A representative from IBM visited Monroe Avenue Elementary School on Thursday, to see how the company’s donation is working in the classrooms.
Last fall, IBM donated computer systems for 14 Richmond County kindergarten classrooms, two at every elementary school in the district.
“We are thrilled to be a part of this,” said Tina Wilson, a program manager with IBM. “This is just the first step in our IBM relationship. North Carolina is the largest site for IBM in North America. We want to hire the next generation of employees right here in the state.”
Wilson went on to say that the company realized there was a “digital divide” in many rural areas.
“We donate to good school systems, where we see there is a need,” she said. “These systems can help students with math, science, keyboarding skills and even ESL learning.”
Linda Harrill, the president and CEO of Communities in Schools, North Carolina, was key in spearheading the project.
“Our goal is to make sure all children can participate fully in the best education possible and have access to technology,” said Harrill. “As a lifelong educator, it’s an exciting place for me to be now, going to the schools, asking what they think they need to be successful and helping them achieve those goals.”
Kenneth Robinette, chair of the Richmond County Board of Commissioners; Jeff Smart, Hamlet mayor; Marchell Adams-David, Hamlet city manager; RCS Superintendent George Norris; Sheriff James Clemmons Jr. and Chief Deputy Mark Gulledge; and Michael Perry, RSC assistant superintendent, were among some of the civic and educational leaders who arrived at the school to learn more about the program’s progress.
The group stopped by Mandy Dawkins’ kindergarten class to watch some kids in action on the system, and to ask the teacher about her experiences with it in her classroom.
“This is great,” said Dawkins. “It helps them with math, reading, social studies and more.”
Dawkins said she and other teachers were trained by IBM how to effectively use the systems.
“Every teacher loves this,” she said. “It’s such an asset to the classroom.”
Dawkins estimated that about half of her students do not have access to a computer at home, and this system was probably the first exposure to a computer for many of them. The kids are on a schedule, so that they all get to use the computer for equal amounts of time.
When questioned, most of the students in the class said math games were their favorite thing to do on the computer.
John Kirkpatrick, executive director of Communities in Schools (CIS), Richmond County, took the opportunity to tell the visitors about the program that is working to bring new opportunities, like computers, to the schools.
When a school system asks CIS for help, a site coordinator is assigned to that school in need. Site coordinators organize services to benefit students that have been identified as being in need of extra help. Currently there are 40-50 students being served at Richmond County schools. Jehu Barnes, Allison Gordon and Mary Kate Lambeth are the three site coordinators currently working at schools in the county.
“Site coordinators have a proven track record of success in other areas in North Carolina, and we’re elated to provide this opportunity to children in Hamlet, and Richmond County,” said Kirkpatrick. “We aren’t here to re-create the wheel, but we are here to help the schools. We need to reach these kids early to help them be as successful as possible.”
Kirkpatrick said that CIS is the nation’s largest drop-out prevention agency.
He quoted the following statistics:
• 83 percent of youth offenders in North Carolina are dropouts.
• A dropout is eight times more likely to be in jail or prison by age 25.
• North Carolina has the highest proportion of inmates entering prison without a GED or diploma.
“We see we have a great need here,” he said. “That’s why we feel so strongly that it’s important to get them early — don’t wait until they’re in high school to try and reach them.”
“IBM would like to extend an invitation to the students in the CIS program here,” said Wilson. “We’d like to give them a tour, and a chance to see what kinds of opportunities are waiting for them.”
Wilson promised to provide information on a grant that would pay for the trip.
— Staff Writer Kelli Easterling can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org