Point of View

Restoring a gem in N.C.’s education system

May 6, 2012 

Since 1963, North Carolina has been host to several hundred of the state’s top students each summer at Governor’s School. This program has enlightened, educated, opened doors and launched careers for 32,000 young men and women over the past 50 years. It was the first program of its kind in the nation, and the only program for gifted students that is available all across the state. At its height, it invited 800 students to two campuses to study the most modern, cutting-edge ideas in their chosen field of study.

Today, Governor’s School is on life-support. Only an outpouring of support from alumni, foundations and corporate sponsors is keeping the program alive in 2012. I am proud to have been part of the team that led that effort, but it is not a sustainable model for Governor’s School funding. Instead of six weeks, this summer’s session will be only five. Instead of 800 students, this summer will support only 550.

The program can only be restored by a return to state funding. And that is a good deal for the state – one that North Carolina should take.

In 1979, I was living in the little crossroads of Institute, in Lenoir County. My father worked at the DuPont Dacron factory in Kinston, and in those years of stagflation it was becoming harder to see how my parents would be able to send me to college. I was accepted to Governor’s School on the recommendation of my high school counselor.

It was the greatest experience of my life. Governor’s School turned a shy, introverted boy who hid his intellectual gifts for fear of ridicule by his classmates into an outgoing leader, proud of his accomplishments and eager do to more.

Today, I am a senior developer at SAS Institute in Cary. Governor’s School encouraged me to enroll at N.C. State University, and the experience also helped me secure grants and scholarships that made it possible for me to attend. Without Governor’s School, I might be working in a factory, like my father, or worse, laid off, as that sector of our state economy was hit hard by the recent recession.

My story is not unique by any means. In a recent survey of Governor’s School alumni, 95 percent said that Governor’s School helped them gain entrance to the college of their choice. Eighty percent said that Governor’s School helped them secure scholarships or other support that made it possible to attend. I have heard the stories of hundreds of alumni who rose from modest means to positions of leadership largely due to the influence of their summer at Governor’s School.

Most importantly, 99 percent of Governor’s School alumni told us that the program changed their lives for the better. That change translates directly into a positive impact here.

Over 70 percent of Governor’s School alumni return to North Carolina after college (most of whom attend college here, too). They contribute to this state in education, business, health care, science, engineering, computers, pharmaceutical research and law. They are playwrights, actors, artists, dancers, and musicians. They contribute to their communities through volunteer work, charity, faith and disaster relief. They help attract business, and they start businesses of their own.

They have won Academy Awards and Emmy Awards. They have sung on Broadway and trained American Idols. The success that Governor’s School alumni achieve and the social and economic impact they have are a hundred times more valuable than the program’s small investment in each of the attendees.

I understand that in tight economic times, we cannot afford everything we want. But cutting funding for this program is short-sighted. It’s not just summer camp for geeks. It’s about the future of our state. It costs about $2,000 to send each student to Governor’s School. Compare that with the difference the school makes in participants’ lives, and how that translates to benefits for North Carolina.

I urge all North Carolinians to support restoration of funding for this one-of-a-kind program.

Jim Hart is president of the North Carolina Governor’s School Alumni Association.

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