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The (Lynchburg) News & Advance | Oct. 20, 2013

By Danielle Battaglia, Staff Writer

REIDSVILLE—Rockingham County Schools and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill joined together on Wednesday, Oct. 16, to celebrate education and encourage college careers.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s chancellor Carol Folt spoke about the importance of higher education during an assembly at Reidsville High School. She explained to the students a group of people believed so strongly in public education they created the first public university in America, which was UNC-Chapel Hill.

“What was so wonderful about that university was that it was created for a very, very strong purpose,” Folt said. “These were people that had just fought a war. The people who created this university, many of them lost everyone in their family. They’d been fighting for their lives and one of the very first things they did after that war ended was say, ‘We’re going to build a university and the goal at that university is to teach people how to think and keep them enlightened about the world and if we do that right we will forever protect the freedom we just fought for.’”

Together the two school systems, the Rockingham County Education Foundation and the Reidsville Area Foundation continue fighting for that freedom.

Jim Burnette, vice-chair of the Rockingham County Education Foundation, served as the event’s emcee and introduced the Carolina College Advising Corps. Made up of four young women, the Carolina College Advising Corps, places a college advisor in every traditional high school in the district.

“This is all about helping our seniors graduate, find a college and if they want to get to college, afford a college,” Burnette said. “They work with the students one-on-one to make these things happen.”

Lee Niegelsky, chair of the Rockingham County Education Foundation, said the college advisors focus on students from low-income families or without a family member who previously attended college.

“The bottom line is if a student wants to go to college, their advisors have all the tools to make that happen,” Niegelsky said.

Alecia Mahato, Alexandra Lucas, Madeline Merrill and Gloria Schoeberle serve as the advisors helping students from the county’s high schools discover college options.

Schoeberle spoke to the audience about her role in furthering students’ educational careers.

Schoeberle inspired by a message she heard days earlier in San Antonio, Texas, looked at the students and said she believed in them.

“Seniors I really want you to know I believe in you,” Schoeberle said. “I know with hard work and self-confidence and a little help from Ms. “G” you can go to college, you can achieve your educational dreams and you can better yourselves.”

Schoeberle didn’t stop there with her pep talk, giving the rest of the audience a good indication of how she ended up in her role.

“As you reach these goals, I really want you to know that you are loved and you are powerful, very powerful,” Schoeberle said. “With a combination like that you are unstoppable.”

Schoeberle reiterated to the students to come to her and ask for help.

No one understands that better than Kaysha Lampkins, a Morehead High School graduate and currently a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Lampkins said after growing up as the middle child of a single mother she stressed about her future as she entered her senior year of high school.

“I didn’t necessarily lack the grades to get into college but I lacked the confidence to get there,” Lampkins said. “Thankfully, a college advisor, Mr. Brian Woodard, had been sent to Morehead to encourage students to take the next step and go to college.”

Lampkins said she didn’t believe she had the ability, due to financing. She applied to four colleges including UNC-Chapel Hill, where she didn’t believe she could attend.

She not only got into the college but received a full scholarship to continue her education.

“I’m the first in my entire family to go to college…” Lampkins said.

She believes her advisor directly impacted her ability to fulfill her dream of becoming a pediatrician and helped her younger brother follow in her footsteps.

Lampkins left Burnette speechless and the rest of the audience in awe.

Rockingham County Schools reaped many benefits from having the college advisors in the district.

Steve Farmer, Chapel Hill’s self-proclaimed “admissions guy,” who holds a much longer title at the college, explained his love for Rockingham County.

“I am the admissions guy from Chapel Hill but that’s not why I’m here,” Farmer said. “I’m here because I love Rockingham County.”

Farmer grew up in a community that reminds him of Rockingham, at a school that reminds him of Reidsville. He said he and his classmates didn’t know there was life beyond his school.

“The only reason I found out is because somebody told me,” Farmer said. “If someone hadn’t told me I would be cutting pulpwood like 32 of 47 first cousins in Campbell County, Va.”

Farmer said it’s a noble line of work but not when you’re called to do something else. He continues to be grateful to the person who showed him the other options he had.

“I’m here because I love Rockingham County and I’ve never seen a group of people more committed to the success of their community and every young person in it than I have seen from folks I’ve talked with in this place,” Farmer said.

Rockingham County Schools’ superintendent Rodney Shotwell spoke to the audience about the district’s success.

“I’m very privileged to have a board that supports me and shares the same vision I do,” Shotwell said. “We want the very best for the kids in Rockingham County.”

Shotwell said the college advisors became a huge component for providing the best for the students.

“I look at some of the successes we’ve had over the last seven years and it’s directly related to showing kids that they have options,” Shotwell said. “Last year, Reidsville High School showed an increase from a low 62 percent of students graduating to 80 percent. That’s huge.”

RHS principal Elliot Miller isn’t satisfied by that number. He plans to raise it higher.

“My personal goal…is a 90 percent graduation rate by 2017,” Miller said. “All of my staff knows that and that’s what we’re focusing on.”

Miller said his staff gives up two hours of their Saturdays to provide in-depth tutoring for students who need it. He said the staff members pick up students without transportation and provide breakfast for those who need it in order to help students with their academic achievement.

Shotwell told the audience he believes educating students helps grow a community.

“I know we’re at Reidsville, but you’ll understand why I’m using this—we want to be the Phoenix that rises out of the ashes, out of this economic depression that we’ve had, because we’re educating our people,” Shotwell said.