Infusing Heritage and Connectedness in Academic Support in North Carolina

Last Updated: November 06, 2008

This article appeared in the November 2008 Rural Policy Matters.

Over the past three years, some elementary students in Warren County, North Carolina have been learning about their historic community while improving their skills in reading, writing, math, character development, and oral history.

The students participate in an Academic Enrichment Program, which consists of a two-week Summer Enrichment Program and a Saturday Academy Program that lasts through the school year. The Program takes place on the Warren County Training School-North Warren High School Alumni Association and Friends, Inc. campus. The focus of the Program is to provide tutoring in reading, writing, and math. The Summer Enrichment Program was held two weeks in the month of August and the Saturday Academy Program runs from October through April. The Association was awarded the Connecting School & Community grant by the Rural School and Community Trust Capacity Building Program from the WK Kellogg Foundation through the efforts of Dr. Doris Terry Williams, Director of the Capacity Building Program at Rural Trust.

Carrie Hendrick Hill is a member of the Alumni Association and currently serves as the Site Coordinator for the Connecting School and Community Project Summer Enrichment Program and Saturday Academy. "One of the purposes of the grant is to provide academic support for vulnerable youth in Warren County," Says Hill.

Thomas A. Harris is president of the Association. "We want to give something back to the community that did so much for us," he says.

Warren County Training School was the first high school built in North Carolina as a partnership between a local African American community and the Julius Rosenwald Fund. The Rosenwald Fund provided matching funding in between 1913 and 1932 to hundreds of rural communities where segregated public education systems provided little or no schooling options for African American students.

In the late 1960s, the school's name was changed to North Warren High School, and the high school was closed in 1969. It was replaced with a middle school, which operated until the early 1980s. The Alumni Association was organized and received non-profit status in 1983.

The Association has received its 501(C)3 status and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The school's cafeteria has been renovated and serves as a multi-purpose facility for community related activities. Major renovation projects, which include the main high school building, the principal's house, and the agricultural building, are currently underway. The high building roof is ninety-five percent completed with a grant from the Lowes Corporation in corporation with the National HistoricTrust. The Association is generating additional funds for these projects.

"The Summer Enrichment Program and the Saturday Academy Program have grown from its beginning in the summer of 2006 with an enrollment of 35 students to an enrollment of 47, serving students in grades one through six," says Hill. The program has developed a strong relationship with the school system and collaborates with the participating schools regarding the students' academic needs and progress in the program. Certified teachers along with teacher assistants provide instructions in reading, writing, and math.

Building Community Connectedness

"We have now become very successful in working with students in grades one through six in reading, writing, math, character building, and in helping them learn more about their heritage, their roots, and what this school accomplished in our community," says Frank Hendrick. Hendrick previously served as site coordinator for CSC and as well as president of the Alumni Association.

He continues, "Our efforts are infusing heritage and connectedness with the community without losing the core academic skills."

For example, as part of the Summer Enrichment Program, students interview relatives and other school alumni and prepared presentations. Photography projects encourage them to look at their community and its residents in new ways. The small group teams into which students are divided are named after school leaders who the students learn about. "It strengthens their overall appreciation of the community," says Hendrick. "It's in a sense a discovery for them."

The small groups also allow the Academic Enrichment Program staff more opportunity for encouragement and positive reinforcement. "We can help students with their social skills," Hendrick adds. "In a larger setting, as in the traditional classroom, some students may feel that no one cares or notices and that can get in the way of their academic learning and self confidence."

Community and family involvement are encouraged. "We have an orientation for the parents and families of the students to share the goals of the program," says Hill. Local churches provide transportation for a majority of the students who attend. At the end of the program, parents, family, and community members are invited to a celebration program in which students share some of what they have learned. Parents and community members are very positive about the program," said Hill.

Programs such as the Saturday Academy and the Summer Enrichment "help parents feel more empowered to know how to help and support their kids," says Hendrick. "Parents appreciate that we need them. And to look at these kids and see them doing their work is a great feeling."

Harris also stresses how encouraging it is for the community to see students start feeling good about themselves and doing better in school.

Preserving History and Supporting the Community

An appreciation for what former students have received through the school and from the community motivates the Alumni Association. It has chapters from New York to North Carolina and an ambitious agenda. The academic support programs are an important part of that work. "Preserving the school's history and supporting the community, is one of the Alumni's goal," says Hill. The Connecting School and Community Project is an important part of our goal.

The Association has formed a partnership with the local Ruritans' Club to apply for a Community Development Block Grant. This grant will be used for a sewer system to serve the community and the school. This relationship has helped to build positive and constructive relations among citizens across the county.

The Association is also working with Vance-Granville Community College and is in the process of retrofitting the school's agriculture building. "We will offer training for heavy equipment operators," says Harris. "The community college will provide teachers and we'll provide the site. This area has a high unemployment rate and there are lots of people without gainful employment. At same time, companies in the area are having trouble-finding people with skills. So this is a win-win for everybody."

Hendrick says that the Alumni Association hopes to do other things as well. "We'd like to do a dropout prevention program and provide more academic and social supports for high school students. We would love to do some kind of outdoor theater program that would bring in tourists and education for local people and others about our history," he says.

Read more from the November 2008 Rural Policy Matters.