Duke Energy provides grants to help students

Lee County Schools, Boys & Girls Club are recipients
Jun. 22, 2014 @ 04:59 AM

Duke Energy has announced grants of $75,000 for two Lee County programs.

The energy company gave $40,000 to Lee County Schools to train teachers to better prepare students for college, and $35,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Sanford-Lee County for science and math programs as well as literacy aid for elementary school students.

The Lee County Schools grant will fund professional development for teachers in line with the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) courses taught in middle and high schools to students who could potentially go to college but face barriers — like coming from a poor family, or not having parents who attended college.

Over the past seven years, Duke Energy's local manager Indira Everett said, the AVID program has grown into a highly successful program in Lee County. In fact, the keynote speaker at a national AVID conference next month will be a student from Southern Lee High School, Addie Gonzalez.

"We believe in creating opportunities for all students," Everett said in a press release. "The AVID program gives students a boost onto the higher education pathway."

Tina Poltrock, the LCS district's director of secondary education who oversees AVID and other curriculum at the middle and high school levels, said the grant will help teachers tremendously. The district has decided to start pilot AVID programs in elementary schools, Poltrock said, and the money will allow the district to pay for elementary school teachers to get proper training in the non-traditional subject. It will also help middle and high school teachers in core subject areas receive more training on how to tailor their lessons to improve student's critical thinking.

AVID is an elective course, in which Poltrock said research and writing skills are emphasized. Students practice quizzing and tutoring each other, and teachers use the Socratic method — answering a question with a question to make the pupil discover the answer instead of simply being told — to force students to think more deeply.

"And that certainly gives our students the opportunity to gain the skills necessary for whatever they want to do in life — not just in college, but in their careers," Poltrock said.

A typical week, she said, will have students spending two days on typical classwork, the next two days giving presentations about what they learned and what they still need to know more about — that's where the Socratic method comes in — and then spending one day either hearing a guest speaker or going on a field trip, like a college tour.

And while the AVID teachers themselves are skilled at handling the non-traditional schedule and teaching strategies, Poltrock said, the training will help teachers in other subjects.

"We believe that if our teachers are trained (through AVID), they will be able to provide lessons to help the students learn and think more ciritcially," Poltrock said. "... If we can provide that training to teachers, it is going to translate into deeper learning for our students in the classrooms."

At the Boys and Girls Club, teenage members have been taking part in tutoring for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects as well as as well as extra-curricular computer programs on topics like robotics, architecture, digital music, video production and other careers involving science and math.

The Duke Energy grant will expand those STEM offerings. It will also allow the club to buy into the St. Augustine Literacy Project, a literacy program developed in the Triangle and aimed at tutoring low-income children at reading and spelling. The Boys and Girls Club will start a literacy program for students in grades K-3.

Duke's Everett said that literacy aid for younger children and STEM programs for older children will help the club develop smart, productive citizens who will have a chance at gaining the kind of experience needed to go into modern high-paying jobs. Bo Hedrick, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club, agreed. He said in a press release that the reading program will prove especially valuable.

Fewer than half of third graders in Lee County, and in North Carolina as a whole, could read at grade level last year.

"Once children learn to read they can begin to discover a new world for themselves," Hedrick said. "It becomes empowering for them, they learn quicker, make better grades, build self-confidence and start dreaming of what they will do 'when they grow up.'"