How can we minimize poverty’s impact on public education?

Posted 9/6/19

Editor’s note: Chatham County’s second “One Chatham” event — a community conversation sponsored by the News + Record and the Our Chatham program of the UNC School of Media and …

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How can we minimize poverty’s impact on public education?

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Editor’s note: Chatham County’s second “One Chatham” event — a community conversation sponsored by the News + Record and the Our Chatham program of the UNC School of Media and Journalism’s Reese News Lab — will tackle the subject of poverty’s impact on public education outcomes. The 90-minute public forum, sponsored by Mountaire Farms and scheduled for Sept. 11 at Jordan-Matthews High School in Siler City, will feature a conversation with five local panelists and an audience question-and-answer session. With the event just days away, Our Chatham Editor Eric Ferkenhoff of UNC-Chapel Hill and Bill Horner III, the publisher of the News + Record, discuss One Chatham’s objectives and what audience members can expect at the event. The public is invited to One Chatham and there’s no admission charge.

What’s the purpose behind the One Chatham events?

Ferkenhoff: Chatham is a large county with such a diverse population, and the needs of each town and neighborhood are different. But the overall issues for most Chathamites are similar — good education, worries about poverty, taxes, health, housing. The list is huge, and these events give us, as journalists, a chance to gather the community together in a common place to talk about what can lift the county up through identifying problems — like poverty’s impact on educational outcomes — and look for solutions.

Horner: Our idea was to collaborate and leverage our respective audiences to provide a platform for constructive community dialogue about real issues and real solutions. We both agreed that you’ll never develop a solution to any problem or situation unless you first identify it, examine it, talk about it. We really don’t know what kinds of solutions might evolve or develop from these conversations and our One Chatham forums, but we figured, hey, let’s get started with a real community conversation and give anyone interested a chance at “holding the mic” and addressing concerns and suggesting ideas.

Why collaboration between Our Chatham and the CN+R?

Horner: Our partnership with Our Chatham began before my partners and I finalized our acquisition of the News + Record last fall. That idea really started through our mutual colleague, Jock Lauterer, who’s an adjunct professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and has been a journalist and educator for 50 years or more. I’ve known Jock well for many years, and Jock is very familiar with Chatham County…and he identified potential synergies between what we envisioned with the “new” News + Record and with the work he knew was happening with Our Chatham. So Jock is large responsible for getting us together.

Ferkenhoff: The collaboration between Our Chatham and the News + Record just seemed obvious. The landscape of journalism has changed, much like the landscape of Chatham is changing. We at Our Chatham can bring different stories to the table, in various media, and working with the N+R has only amplified what we’re trying to do with student journalists learning the craft of understanding a community first, then reporting on the voices and concerns of the residents. The N+R has been a great partner, featuring our stories when appropriate, and helping guide the students and giving them new opportunities.

How did the idea of education, and specifically poverty in education, become this event’s topic?

Ferkenhoff: In my mind, poverty is the root of so many issues. But at the core, education is key. Education can lead people on productive paths forward and out of poverty. So, if you solve education, you can start pulling people out of poverty — which is the root of issues, like hunger, crime and so much more. It only made sense to tackle this issue in a community setting, where we hear from experts — but more importantly, we hear the real concerns of residents experiencing this combination of poverty and the difficulties it places on youths’ educations.

Horner: Ferk is absolutely correct. Our first One Chatham event addressed the topic of socioeconomic inequality. It was just too big of a topic to fit into our allocated time window, but the audience stayed for the entire discussion and we got a lot of very good feedback. Coming out of that, we really both felt like education was an appropriate topic for our fall event, so we reached out to Chatham County Schools and folks working on education-related non-profits for ideas. Jaime Detzi from the Chatham Education Foundation suggested this topic, and right away we knew she’d hit on something very timely.

What’s the goal – the takeaway – for Sept. 11?

Ferkenhoff: The CN+R will write a story based on the event and so will Our Chatham. Both will bring different perspectives to what we hear and how we present the stories — in whatever media best suits the pieces. My real hope is that both stories, and the follow-up pieces that will surely come, will not point fingers so much as digging into the issues of poverty’s impact, explaining the problem clearly so that real solutions can start to take shape and be implemented.

Horner: We also hope to compile the questions and responses, and ideas, and share them in a document that will be shared with all local elected officials and stakeholders. And one thing we’re particularly excited about: Wendi Pillars, a teacher at Jordan-Matthews, will be at the event as a “graphic recorder,” and she’ll be capturing the key ideas and solutions presented in visual form to help re-tell the story for those unable to attend. That will help preserve the ideas we discuss during the forum.

If you’re going:

What: One Chatham, a community conversation about poverty’s impact on public education.

When: 7-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 11

Where: Jordan-Matthews High School auditorium

Who: A group of five panelists will talk about their work in Chatham County Schools and address poverty, its impact on that affected by it, answer questions from moderator Bill Horner III and questions from the audience. Panelists: Dr. Larry Savage, principal of Siler City Elementary School; Chris Poston, the executive director of elementary and middle grades for Chatham County Schools; Jazmin Mendosa Sosa of Chatham Communities In Schools, who serves as the Student Support Specialist at Virginia Cross Elementary School; Tych Cowdin of Chatham Communities In Schools, the program director for CIS’ School-Based Program; Jaime Detzi, the executive director of the Chatham Education Foundation.

Quotable: “I am hopeful this conversation will highlight successful components currently being utilized throughout Chatham County Schools, facilitate a space for new ideas and input from community stakeholders and parents working together toward creative solutions, and to identify collaborative action steps to support our great teachers and administrators to make Chatham County the best place for all children and families to learn and grow.” — Tych Cowdin

Additional information: contact Bill Horner III at, or call 919-663-3250.


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