and returning teachers, as well as parents, which continues today through Thursday. This year's theme is, "The Middle Grades: Bridge to Graduation."

The opening event also featured a middle grades panel discussion, which addressed technology, reading, bullying and parental involvement.

Regardless of the subject area, the district targets "literacy first" and that includes technology, said Kevin Smith, principal at Rosewood Middle School.

Charles B. Aycock High School boasts an Engineering Academy and Norwayne Middle added a STEM computer lab this past year.

The district focus has been on preparing students for the 21st century, which means readying them to compete globally, said moderator Sonja Emerson, principal at Dillard Middle School.

"Globalization is what our students can use to reach outside of North Carolina," said Markita Jenkins, assistant principal at Greenwood Middle School. "A lot of our students have never lived outside Wayne County.

"I think technology will help them touch those places and see other people that look like them doing things with technology."

No matter how advanced the technology, though, the best foundation will always be reading, Ms. Emerson said.

"We need to remember how important it is to get our students to read, to pick up a book or, in the 21st Century, to pick up a Nook or a Kindle," she said.

Lisa Tart, principal at Grantham School, shared "A Tale of Two Children," who just happen to be in her own home.

The difference between the siblings has been noticeable, she said, as one has struggled with long-term hearing loss. Both read 30 minutes a night five nights a week, but the one exposed to the writing and verbal word "has been ahead of her sister since Day 1."

As a mother, she said she knows the future opportunities for her children will be very different.

"Our charge and our challenge is to level the playing field and we can only do that by expecting to immerse them in reading," she said. "We must continue to push reading and the love for it or we'll not be able to level the playing field for our children no matter what technology we have."

Bullying is another area that peaks at the middle school level, Ms. Emerson said, and Mario Re, principal at Norwayne Middle School, has had a very successful program he introduced at the school more than a half-dozen years ago.

He doesn't refer to it as bullying, though -- instead explaining it as "making fun of somebody or hurting somebody's feelings" -- and doesn't put up posters or expect adults to solve the problem.

Re meets with groups of students regularly during the school year, teaching them to stand up not only for themselves for one another.

Dr. Earl Moore, principal at CBA, said teachers at the high school are matched with students at risk of being bullied.

"We can't solve all the problems but we do know that the students at least will go to a teacher or teacher assistant," he said. "We put things like that in place to make children feel that they have someone that they can trust."

Administrators also stressed the importance of parents continuing to be involved in their child's education when they reach the upper grades.

"Middle school is a critical time to be involved with your children," said Tammy Keel, principal at Mount Olive Middle School.

"We need just as many volunteers as the elementary schools need," said Ms. Jenkins. "We do want them there, because their children are still children."