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 While each story was accurate on the date it was published, it may be outdated when viewed.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.


ENERGY-EFFICIENT SCHOOL HELPS HOKE STUDENTS LEARN, TAXPAYERS SAVE (WRAL) Hoke County is home to one of the nation's most advanced school buildings. It's generating more electricity than it uses and saving taxpayers money all while giving students something extra to think about.   

The idea for a radically different school building started in 2008. The county needed a new middle school, but the Great Recession put it on hold. That's when architect Robbie Ferris' design firm, SfL+a Architects, had an idea to make a building so green it wouldn't have a power bill.   

Fast forward to 2013, when the county opened Sandy Grove Middle School. The school has solar panels, high-efficiency lighting and a geothermal climate control system.

"We have solar panels facing east, and they pick up early morning sun," Ferris said. During the day, the school will generate up to 40 percent more electricity than it consumes. "When we generate more power than we need, we sell that power to the utility company," Ferris said.   

Ferris said his pitch to the county in 2008 centered around potential savings. "We said, 'If you let us redesign the systems in the building and lease you the building, we can reduce the payment from $1.5 million to $450,000 a year,'" Ferris said.

Teachers say the school is much more than a money saver. It's also become part of the curriculum. Students monitor a dashboard to see exactly how Sandy Grove Middle is using energy. "We're able to find out how our energy is produced, how much is produced," teacher George Sansbury said. "We can chart this data. We can work with it in the classroom."

SCIENCE NETWORK LINKS RESEARCHERS, TEACHERS (Coastal Review Online) Third-grade Bogue Elementary School teacher Amy Byrd, with the command to “Go,” begins grabbing red M&M’s candy out of a bowl that recent University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate Joseph Townsend has in his hands. The goal of the game is to understand why cells can only get as big as they are.

Cells and M&M’s? What’s the connection? The activity is one of many found on tables of the SciREN, or Scientific Research and Education Network, Coast event held Feb. 16 at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.   

Before Byrd leaves his table, she writes down her email address to receive more information from Townsend about his game, which doubles as a classroom lesson plan.

The graduate student-led event connects local educators and local researchers to improve science education for students, free of charge. At least 50 scientists and more than 80 teachers attended.  

Beyond the activities, the nonprofit SciREN serves to exchange ideas on how to communicate science in a classroom setting.

SIGNING DAY: FUTURE PCC STUDENTS MAKE CAREER CHOICES (Reflector) After Cynthia Garcia Lopez signed her letter of intent Thursday for the horticulture technology program at Pitt Community College, she proudly flipped her blue Bulldogs hat backward and smiled.

As the lone student on the stage signing up for the horticulture program, Garcia, a senior at Ayden-Grifton High School, stood out during the National Career and Technical Education Letter of Intention Signing Day.

Families, educators and representatives from businesses packed the J. Paul and Diana S. Davenport multipurpose room in the Craig F. Goess Student Center at Pitt Community College to watch students take the next steps in pursuing degrees in engineering, automotive, HVAC, electrical, welding, manufacturing and industrial fields.

Alan Frazier, recruiting coordinator at PCC, gave a “Welcome to Bulldog Country” greeting after some of the signees put on their hats. Frazier said 59 students attended Thursday, a number hampered by a rash of sickness and flu that has hit the county recently.

“This is your day,” Frazier said. He told students their decisions would give them something to do for the rest of their lives as long as they were willing to work. “This is the best letter of intent you will ever sign because what we are going to do today with the letter of intent is you’re taking a step forward to be able to learn a trade, something nobody in this room can take away from you, you will learn a skill here at Pitt Community College, that no one can take away from you,” he said.

PISGAH SENIORS SIGN FOR THE FUTURE (The Mountaineer) Four Pisgah High School seniors signed letters on Friday, Feb. 3, to pursue machining apprenticeships with GE Aviation in Asheville and Baldor Electric Company in Weaverville.

Riley Haney, Cody West and Riley Marcus started their apprenticeships with GE Aviation in January. Riley James will begin his apprenticeship with Baldor this month.

The apprenticeship signing was the first event of its kind at Pisgah. Friends, family, school board members, county commissioners and central office employees packed the Pisgah library to show their support for the students.

“We wanted to hold a signing day similar to that of athletes because these students have worked just as hard as anyone else,” said Chip Singleton, Pisgah machining teacher. “Most of these guys have had their eyes on this apprenticeship program since they were freshmen.”

Since 2005, the machining program at Pisgah has partnered with local businesses to place seniors in apprenticeships. Singleton has worked to increase the rigor of his classroom curriculum and to teach skills needed in today’s precision machining industry.

“The CTE (Career and Technical Education) Program is growing in Haywood County,” Singleton said. “Our students, as well as the community, are seeing the value in career/technical training.”

At the end of the school year, the Pisgah seniors will begin working full-time. All the students said they plan to take advantage of tuition reimbursement programs at each company by completing coursework to receive their associate degree in Computer-Integrated Machining from Haywood Community College or AB-Tech Community College.

MIDDLE SCHOOL RECEIVES NATIONAL STATUS (Mt. Airy News) Mount Airy Middle School is one of just two schools in the state this year to earn the status of Schools to Watch. Mount Airy City Schools found out this week that the middle school is part a national fraternity that includes 14 members from the Tar Heel State since its inception.

Schools to Watch is an initiative launched in 1999 by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform. Through this initiative, the National Forum identifies schools across the country that are well on their way to meeting the Forum’s criteria for high performance.

Dr. Cathy Tomon, director of the state’s Schools to Watch chapter, noted that the middle school’s “continued commitment to the STW criteria were clearly showcased in their application and re-designation visit.”

The middle school has caught the eye of many educational leaders. In October, the school hosted Catherine Truitt, the state’s education director. She was impressed with the application of problem-based learning. “I have not been to schools in North Carolina that have this heavy of a focus,” said Truitt. “This is how we should teach every day, everywhere.”