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Four Gwinnett students play at Carnegie Hall

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016
Evan Butterworth

Evan Butterworth

Ruby Lee

Ruby Lee

Eunice Choi

Eunice Choi

Zander Sugarman

Zander Sugarman

Carnegie Hall on Sunday night was home to the sounds of four Gwinnett high school musicians who were selected to participate with other elite students from across the country.

Brookwood High School students Evan Butterworth, Eunice Choi and Ruby Lee played alongside Mountain View High School student Zander Sugarman as part of the High School Honors Performance Series. As part of the trip to New York, the students also took in sights and performance arts in the Big Apple.

Only 750 high school students were selected from a pool of 18,000 worldwide to perform in one of three instrumental or two vocal groups. The selected student performers represented 49 states, four Canadian provinces, Guam, Armenia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, Oman, the Philippines, Qatar, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

It was the first time Brookwood had more than one student selected to perform in this international concert, and Brookwood co-director Cathie Hudnall said the program’s leadership is extremely proud of the students.

Mountain View counselor Joyce Gonzalez echoed that sentiment.

“We are beyond excited for Zander,” Gonzalez said. “He has worked tirelessly and deserves this recognition. We are aware of his exceptional talent, and now others get to experience his gift too.”

Students rehearsed and performed under master conductors and before invited representatives from collegiate and professional music programs.

Gwinnett robotics team wins competition, trip to Silicon Valley

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

Five students from Head Elementary School have reason to celebrate after they recently won a grand prize award from the Wonder League Robotics competition.

The Head students earned an all-expense paid trip to Universal Studios, Google, and a chance to meet top engineers, game designers, and animators from Silicon Valley. The group also took home the Oscar for Best Picture for its video submission.

Team members are Truitt Fowler, 11, Anish Araque, 10, Ellery Freund, 10, Jessie Le, 11 and Steven Li, 11. The team is made up of the first five students to complete a 20-hour accelerated course at

The group won in part because, “With diverse interests in science and math as well as art and video production, they were able to work well together and play to individual strengths.”

Principal Christine Knox said the students gave up many lunch periods to work on the competition, and set an example for the rest of the school that perseverance pays off.

“We gave it all we had on each and every mission and the hard work paid off,” Li said in a press release. “We felt good about our solutions and videos.”

The Wonder League Robotics competition requires contestants to use coding to complete challenges. Teams also are required to submit a video that demonstrates the solutions to the challenge. The Head Elementary team — The Unconditionals — competed against more than 1,100 teams from around the country. It was the only one from Georgia among the top 12.

“I was amazed at how hard the students worked to complete the training on the app, and then use that new knowledge to solve missions they had never seen before. From kindergarten to fifth-grade, it is a group effort to educate our children,” Head teacher Shann Griffith said in the release.

Their school started coding with Lego Mindstorm EV3 but wanted something that was more developmentally appropriate for elementary aged kids. The entire school participates in the Hour of Code, and Dash & Dot are motivators that encourage kids to code.

Science fair project produces trumpet mount for Crews Middle sixth-grader

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

Crews Middle School sixth-grader Memphis Carter uses a mount to easier play the trumpet build for him by eighth-grader Timothy Mitchell, who won first place in a science fair. (special photo: Keith Farner, Gwinnett Daily Post)

LAWRENCEVILLE — Excuses aren’t something Memphis Carter deals with at all.

The Crews Middle School sixth-grader this school year decided he wanted to play the trumpet, and set out to do it. It didn’t matter that he was missing, since birth, a left hand and a portion of his left arm.

Some students may say their knee hurts, so they can’t play the flute. Or their braces were just tightened, so they need to take a break from the drums. Their mother left something in the car. Not Memphis. Out of 86 students in band class for Crews band director Amanda Hertel, Memphis rolls with any adversity without as much as a whimper.

Carter’s ability to play the trumpet received a boost when Hertel realized he needed a device, or mount, to better hold the instrument. While comfortable making things herself, she preferred to find a student who could build something on their own. She initially reached out to the school’s STEAM team, but she needed something quickly so Carter wouldn’t lose interest. She eventually found eighth-grader Timothy Mitchell.

Mitchell, who himself plays in the orchestra, had started a science fair project about an articulated hand, but when he learned of Carter’s need for help, that project, “took a right turn,” his father, Ryan, an occupational therapist with Gwinnett County Public Schools. said.

An articulated hand, a robotic device that flexes to play an instrument, was originally intended for Carter, but everyone involved decided that a mount was more practical. Soon, the project turned into a purposeful activity.

The goal was to find something to take pressure and muscle strain off his fingers and shoulders.

“The longer he plays, the more tired he would get,” Hertel said.

Timothy went through four variations of the mount before they settled on one that works the best. Though an eighth-grader and sixth-grader live in “totally different worlds,” Hertel said, they would meet regularly to make adjustments.

“It was harder than I expected to figure out the best design,” Timothy said. “I just had pictures from the Internet.”

Some of the changes were to the elbow for comfort, and the section between the trumpet and elbow is thicker to hold more weight.

The changes allowed Carter to eventually play more complicated music because taking tension and pressure off of his fingers will allow them to move faster, Hertel said.

Timothy’s science fair project won first place at Crews, and now advances to the county level.

“This one was more memorable, I actually enjoyed building it, it was fun to build it,” said Timothy, who added that a personal connection also set it apart.

The finished product made a big difference, Carter said.

“His demeanor did change,” Hertel said. “He did perk up. He thought it was really cool that people would help him.”

Only a trumpet player since September, Carter said it could develop into a passion for him and play it into high school or even college.

Head Elementary Robotics Team Wins National Competition

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

Head-ES-Robotics-TeamDear GCPS Foundation Members,

Thank you so much for accepting my grant proposal for iPads and Wonder Workshop robots!

We entered the National Competition along with over 1100 other teams, and won the national championship.
Our students won their own set of Dot and Dash Robots, and an all expense paid visit to Google, the Silicon Valley, Universal and top Tech companies.

Click here for the link to our Robotics video entries. (We also won the Oscar for best picture! As the students completed the missions, the coach submitted videos of the solutions…so no travel involved :-))

Thank you for believing in me, and our students. From participating in the Hour of Code, I knew our kids would love the wonderful world of computer programming, and I knew we had kids who could solve the missions in the contest. (Just didn’t expect them to win the national title!)

Thanks again for the $3,000 which will allow us to roll this out to large groups of students and into the classrooms!

Shann Shalala Griffith
Head Elementary School

Great Days of Service breakfast honors supporters

Friday, December 18th, 2015

Karen Fine Saltiel (left) accepts the Barbara King Community Hero Award with Kelly King Herndon during the Great Days of Service breakfast held on Thursday at the Duluth Festival Center (Gwinnett Daily Post Staff Photo Katie Morris)

DULUTH — When the first Gwinnett Great Days of Service took place 15 years ago, there were 10 projects and 100 volunteers.

Over the years the volunteer event has steadily grown, and this year’s Great Days of Service included more than 400 projects, 65 participating agencies and more than 97,000 volunteers.

Jennifer Hendrickson, Great Days of Service co-chair, announced this year’s success during a celebration breakfast held Thursday at the Duluth Festival Center.

Hendrickson went on to announce that 112 Gwinnett schools participated in the event, collecting more than 74,500 food and personal care items for local food banks, cooperative ministries and shelters.

This year’s event also included the new Can Do initiative led by Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris, Great Days of Service co-chair. Cities across the county held a friendly competition during Great Days of Service collecting food items for local co-ops.

“We saw an increase in collections and found this new additions to be very positive,” Hendrickson said.

The 16th annual Gwinnett Great Days of Service took place Oct. 23 and 24. The two-day volunteer event is organized by the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services benefits local nonprofit agencies that provide goods and services to community members in need.

Event organizers, sponsors, supporters, volunteers and community leaders came together at Thursday’s breakfast to celebrate the event’s success.

Sponsor WEG Electric Corp. and participating agency Glancy Rehabilitation and Gwinnett Extended Care Center were both recognized. The Coalition’s executive director Ellen Gerstein and associate director Regina Miller also acknowledged a number of event supporters during the breakfast, including Karen Fine Saltiel who received The 2015 Barbara King Community Hero Award.

“She’s an amazing leader in our community,” Gerstein said, “and she gives way above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”

Duluth middle school named after Brooks Coleman

Friday, December 18th, 2015

Brooks ColemanThe first school in Gwinnett to focus on arts along with the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, components, was named on Thursday at the BOE meeting.

It will be Coleman Middle School, named after State Representative Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, who serves as chairman of the State House Education Committee. Coleman has served that area as a legislator for more than 20 years and previously worked in several local school and district leadership roles in GCPS.

The school will offer Gwinnett’s first middle school dance program along with the first district-developed “Makerspace” which allows for an open area and flexible furniture options for small and large group activities. It will offer integrated language arts and social studies humanities for seventh and eighth graders, and embedded Advanced Placement resource course for eighth grade.

Flynt called the school the district’s “signature STEAM school.”

Junior Achievement programs are expanding in Gwinnett.

The Gwinnett County Board of Education on Thursday at its regular monthly meeting heard plans from senior staff in Gwinnett County Public Schools about plans to bring a Junior Achievement Academy to Norcross High School. Junior Achievement and GCPS have worked extensively in the last year to open a personal finance and entrepreneurial center at Discovery High School in Lawrenceville.

Now they’re bringing a “school within a school” model to Norcross beginning next school year, Flynt said. The JA Academy is modeled off of a previous design known as “JAMBA” and it will include an entrepreneurial incubator and be open to all students in the Norcross cluster through an application process.

Initially, it would serve 150 students per grade level, but eventually grow to 600 students. Flynt added the JA Academy would begin as a sort of case study.

“The thought is we could expand this, if it’s really working well, to different parts and different high schools across the county,” Flynt said. “But obviously we want to get into the first year of this, really see how it works, before we can commit to anything like that.”

The idea is to blend relevant content, project-based learning and problem-solving practices to realistic workplace experiences within the learning process.

CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said Junior Achievment would provide three instructors to develop the business community aspect of the program.

GED program partnership with juvenile court

Chief Judge Robert Rodatus, who presides over the juvenile court in Gwinnett, and Lead Facilitator Freeman Davis, updated the School Board on a partnership between the court, school district and Gwinnett Technical College to help students earn a GED credential.

“One of the main things that I see, and my colleagues see, is the educational component being not there,” Rodatus said, referring to children who don’t want to go to school or can’t because of court or discipline policies. “I thought it would be a good idea that if we work with the school system to develop a GED program that was actually in the court.”

The program started in August and serves 20 students in two classrooms in the juvenile court building. So far, two students are on track to graduate, Davis said.

“The idea was it’s one-stop shopping,” Rodatus said, and referred to kids seeing their probation officer while also attending classes.

Gov. Deal’s education outreach coordinator visits Richards Middle

Friday, December 11th, 2015

Pam Williams, right, education outreach coordinator from Gov. Nathan Deal’s office, talks with Richards Middle School teacher Shirley Farrell as Principal Mark McCain looks on Thursday during a visit to encourage teachers and thank them for their service. (Gwinnett Daily Post Staff Photo: Keith Farmer)

LAWRENCEVILLE — Shirley Farrell is in her fourth decade as a teacher, but driving to Richards Middle School on Thursday she noticed something different.

Farrell’s school on its sign marquee welcomed Pam Williams who works as education outreach coordinator for Gov. Nathan Deal, a position he created in January. Williams visited the school to thank teachers and staff for their work and dedication to students and the profession. Farrell’s reaction at the sign was “whoa” about a governor’s representative visiting.

“My visit is solely, strictly to tell them thank you for being Georgia educators,” Williams said. “Just to give them a pat on the back.”

“I think Governor Deal wanted somebody out there to just be a teacher cheerleader and thank the teachers and know that he recognizes how hard they work and appreciates them going above and beyond,” Williams said.

Richards made a list of schools Williams visited because it’s considered an 80/80/80 school, which means 80 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, 80 percent are minorities and 80 percent of its students meet or exceed expectations on the College and Career Ready Performance Index.

Principal Mark McCain said the visit offered an emotional boost to teachers to realize that there’s recognition from the governor’s office.

“Our teachers are so critical to the future of our students’ lives,” McCain said. “For a lot of our students, they’re literally helping to change the trajectory of their lives. … It’s a great lift for them to know that we were one of those select schools.”

Williams was a teacher for 26 years, mostly teaching kindergarten, in Jesup.

Traveling the state since January, Williams said she’s visited 175 schools and recorded 5,000 miles in the first five months.

Williams said she was impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of several members of the Richards staff who in several cases left another school to teach there.

“You can tell they’re all on the same team,” Williams said of the Richards staff. “And doing whatever it takes for their students become successful and make them better citizens.”

Maxwell students win Quaker State restoration competition

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

LAWRENCEVILLE — The worn down jalopy is ready for its closeup.

The dented $3,000 2003 Chevrolet Impala with 155,000 miles, a leaky radiator, foggy headlights and a rattle in the driver’s door now looks ready for a spread in Popular Mechanics magazine. Thanks to a group of Maxwell High School of Technology students, the car was restored to have a spit shine paint job, new muffler, enhanced horsepower and shiny headlights.

“We took a rough-looking Chevy Impala and then we turned it into this,” Central Gwinnett junior Layla Ponce-Pena said. “Knowing that we all can accomplish that, I feel like I can accomplish something similar in my life.”

This week, they learned Maxwell took home first place over schools from Orlando, Fla., Charlotte, N.C., Chicago and New Jersey.

“It was incredible,” Maxwell Principal Jeff Hall said. “Our teachers and students were ecstatic to hear the news. There was a great vibe throughout the entire school after we learned we won. It is fantastic to see the hard work of the students and teachers come to fruition.”

As first-place winners, the Navigators from Maxwell will receive a $2,000 AutoZone gift card and a custom advertorial in the upcoming February issue of Popular Mechanics. Thirteen Maxwell students, and the second- and third-place teams will participate next week in a Mecum Auction in Austin, Texas.

Their custom vehicles will be auctioned off to the highest bidders and proceeds will go to their schools.

Each school completed specific challenges every week and were then judged on various automotive criteria including quality of interior and exterior vehicle improvements, diagnostic testing results and overall creativity. Competition mentors and judges were Tommy Pike, owner of Tommy Pike Customs in Greenville, S.C., and Paul Menard, driver of the No. 27 Quaker State-Menards Chevrolet SS from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

There was also an online voting component to the competition.

“The feedback from the celebrity judges, they seemed to be really impressed with what we showed them,” teacher Max Chavez said.

Maxwell students incorporated the school’s mascot, the Navigators, and puzzle pieces that represent each student who worked on the car makeover. The theme said, “we’re navigating the pieces of our future.” They each autographed their name on the underside of the hood.

Among the upgrades:

• Completely re-did door panels so color matched exterior

• Painted inside seats with fabric paint

• Green and blue school color lights on floor boards

• Moved the muffler in front of the rear passenger side tire

One of the largest improvements came in horsepower, as the students increased it from 109 to 124.

“That was just by doing a major tuneup,” Chavez said. “It was a good teaching tool for me to be able to show students how properly maintaining a vehicle, or doing maintenance and doing a tuneup to your car can increase your horsepower. And using quality products.”

At times, it seemed progress was tough to find. The team put in several long days, including staying at the school to work until 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., and on weekends.

The 13 students on the team represented eight different schools, so the process was as much about learning to work together as any automotive skill, Chavez said.

“The final day of judging when we faced the judges, they got emotional, it really felt like a family,” Chavez said. “We all had this big group hug. It was really cool. Really brought them together.”

Added Central Gwinnett junior Edgar Medina, “You learned a lot working with others because I don’t really like working with others, but it actually showed where I have the ability to. Everybody’s ideas matter. We were always here working, no goofing off or nothing like that.”

The team had $2,000 from AutoZone to buy equipment and supplies, and Chavez said they spent every penny. A learning element surfaced when the team realized it could return a product if it didn’t need as much, so Chavez said the students were careful to not damage packaging to return unused items or accessories.

“We had to put a lot of time and dedication to it, but as you can see, it was all worth it,” Ponce-Pena said. “I didn’t see anybody else with the car that we made. This one I think definitely stood out.”

Longtime GCPS teacher inducted into Young Harris College Athletics Hall of Fame

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Mountain Lions Booster Club president Marvin McArthur (left) and Young Harris College president Cathy Cox (right) pose with Young Harris College Athletics Hall of Fame inductee John Dalton (center). Dalton is a longtime Lawrenceville resident and Gwinnett educator.

Lawrenceville resident John Dalton was inducted recently into the Young Harris College Athletics Hall of Fame.

After Young Harris, Dalton attended George Peabody College for Teachers, where he played on a competitive club tennis team. He earned his undergraduate degree in elementary education, along with master’s and specialist degrees, and has spent the last 33 years in teaching and administration. The former Gwinnett County Public Schools elementary teacher of the year is now retired, but still works as a technology teacher at two Gwinnett elementary schools.

Dalton and his wife of 31 years, Laura, have two sons, Jordan and Seth.

Hundreds of North Gwinnett students pack 100,000 meals

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

North Gwinnett High School students Tricia Dang, left, and Shannen Patel sing to music in the gym on Saturday as they pack meals to support the nonprofit Feed My Starving Children. (Gwinnett Daily Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

There was a sea of hair nets in the gym at North Gwinnett High School on Saturday as the music was turned up to the familiar tunes of Taylor Swift and Walk the Moon.

As the high schoolers scooped ingredients into bags, they boogied and blared the lyrics alongside their friends.

It was a festive atmosphere as some 550 student volunteers scooped ingredients to package some 100,000 manna meals in two hours to support a partnership with the nonprofit Feed My Starving Children. To fund the project, the school set a $22,000 goal that’s outlined at

It was an action service project as many of the students participated as part of a organization to earn service points from about a dozen clubs, including Student Council, Beta, DECA and National Honor’s Society.

“We just have a rockin’ group of kids,” North Assistant Principal Kirsten Baker said. “But honestly, I think they are here because they know it’s important, and they get it.”

The final destination for these specific meals is unknown, but the nonprofit sends food around the world and partners with 70 countries, including Haiti and areas in Africa.

It’s the first year North has participated in this as a school, but several students have participated in similar packing events with Rising Church, which meets at the school on Sundays.

Baker took a group of students to Rising Church’s Big Peach Mobile Pack last year, and that event inspired the one on Saturday.

North senior Jordan Thomason organized the logistics and planning for the event as part of the North Gwinnett Student Leadership Team, and he saw it as a chance to build a skillset in those areas.

“I think today we’re truly making a difference,” Thomason said. “We talk a lot about things we can do, leadership we can develop at this school. But this is something where we kind of learn about it, and it’s action service.”