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'Spirit and the life is back in the building': Gateway Education Center students return to school once targeted for closure

GREENSBORO — With her camera shutter repeatedly clicking, school data manager Rene Cranfill sought to document the students of Gateway Education Center as they got off their buses for their first day of the school year on Monday. She paused, however, to plant a kiss on a Nyamedza Quaicoe, a kindergartner whose family she’s gotten to know through her work at the school.

“Very special family; they’ve been through a lot but we’ve been right there with them,” she said. “He’s an angel.”

Monday marked the first day back to school for most Guilford County students, including Gateway, which serves students ages 3 to 22 who have severe disabilities.

For a short time this spring, it looked like Gateway students might not return to the building this fall.

In April, Superintendent Sharon Contreras said she planned to recommend moving all the Gateway students to other schools for students with special needs, due to concern for their safety. The district had documented repeated issues with water getting inside the building when it rains. School administrators feared wet conditions could lead to poor air quality and harm medically fragile students.

Gateway parents and their allies responded by organizing opposition to the closure. They questioned the need to move the students and gave passionate testimonials about the value of the school community to their students and families. Following the outcry, Contreras backed off her proposal to close the school, instead offering an option for Gateway students to transfer if their parents chose.

School board members later voted to spend nearly $2 million on a new roof and repairs to windows and gutters at Gateway, money they had planned to use on renovations for career and technology programs at other schools.

Sara Nachtrab, the school’s principal, said she expects the roof to be replaced in the next couple of months, along with new gutter work.

As students returned to school Monday, work on windows at the school was underway. Nachtrab pointed to new windows in hallways, where she said the worst of the leaking had occurred.

“Everything is moving forward,” she said.

School counselor Shantra Gray said as far as she knows, none of the families opted to transfer from Gateway to Haynes-Inman or another school in the district this year.

Gray talked about the dedication of the school’s custodians to keeping safe conditions for students and the long tenure of many staff members.

“There’s not a lot of turnover here, which should speak volumes,” she said.

There are about 130 students at Gateway this year, Nachtrab said. That number includes students in the Greensboro Cerebral Palsy Association’s program for children up to 3 years old, which also is housed at the school.

Most of the students in Gateway’s programs arrive by bus. Many got off the bus in their wheelchairs, but teacher assistant Jerome Roberson carried at least one pre-K student — Kaylee Rodriguez — off the bus cradled in his arms.

Kaylee locked eyes and gave a giant grin to Leslie Bailey, her former speech therapist, as Roberson transferred her to Bailey. Later, staff loaded her into a tall wheelchair and she was sent along to her class, with her backpack and a special poster board. Her adult sister had filled the poster board with family photos and details about Kaylee, such as her love of lasagna and the song, “Baby Shark.”

Students at Gateway are typically in classes of six or seven students, under the supervision of three classroom staff. Most days, just one of those three will fetch their students from the buses, but for the first day, other school staff such as therapists and administrators pitch in.

“I always say I get my smile back when the kids come,” Nachtrab said, adding that summer is fine for getting work done — but it’s not the same. “The spirit and the life is back in the building.”


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Greensboro businesses will double as music venues for N.C. Folk Festival

GREENSBORO The N.C. Folk Festival will extend its geographic reach this year by turning eight downtown businesses into temporary music venues.

Folk Fest Music Spots will present 11 local bands in those businesses on two days of the free multicultural festival of music, food and crafts.

Courtesy of N.C. Folk Festival  

Our Band

The downtown businesses will add to a packed lineup of live music starting Sept. 6 on five large outdoor stages nearby.

The bands will perform at businesses from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 7 and 8. The businesses will have dedicated seating and listening space.

“We want the festival to have a more intentional presence along Elm Street and within other downtown businesses,” said Amy Grossmann, the director of the N.C. Folk Festival.

The festival will offer Folk Fest Music Spots in collaboration with educational organization Fiddle & Bow Society and Downtown Greensboro Inc., an economic development agency.

“This new collaboration with music is a great step to truly showcase what downtown Greensboro has to offer,” said Zack Matheny, DGI’s president.

The N.C. Folk Festival spun out of the National Folk Festival, which held a three-year residency in the city from 2015 to 2017 and drew more than 400,000 people to downtown.

More than 150,000 people attended the inaugural N.C. Folk Festival in 2018, according to organizers.

The Folk Fest Music Spots include craft breweries, vintage stores and a bookstore.

Businesses participating Sept. 7 are:

  • Scuppernong Books, 304 S. Elm St.
  • Moore Music Company, 615 W. Market St.
  • Deep Roots Market, 600 N. Eugene St.
  • Joymongers Brewing Co., 576 N. Eugene St.

Participating Sept. 8 are:

  • Vintage to Vogue, 530 S. Elm St.
  • Antlers & Astronauts, 534 S. Elm St., Suite B
  • The Flat Iron, 221 Summit Ave.
  • Preyer Brewing, 600 Battleground Ave.

Local artists performing will be The Alley Rabbits, Cicada, Sam Frazier, Chris Frisina, Big Ron Hunter, Last Rays of Sunday, Minor Swing, Our Band, Sinai Mountain Ramblers, The Williamson Brothers and The Zinc Kings.


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Are vaccines safe? Science says yes

Kindergartners are required to receive as many as 27 shots before starting school in North Carolina, but not all of them do.

The state allows two types of exemptions from vaccines: religious and medical.

According to immunize.nc.gov, a medical exemption is valid only if a licensed physician confirms the vaccination would be detrimental to the child’s health. A severe allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine or chemotherapy would warrant a medical exemption, for example.

A religious exemption merely requires a parent or guardian to submit a written statement of religious objection to immunization, which is then kept on file in place of the child’s vaccine record.

Alamance-Burlington Schools Lead Nurse Amy Widderich said that most parents who are hesitant to vaccinate their children will end up seeking religious exemptions.

“Since N.C. law doesn’t allow for personal belief as a reason not to vaccinate, most people report that they have a religious exemption to being vaccinated,” Widderich wrote in an email exchange. “At times, we do have parents request a medical exemption because they fear harm coming to their child as a result of receiving the vaccine, but — medical exemptions must be completed by a physician and follow a protocol set by the state.”

From 2012 to 2016, the number of North Carolina kindergartners with religious exemptions to vaccinations increased from 871 to 2,073.

That number continues to grow.

It’s unclear how many of those exemptions are legitimate and how many aren’t, but it’s obvious some parents are claiming religious objections when the real issue is distrust.

Vaccine hesitancy

Actress Jenny McCarthy, considered by many to be the face of the modern U.S. anti-vaccination movement, began speaking out against immunizations in 2007.

She believes the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine caused her son to develop autism spectrum disorder, and backed her claim with a since-debunked 1998 study by a British doctor.

A cursory Google search of “Do vaccines cause autism?” leads to a Centers for Disease Control article titled “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism Concerns” and a long list of similar articles from other reputable sources.

Since 2003, nine studies have been funded or conducted by the CDC to test for a link between vaccines and autism, and all nine found there is no link. Specifically, they’ve found there’s no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

But the anti-vaccination movement continues to have an impact in the United States.

One year after McCarthy began speaking out against MMR, the CDC received reports of 134 cases of measles — the most in a single year since 1996. From 2002 to 2007, the average number of annual cases had been 50. Of 134 patients infected, more than 90 percent were unvaccinated or “had an unknown vaccination status.”

One of the outbreaks has been linked to a 7-year-old boy from San Diego, Calif., who returned home from a family trip to Switzerland and fell sick with a sore throat and fever. He later developed a cough, stuffy nose and conjunctivitis, and finally the telltale measles rash.

The boy ended up infecting 11 others with the disease, including four children sitting in the pediatrician’s office with him. Of those four, three were younger than 1 year.

At that time, California still allowed parents to object to vaccinations based on personal beliefs. Lawmakers wouldn’t take action to eliminate the personal belief exemption until 2015 — not long after a measles outbreak at Disneyland infected 110 California residents and 15 visitors from seven other states as well as Mexico and Canada.

In North Carolina

While North Carolina’s vaccination rate is higher than the national average, the state is still vulnerable to outbreaks, particularly in certain areas.

In 2013, 22 people were infected by one unvaccinated person who had just returned from a three-month visit to India. The majority of those infected lived in unvaccinated religious communities.

These communities are particularly vulnerable in 2019, which has proved to be a record-breaking year for the disease. As of Aug. 15, 1,203 cases of measles have been reported in the United States — with widespread outbreaks in New York, California, Washington and Texas. More than 100 patients have had to be hospitalized.

While no cases have been reported in North Carolina, outbreaks have been reported in Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee.

It could be only a matter of time.

North Carolina lawmakers attempted to do away with religious exemptions in 2015, but quickly withdrew the bill after protesters framed it as an assault on religious freedom. As a result, schools and daycare providers are left to convince parents and guardians that immunizations are not only safe, but necessary.

Widderich arms herself and her fellow nurses with research and solid sources to back up these claims.

“If a parent expresses concern about a vaccine, we encourage them to read more about it from a reputable site such as the CDC or immunize.nc.gov, and we encourage them to talk their health care provider,” she wrote. “We use research to explain the safety and benefits of vaccines.”

In her opinion, vaccines are important because they protect our children from potentially life-threatening diseases.

“They help keep you healthy by allowing students to be in school and parents to go to work,” she wrote. “It also reduces the risk of spreading disease to others, especially those that are too young to be vaccinated or have a health condition that prevent them being able to be vaccinated.”