GREENSBORO — At Lindley Elementary, one discussion began with a typical classroom question posed to an atypical group of students: “Have you done your homework?”
The small group gathered Tuesday morning in the school’s media center, or library, was there for the Guilford Education Alliance’s annual Education Summit. Similar groups, about 300 people in all, gathered at 17 public schools across Guilford County for similar questions, discussion, and to learn ways to help support schools.
Their “homework” was to read an article about the aerodynamics of kites. The reading informed a discussion in which kites and the forces that work together to make them fly or fall were a metaphor for students and their successes or challenges in school. The groups also observed classes and toured school buildings.
It was a big departure from the alliance’s previous summits, where hundreds of participants gathered into a large ballroom to hear speakers talk about education.
The idea was to move beyond the expected and abstract to something “relevant and fresh,” said Winston McGregor, executive director of the alliance. At other smaller alliance events that included school visits, participants would leave feeling positive and motivated, she said.
“It’s so tangible, it’s very real,” McGregor said.
Visiting schools also helps people get a clearer picture of Guilford County Schools, she said.
The school system covers more than 600 square miles — a fact shared during the discussion at Lindley.
“It’s ethnically and geographically diverse,” McGregor said of the school system. “It’s hard for people to really grasp or understand that.
“We can, as an alliance, build collective understanding.”
Kathi Lester, executive vice president of the Greensboro Partnership Chamber of Commerce, said she felt inspired after watching students — who are learning to speak English and are new to the United States — work together on a project in one classroom at Newcomers School. She described watching students raising their hands to respond to a question posed by their math teacher and then the teacher praising a correct answer.
“When you are in the classroom and at the school, you are able to see firsthand how important education is to the overall well-being of the community,” Lester said. “You’re able to see the needs of the schools.
“It hits home.”
A group at Kiser Middle School heard directly from Principal Ged O’Donnell about successes and challenges there. Students also talked to the group.
“It’s also important for people to see the diversity of the student body in schools and how that is a reflection of the culture and demographics of Guilford County,” said Chuck Cornelio, who was part of the Kiser group. Cornelio is also chairman of the alliance’s board of directors.
Cornelio said he and others also saw firsthand other needs at Kiser. He noticed worn book spines, indicating an aging collection, in the school’s media center. He described three trailers at the school, two of which are in disrepair because of their age.
The group at Lindley also talked about challenges students and their families may face, such as being evicted from their homes or parents losing a job. There seemed to be consensus about the need to find ways to connect families to agencies that could help.
But “you don’t know where to begin,” said Sean Mulligan, one of the participants. Helping a family find food isn’t as simple as looking in the phone book or doing a Google search, he said. There are other challenges such as knowing the process for connecting a family to assistance and laws protecting student privacy.
Brian James, deputy chief of the Greensboro Police Department, said another challenge is knowing when students are in a difficult situation. He recalled to the group his days as an elementary student.
“I remember the kids that would say, ‘Hey, are you gonna eat that?’”
Jones said he would share the food he didn’t want. It wasn’t until he was an adult, he said, that he realized “that might be the only meal they ate that day.”
Lindley is a Title I school, meaning its poverty rate is high enough to make it eligible for some supplemental federal funds. There are 25 Lindley students who take home bags of food donated by a local church, Principal Tracy Roof told the group. The school’s attendance zone includes a local shelter.
Then the Lindley group discussed solutions.
Teacher Kelly Woody suggested volunteers read to students. She suggested options for people who may not feel comfortable working with students, such as helping to make copies.
On a tour of the school, Josh Sherrick showed the group drums purchased with money he and other fathers helped raise and stands they constructed for instruments such as glockenspiels.
Travis Finn told the group about his effort to get the business he works for to donate to the school 150 lightly used, flat screen computer monitors to replace the school’s old, heavy and boxy monitors. The fathers then stepped in to provide stands for the monitors and some speakers.
The group also saw the community garden, another effort of Lindley parents and supporters. They heard about various fundraisers organized by the PTA and Lindley Engaged and Active Dads, the group of fathers, to support the school.
“I’m telling you, it does take a village,” Roof, the principal, said.
Lester made a similar point.
She said she doesn’t have children, and some people might say the challenges of students and schools aren’t her problem.
“That is so far from the truth because the children of our community, they’re everybody’s responsibility,” Lester said. “They are our future, and they are what’s going to take this community to the next level.
“And if we don’t invest in them, we’re not investing in our future.”