NOTE :: "Celebrate N.C. Schools" feature stories contained on this site are for historical purposes only. While each story was accurate on the date it was published, it may be outdated when viewed.

Below are some innovative programs in North Carolina school and districts that have made local, state and national headlines. To see your program featured here, contact Vanessa Jeter.


IN NORTH CAROLINA, SOLAR BOOM EXTENDING TO SCHOOLS (Southeast Energy News) With a vote Thursday, a Charlotte, North Carolina school district took a step closer to implementing a major solar initiative expected to save millions of dollars in operating costs.

The plan is part of a broader trend among the state’s schools seeking to use clean energy to cut expenses and meet environmental goals. Currently, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) spends roughly $18 million per year on electricity generated by fossil fuel and nuclear power plants according to a 2016 study published by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University.

The study’s aim is to offer “possible pathways to 100 percent renewable schools.” By installing grid-connected rooftop solar arrays on top of CMS buildings, the study asserts, the public school system could save $42 million over 25 years.

“When you look at CMS’ budget, behind personnel costs, energy costs are second,” said DeAndrea Salvador, Executive Director of the Charlotte-based Renewable Energy Transition Initiative, one of 28 environmental advocacy groups that support the proposal. She says the money CMS saves on its electricity bill would enable the school system to “pay teachers more, provide more textbooks and spend more on technology.”

Salvador also believes that making the solar arrays available to teachers and students will help “spark interest with hands on learning” and introduce the children to solar-energy related job opportunities.

HOME BASE HELPS NC MATH TEACHERS CONNECT, COLLABORATE AND LEARN - Math teachers statewide are using the Canvas learning management system in Home Base to collaborate, share resources and learn from one another.

UP THE LADDER: FIRE ACADEMY WRAPS UP FIRST SEMESTER (Burlington Times- News) Graham High School is on fire. Two students climb ladders in full firefighting gear, hoses slung over one shoulder, as they attempt to reach imaginary flames at the top of a building that boasts, “Enter to learn, go forth to serve” on one wall.

The phrase is especially meaningful for the high school’s Fire Academy, a firefighter training program that kick started in the fall and has continued gaining traction since.

Principal Charlotte Holmes watches from the ground, holding her cellphone up to capture pictures and videos of the students as they coach each other up the ladders. She says watching the academy grow has been a joy.

“It’s gone really well. It’s off to a very good start. The kids that are in the program love it and are excited to move on to the next level and the next courses, and gain new experiences, which have been really good for them,” Holmes said.

CHATHAM COUNTY SCHOOL SYSTEM HAS CREATED INNOVATIVE CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION CLASSROOM SPACES (Chatham Journal) For a lot of us, the classrooms we learned in as children look a lot like the classrooms our children or grandchildren learn in today. That’s changing though, and Chatham County Schools’ Geraldine Kirk has created innovative Career and Technical Education classroom spaces to showcase how classrooms can better meet the needs for the students of today and tomorrow.

The innovative focus is centered on flexible classroom learning environments where safety comes first. This means easily moveable, but durable, tables and chairs to allow the classroom to best meet the needs of whatever the teachers and students are doing. “I want students to feel ownership in the classroom and this furniture is one way to help build that with students” said Kirk. Instead of traditional classroom desks with attached chairs, Kirk installed a variety of tables that are different heights and shapes to make creative and engaging classrooms.

Teachers are also enthusiastic supporters of the transition to flexible classroom environments. At the Chatham Center for Innovation’s SAGE Academy teacher Kathrina Nellis observed that student behavior immediately improved when students realized they could configure the room how they were most comfortable. “The entire mood and engagement level of the classroom changed with the new furniture. I let them configure the classroom however they want it. These desks and seating options mean that no matter what we’re doing there’s a way that the students can move them to make their work space fit the project” reflected Nellis.

Chatham County School’s theme this year has been “Destination Innovation” and teachers have through January 30 to apply for Innovative Teaching Grants from the district to help kickstart projects like this in their classroom. Flexible learning options, like the ones that Kirk designed, are just one way that Chatham County Schools is looking for innovative ways to support students today and into the future.

BRILLIANT TWINS HEADED TO PRESTIGIOUS SCHOOLS MAKE HISTORY IN FRANKLIN COUNTY (WRAL) Since birth, Franklin County twins Paul and Peter Caroline have done everything together. They've continued that into their senior year of high school, and they've now made history for Franklin County Schools.

The 18-year-old brothers will be the first graduating seniors in the district to be awarded full-ride scholarships to prestigious schools – Peter is headed to Stanford University, while Paul will be attending the University of Pennsylvania. The scholarly brothers have each received scholarships worth about $280,000.

"It was really surprising, because their acceptance rate is really, really low," Peter Caroline said. "And I always thought that I was good enough to get in, but there's still that doubt in the back of your mind. So, I'm happy that I got in."

Paul Caroline said the fact that both he and his brother will go to school without generating any debt is "a blessing."

The twins attend Franklin County Early College and credit a unique program for their college-application success. The program allows them to take high school and college courses at the same time. "We have high school classes (in one building), and we take college courses at Vance Granville Community College, and at the end, we can get an associate's degree in arts and science," Peter said.

The brothers will each graduate with both degrees.