Changes aim to boost Williford school

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Alexus Cooper, right, the program director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tar River Region HERO Program, assists Zion Adkins, 6, with his math homework on Tuesday at Williford Elementary School.


Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

School board members, area residents and local dignitaries gathered Tuesday at Williford Elementary School for the Williford Education Revitalization Kickoff.

The event was designed to celebrate the changes happening at Williford Elementary and the surrounding community. Williford Elementary School, which has been a consistently low-performing school and has faced the threat of school takeover twice in the past two years, is in the midst of a total transformation with the help of community partners and increased community resources.

School leaders hope the new model will not only succeed, but provide a model for other schools to follow.

Shelton Jefferies, superintendent of Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools, recognized the collaborative nature of the transformation process that involves partnerships with the OIC Family Medical Center, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tar River Region and the Down East Partnership for Children. It also operates with support from the city of Rocky Mount and Nash County commissioners. Jefferies said the ideas for the transformation resulted from leadership discussions with representatives from some of those entities.

“As we discussed the inter-generational challenges that confront schools like Williford, we identified one salient truth: One cannot effectively transform struggling schools without dedicating effort and resources toward transformation of the community in which that school is embedded,” Jefferies said.

The most pronounced change at the school is its conversion from a kindergarten to fifth grade school to a pre-kindergarten to second grade model.

“We are very excited about this revitalization effort and hope that it will be a model for other schools in the future,” said Henrietta Zalkind, executive director of the Down East Partnership for Children, which is funding four of the seven pre-kindergarten classes at the school. The partnership is also helping the school with its strengthened focus on literacy.

Through a partnership between the city of Rocky Mount, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tar River Region and Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools, Williford Elementary now also has a new HERO program. The program, which stands for Helping Everyone Reach Opportunities, is designed to help up to 40 students who have been identified by teachers and the administration as students likely to benefit from extra help.

“Through this collaboration, we are able to offer these students extra academic help, but we also learn about character development,” said Alexus Cooper, program director for the HERO initiative. “We also engage in physical activities and learn about health through the Healthy Lifestyles program. The program not only operates after school during the school year but also during the summer months.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs also operate a FRAME Shop at the school, a room equipped with 3D printers donated by Cummins Rocky Mount Engine Plant. FRAME stands for Fun Realistic Artistic Maker Environment. On Tuesday, older students from the Boys & Girls Clubs demonstrated how the printers worked by making rings for themselves under the direction of instructor Phillip Barton.

“We use geometry in the making of the rings and talk about other concepts like the metric system as well,” Barton said, illustrating how the printers are used for more than just fun activities.

The most innovative element of the Williford transformation is the inclusion of an OIC-staffed behavioral health center in the school. With this clinic on campus, students are able to go to therapy sessions and appointments on the school grounds. Staff members are also available in case students with behavioral or mental health issues encounter a problem during the school day.

“One of our biggest issues is attendance,” said Kendrick Alston, principal of Williford Elementary School. “With the clinic located on the school grounds, we are able to get our students back to class as soon as possible. This has already made a difference in our students’ lives and has been able to benefit some of the parents as well.”

For now, the clinic only serves Williford students. However, Alston said the site will be serving community members after school hours. By January, the OIC Family Medical Center also hopes to be able to offer physical health care services at the clinic, said Dr. Tisa Roberts, medical director for the OIC Family Medical Center.