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Don’t dismantle Chapel Hill-Carrboro mentoring program. We’re not, says superintendent.

Donna Smith, left, then a family specialist with Ephesus Road Elementary school, holds hands with scholarship recipient Lakeisha Brown, then a fifth grader at the Chapel Hill school in this archival file photo. They were at a press conference where Harold Haidt (center background) and wife Elaine announced scholarships for students in the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program that make it through high school to college. Brown’s mentor, Pam Love of UNC, is seated at right.
Donna Smith, left, then a family specialist with Ephesus Road Elementary school, holds hands with scholarship recipient Lakeisha Brown, then a fifth grader at the Chapel Hill school in this archival file photo. They were at a press conference where Harold Haidt (center background) and wife Elaine announced scholarships for students in the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program that make it through high school to college. Brown’s mentor, Pam Love of UNC, is seated at right.

Supporters of a mentoring program for children of color in the Chapel-Hill Carrboro City Schools came out in force Thursday night to tell the school board to keep the program.

More than 10 speakers talked about what the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate Program had done for them, including students, recent graduates, parents and mentors. The program has provided mentoring, tutoring, volunteer opportunities, college visits and scholarships.

Rep. Graig R. Meyer, a Chapel Hill Democrat who represents the 50th District, took to social media this week to rally support for the program, which has served students since 1995. Meyer, who ran the program from 1998 to 2014, said in an open letter to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community that the school district is dismantling the program.

The district has pushed back, saying it has not reduced its financial support and wants to expand those served and increase the diversity of its mentors.

With the school board also facing a recall effort that led to former Chairwoman Margaret Samuels’ resignation this week, and that is still targeting two more board members, the public comment section of Thursday’s meeting lasted almost two hours.

Latino students speak out

Jesus Peralta said that as an undocumented elementary student who was redistricted three times in one school year, he felt unwanted at school.

“Through Blue Ribbon, I was given a mentor who really taught me how to embrace myself,” he said. Blue Ribbon taught him to be proud of who he is, including his race, and he asked for expanded funding.

His sister, Maria Peralta, is a student at Guilford College who went through the Blue Ribbon program in Chapel Hill. When she was a shy fourth-grader, she said, Blue Ribbon staff members were the first people who told her she could go to college.

“I would not be where I am at Guilford if it were not for Blue Ribbon,” she said.

There were very few Latino students in her advanced classes, she said, and Blue Ribbon felt like a “safe space” where she could be herself.

Victoria Fornville, a student at Chapel Hill High, said her Blue Ribbon participation has led to chances at international travel that she would not have had otherwise.

‘Changes children’s lives’

Janice Dodds, an emeritus professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is a Blue Ribbon mentor.

“I was delighted to join into a program that was tested, developed and knew what they were doing,” she said. “In some small part I can have [a role] in rectifying the 400-year injustice to people of color that is United States history.”

Dodds said she knew she couldn’t close the racial achievement gap through the program, but that as a mentor she could influence at least one life positively.

“This program changes children’s lives,” she said, “families’ lives, mentors’ lives, and all of the adults who we tell our stories to.”

As a rule, the school board doesn’t respond to public comment, but Superintendent Pamela Baldwin noted later in the meeting that funding for Blue Ribbon has remained steady over recent years.

A letter the district released this week said that a version of the program will be housed in a “newly organized Office of Equity and Inclusion with some BRMA personnel located in our schools to strengthen outreach.”

New chairwoman named

Also Thursday, the board voted unanimously to make Joal Broun chairwoman, replacing Samuels. The board voted unanimously to make Mary Ann Wolf vice chairwoman.

The board briefly discussed what to do about filling Samuels’ vacant seat, deciding that it would like to appoint someone who has served on the board before and is not interested in running for a spot in the fall. Samuels’ term, and those of members James Barrett and Pet Heinrich, who are also targeted in the recall effort, expire later this year.

Board member Rani Dasi said appointing someone who is interested in running would give that person an advantage in the election.

Broun said the board would take up the matter in more depth at its March 21 meeting.

Matt Goad: mattgoad@gmail.com
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