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 While each story was accurate on the date it was published, it may be outdated when viewed.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

JULY 2016

STUDENT PROMPTS SCHOOLS TO CONSIDER RENEWABLE ENERGY (Winston-Salem Journal) A Reynolds High School senior is challenging the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools district to move toward renewable energy.

Austin Smith, who chairs the Committee for Sustainable Schools, which includes some high-ranking district officials, said he’d like to see the district commit to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy.

“On a personal level, I’m really passionate about protecting our environment for future generations,” Smith said. “As for the educational impact, being able to see solar panels in real life really sparked an interest in me. The hands-on learning, I think, would be a tremendous benefit for schools.”

He’s not alone. A petition started by Smith and his classmates garnered nearly 800 signatures over the spring semester.

WILSON YOUTH COUNCIL MEMBERS HAVE FUN, GIVE BACK (The Wilson Times) When it comes to teenagers in the news, it is usually youthful shenanigans that garner headlines. The philanthropic activities of the Wilson Youth Council often go unnoticed, but for the members, the lessons learned and experiences had with friends are memorable.

“They want to help the community, and that is encouraging to know that these are the students who will lead us into the future,” said Theresa Mathis, a city of Wilson human relations specialist who serves as adviser for the council. “I know it is cliche, but it is an honor to work with the students.”

The group of nearly 100 teens recently was recognized by the organization that oversees about 30 youth councils across the state. The Wilson Youth Council, which received first place for its annual report this year, has won one of the five awards each year for nine years in a row, including five years as the most outstanding council in the state.

The members completed more than 6,000 service hours during the 2015-16 school year. While the average student completed 75 hours, there were 25 who completed 100 hours and one who exceeded 150 hours. Mathis said volunteering is a key component to the free club, with hours spent pitching in with community events throughout the year as well as service projects designed and executed by the members themselves.

ENC STEM PROGRAM LIFTS STUDENTS IN LOW-INCOME COUNTIES (News & Observer) The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham is housed in the former Watts Hospital. And in this hospital-turned-school, three idealistic, dedicated and exceptionally smart young people are working to cure the debilitating effect poverty has on education.

Dale Hammer, Grayson Cooper and Liz Chen are former Teach For America teachers who’ve created an intense summer learning program focused on four low-income school districts and KIPP charter schools in the state’s northeast corner. The program runs on their abundant faith in the power of education to transform children by bringing forth their full potential.

Jamal Deloatch, who graduated this year from Northampton County High School, said the program changed him from a shy person to one who will be the first in his family to go college. He credited the program’s founders for drawing him into science and math studies.

“You can’t get away from them,” he said. “It changed me a lot. I’m glad I can go to college and stand before people I don’t know.”

Now in its fourth year, the program known as Eastern North Carolina STEM puts 90 students from the four districts through a two-week summer school in Northampton County with coursework in science, technology, math and leadership. Sixty-two students from the group are selected to attend a third week in residence at the School of Science and Mathematics, where they get 25 hours of instruction in a science or math subject taught by the school’s faculty, with some former ENC STEM students serving as teacher assistants.

It is an extraordinary sight to see these students, most of them African-American and many qualified for free and reduced-price lunch, filling the classrooms of a school that serves some of the state’s brightest high school students, many from affluent backgrounds.

ENC STEM accepts all students. What gets them into the program and on to Durham is their desire to learn and to persevere. Those are the only entrance requirements. But once in the program, every graduate has gone on to attend college. Some plan to go back to their communities to teach.

A PASSION FOR JUSTICE Shivpriya “Priya” Sridhar has never been to prison. And since 8th grade, she has been working to make sure other teens don’t end up there either.

Priya, who just graduated from William G. Enloe Magnet High School, was born in Malaysia and lived in India until she was three. She spent most of her childhood in Kansas. At 14, she moved with her family to North Carolina and completed 8th grade at Carnage Magnet Middle School. This was also the year that Priya stumbled into a volunteer opportunity that ignited a passion that would drive the next four years of her life.

To read more, please visit the Wake County Public Schools’ website.