Guests were treated to breakfast and a slideshow commemorating last year's memories and events. Soloists Aimee Garner, a senior at Heritage High School, and Caroline Roach, a third-grader from Ringgold Elementary School, also performed.
Superintendent of schools Denia Reese, keynote speaker, thanked attending business partners for their diligent support of the school system and used a creative visual aid to drive home her message. Standing beside a display of puzzles with missing pieces, Reese asked each guest to take a puzzle piece from bags placed at the center of each table.
“I want you to know how much I appreciate the fact that you are helping us weave a safety net around our children,” Reese said. “You may not realize how important your partnership is in our schools, but there are times when it makes all the difference to a child. When students see adults (who aren't parents or teachers) in the school, it helps them realize, 'I am important to this community.' When you look at your puzzle piece, I want you to remember that you hold a unique piece of the puzzle, much like your unique role in the schools. You are an essential piece.”
Reese also announced Partnership's campaign slogan for the year: “Set the date to graduate.” Students entering kindergarten this year will graduate in 2025, Reese said, and the Partnership's vision is to help those children focus on the future with that graduation date set firmly in their minds.
“Catoosa County Public Schools and Partnership 2000 share the vision of 'beginning with an end in mind,'“ Reese said. “We must help them (students) take ownership of that goal. From kindergarten to senior year, we want them to have a stellar focus of that graduation date.”
Partnership 2000 is a business-in-education program co-sponsored by the Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce and Catoosa County Public Schools. The program encourages the business and civic community to become an integral part of helping schools prepare students for success through mentoring programs and community events.
Buffy Hemphill, Partnership 2000 coordinator, explained that mentoring was vital to the program's success. Schools review the needs of specific children and “partner” them with a business employee, who comes and visits once a week for 35-40 minutes to encourage and be a positive role model for the child.
“We look at things like attendance, behavior, grades and home life to choose students,” Hemphill said. “It doesn't mean they live in a bad situation, but (for example) there are a lot of children from single-parent homes who spend all day at school and then the parent has to work during the evening. It's just good to have another adult or role model in their lives to help that parent bridge the gap a little by expressing interest in their grades and activities.”
Hemphill said because of the waning economy, the number of mentors had decreased over the past few years.
“There are a lot of businesses who have had to cut back on the number of employees because of the economy,” Hemphill said. “They don't always have someone to spare to send to the schools anymore, and we understand the situation. It's just unfortunate. We'd love to have more, but we're so very thankful for all the businesses that give what they can. We couldn't do it without them.”
For more information about Partnership 2000-sponsored events or the mentoring program, contact Buffy Hemphill at email@example.com.