We have a village that helps children

Published 5:42 pm Monday, August 2, 2010

To the Editor:

Many of you may or may not be aware that Polk County Schools operates a federally funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program which provides for Extended Learning Opportunities for students and their families.

As the Program Director, I wanted to share with the community the partnerships we have forged with area organizations and to highlight a few of those collaborations.

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Two local arts organizations, Tryon Arts and Crafts and the Tryon Fine Arts Center, eagerly agreed to host students in third through eighth grades for a two-week learning experience in June, one in the area of drama and the other in the area of arts and crafts. Students worked with many of your neighbors and friends to broaden their outlook on the world.

From blacksmithing to set design, from nervously speaking in public for the first time to explaining to your parents the complexities of firing clay, students explored and developed an appreciation for their unique abilities and where those abilities can take them later in life: a priceless experience.

Families and students who had never set foot in either of these Grand Dames of Polk County felt welcomed in facilities where they could otherwise have felt uncomfortable; this is a tribute to both of their fine staff.

Bringing families and students together to promote learning is the intent of this program and collaboration with the community is strongly encouraged. But, as I have become aware from other 21st CCLC Directors across the state, this is most often easier said than done.

When I talk with professionals, both on local and state levels, about all of the resources that are available to us in Polk County, there is this sense of awe and envy for what we have grown accustomed to and take for granted here. From what I have observed and have heard as I travel to meetings in cities like Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte, this generous spirit of community does not exist in other areas, or if it does, then not to the degree that it does here in Polk County.

During this year alone, our students have been entertained at the Childrens Theater Festivals Super Saturday, have developed a caring spirit for animals from the volunteers of the Foothills Humane Society, have explored hobbies and careers in the arts from Tryon Arts and Crafts, have fortified their self esteem through the camaraderie of theater at the Tryon Fine Arts Center, have broadened their knowledge of natural science and the environment with the staff from FENCE and have come to appreciate the value of character from the staff at Steps to HOPE.

They have worked with the Extension Office on Community Service, attended performances at Rogers Park, have employed gardening tips from the Saluda Garden Club and have been the recipients of much-needed weekend food supplies from Thermal Belt Outreach. The list goes on and on as these are just a few the organizations that I have been directly involved with over the years.

So in this current economic state where many of our treasured organizations are struggling to survive, I am concerned about what we might lose as a community and once lost, how life will be forever changed in our quite corner of Western North Carolina.

I am in awe of the caring and generous folks who make up the Boards of Directors, who volunteer and who support and sustain the local organizations and agencies that make each of our lives fuller. Many of you may not be aware of how far your donations of time and money reach and nurture not just our children, but all of us.

It has become clich to say that it takes a village, but I know first hand that Polk County has truly given substance to that notion and we are all richer as a result.

Emily H. Bartlett