Hundreds of soon-to-be graduates of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools gathered at the Charlotte Convention Center Tuesday, April 26, to recognize and celebrate the achievements of students involved in the Communities In Schools program.
Communities In Schools is a dropout prevention program that serves approximately 5,000 at-risk students enrolled in dozens of Mecklenburg County schools, including six in south Charlotte.
“You are our champions,” emcee Tonia Bendickson told the students. “You are the best ambassadors we could ask for.”
During the 2009-10 school year, 97 percent of students involved in the program stayed in school, 90 percent moved onto the next grade level and 95 percent of seniors graduated, Bendickson said.
Jay Everette, the community affairs director at Wells Fargo, the title sponsor of Communities In Schools, offered his congratulations to students and urged them to continue their hard work.
“This is a point in your journey,” Everette told the graduates. “We encourage you to stay focused and work hard as you continue to drive that journey forward.”
The keynote speaker, Henry Williams Jr., the pastor at New Zion Missionary Baptist Church, spoke to the students about the importance of believing in your own abilities and surrounding yourself with positive influences.
“You will find that there are people in life that will watch things happen, people who will make things happen and people who will wonder what happened,” Williams said. “You have to determine what type of person you will be.”
Cidney Holliday, a senior at South Meck High School and the winner of the Speaking Your Way into the Future essay contest, shared her winning entry with the graduates.
The essay, entitled “Open Letter to Superman,” asked the superhero where he was in the face of the challenges faced by today’s youth, and ended with a vow to beat the odds and succeed even without Superman’s assistance. Holliday earned a $1,500 scholarship and a standing ovation for her speech.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, executive director Molly Shaw urged students to remember that the local Communities In Schools affiliate is just one part of a national organization that has a presence in 25 states.
“This is a huge network, and there are people out there who want to help you and see you succeed,” Shaw said. “On the flipside, there are people out there who need your help. Think about how you can reach out and be a community for them… Think about us as a lifelong community, because that’s what we are.”
In south Charlotte, Communities In Schools has programs serving students at Montclaire, Rama Road and Winterfield elementary schools, McClintock Middle School and East Meck and South Meck high schools.
To learn more about the program and the students served, visit the Communities In Schools website, www.cischarlotte.org.