Stewart County Community Summit

Last week, we attended the Stewart County Community Summit. Our attention was brought to this event when Matt got one of the fliers and noticed that lunch was going to be “graciously provided” by CoreCivic (see flier below). We at the office have been having an on-going conversation about what our role should be as members of the Lumpkin community, and thought attending this meeting would be a great place to start. I was completely floored by a lot of the things I learned from this meeting, and thought they would be worth sharing here.
It should be noted that CoreCivic did not speak at all, not was their logo was not displayed. They just got a shout out for graciously providing lunch.
 
Mac Moye, the Stewart County manager, was the master of ceremonies.
Vernon Keenan, Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, spoke about how the GBI works in Stewart county. The GBI has three main functions in Stewart County:
  1. Conduct all autopsies in the county. The closest laboratory is in Columbus. They received 11 coroner calls last year, resulting in 7 autopsies. This year, they have received 8 coroner calls, resulting in 4 autopsies. We assume one of those coroner calls was the suicide at Stewart in July.
  2. Manage the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC). They basically consolidate and house all Georgia criminal justice data in one place and share with national agencies. He did mention that “ICE’s alien pick-up list” is among the data housed in the GCIC.
  3. Investigate violent, property, and drug-related cases called up from local police/sheriff offices. They have regional offices in Macon, Americus, and Columbus.
Dr. Linda Buchanan, President of Andrew College in Cuthbert, spoke about the apologetic sense of nostalgia that is rampant in rural counties like Stewart. She mentioned the common refrain, “You should have been here when…” She implored the audience to stop apologizing and focus on what we do have and what we can all get behind:“pick one data point that everyone can get around.” Her suggested rallying point of data was 3rd grade reading levels in Stewart county. 10% of Stewart County 3rd graders are at the proficient or advanced level of reading. All other students are at the developing (which is technically passing) or beginning reading level. In contrast, 37.9% of Denver County 3rd graders read at or above grade level (40% statewide in Colorado).
 
We also talked about a new grant which will provide free dinner to students (in addition to free breakfast and lunch) after school starting on October 1. No child will be turned away, as everyone in the school district is eligible to participate if a certain number of students fall within qualification parameters. They anticipate feeding about 240 students.
Bari Geeslin, a retired principal and now a consultant, spoke about a new $330k federal grant for Stewart County that is specifically for literacy. Named the “Get Lit” initiative, this grant will promote 20 minutes of reading every night, pay for books, pay for family engagement kits for parents who can’t read or don’t know what questions to ask their children, and purchase e-readers and other technology. She has other cool ideas, such as a WiFi bus that travels around to help kids access WiFi and other materials that are not available after school hours. She invited everyone to a standing monthly meeting to discuss ideas for the Get Lit initiative.
The Richland library was there in full force trying to promote their services. They are not doing well financially. They talked about how they have to organize their books differently due to the low literacy rates of adults in the area, how they are on the verge of shutting down their GED program because they can’t get anyone to sign up, and they want to offer more classes (like a technology training) but attendance is extremely low. They think it may be a combination of lack of transportation and lack of awareness about the programs. They recently expanded their WiFi across the street and to the edge of the parking lot so that people can use the WiFi from their cars after the library is closed for the day. They recognized that free WiFi access is a big community need (it’s extremely difficult and expensive to get high speed internet in rural areas).
Student exposure to the world outside of Stewart County was also raised as an issue. Someone mentioned that field trips are not just your typical visits to the zoo or a museum, but rather a visit to see an escalator for the first time and learn how to behave on an elevator (Stewart County has neither). This got us thinking back at the office about ways to plug SIFI volunteers in the community, such as after school reading, meet and greets, etc. because it might give the kids of Stewart County an opportunity to be exposed to different kinds of people with all kinds of different backgrounds. For example, we just had a volunteer for two weeks who was born in Pakistan, was raised in Canada, and was  a practicing Muslim. We’re all fairly confident that Stewart County school kids probably haven’t ever had the chance to meet someone like that.
This is undoubtedly a back-burner goal, since we have plenty of other work to do here, but I continue to be totally fascinated (and blown away!) by all of the things I had never even thought to take for granted, like knowing how to ride an escalator, or which way to stand in the elevator.
 

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