Gates County Community Partnership Director Appointed to Morehead Planetarium and Science Center's Advisory Board

Gates County Community Partnership board member Benjamin C. Saunders, Jr. was recently named to the Advisory Board for the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The mission of Morehead is to serve North Carolina and beyond by bringing together the unique resources of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to engage the public for an improved public understanding of science, technology, and health.

As a member of the board, Mr. Saunders will play a pivotal role in advancing Morehead’s mission to serve North Carolina by bringing together the unique resources of UNC to engage the public for improved understanding of science, technology, and health.

“I am honored to be on the advisory board of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. My goal is to add a perspective that will advance the mission of the organization,” stated Benjamin C. Saunders, Jr. “Morehead does a phenomenal job providing outreach opportunities to Gates County and the rest of the state. Their work changes lives!”

Benjamin is a graduate of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and the University of Detroit Mercy. He is currently employed by the United States Government in Washington, DC.


Saunders Science Scholars Visit UNC-Chapel Hill

On a weekend in early April, some incredibly special guests made it to UNC-Chapel Hill – the middle school cohort of Gates County’s own Saunders Science Scholars!

“We were so excited to welcome everyone to Chapel Hill to show them around our campus, especially since they have been so welcoming to us in Gates County. From a planetarium show and science demo to a visit to the UNC Basketball Museum and attending the Carolina Spring Football game, everyone had a chance to experience a day in the life of a Tar Heel,” stated Dr. Crystal Harden, Director of Program and Inclusion Initiatives at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.

“We had to get our 8th graders and their family members to UNC before the school year ended and Morehead Planetarium and Science Center made it happen,” exclaimed Benjamin C. Saunders, Jr., President of Gates County Community Partnership and Member of Morehead’s Advisory Board. “It was important to expose this cohort to the university experience, as our 9th graders are going on a week-long tour of North Carolina colleges this summer.”

The Saunders Science Scholars program was born out of a vision to help increase science confidence and interest in STEM. Each cohort includes a student along with a loved one from their household, led by Morehead Planetarium and Science Center educators, in monthly lessons, field trips, and more.

For the last two years, this cohort has explored STEM lessons, topics, and careers with Morehead educators in Gates County. A goal of the program is to offer unique educational experiences to encourage local youth towards a post-secondary journey that includes obtaining a four-year bachelor’s degree. The weekend tour was just one of many opportunities that will inspire confidence and broaden horizons.

"Being a Saunders Science Scholar is great and amazing because the experiences that I have had since earning a spot have been fun, educational, diverse, and helpful. It has taught me about companionship and helped create a family. I can't wait for the next four years,” stated 8th grade participant, London Barber.

The Saunders Science Scholars program was made possible by a gift from Morehead Advisory Board member, Stephen Butts, and his wife Addie Butts. It was named in honor of Benjamin C. Saunders, Sr., who was an esteemed educator with Gates County Schools for 40 years. In 2021, he posthumously received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society Award. The honor was granted by Governor Roy Cooper in acknowledgement of Saunders’ contributions to the state and his community through exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.


Gates County Students Receive $30,000 in Scholarships for Summer Accelerator Program

For the second summer, all student participants in the Saunders Science Scholars Program who applied will get full scholarships, valued at $30,000, to the Summer Accelerator program at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM). Camps will be located on the Morganton and Durham campuses of NCSSM, depending on the concentration chosen by the student. They all will provide “unique, high-level academic experiences.”

“We currently have 17 students taking advantage of this tremendous opportunity, with a few more on waitlists for their desired course of interest. Hopefully, this experience encourages some of our scholars to attend the School of Science and Math for their final two years of high school,” said Benjamin C. Saunders, Jr., President of Gates County Community Partnership and Member of Morehead’s Advisory Board. “Special thanks to Morehead Planetarium and Science Center for continuing to provide opportunities to the students of Gates County Schools and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics for being an amazing supporter of Gates County!”

Rising 9th grade Saunders Science Scholars will participate in a one-week residential program. Rising 10th grade scholars will participate in a three-week hybrid program with virtual and residential components. There are many disciplines to choose, ranging from “Storytelling and Persuading Using Data” and “Math to the Rescue: Solving Big Problems with New Math” to “Data for Building Blockchains: Intro to DeFi” and “Explorations in Genetics.”

“The confidence that London will build due to the exposure to the NCSSM Summer Accelerator program is immeasurable because it opens her mind to limitless opportunities beyond Gates County. With me and her father's assistance, as well as her Saunders Science Scholars family, London will continue to develop STEM knowledge, communication skills, and self-awareness,” stated Cindy Barber, Saunders Science Scholars parent and educator at Gates County High School.

Gates County students currently scheduled to participate in the 2022 Summer Accelerator Program are Ayden “AJ” Wright, Ace Austin, Bella Bartoli, Benjamin Ross, Hunter Ambrose, Jamell Reid, Logan Kronbauer, London Barber, Ni’Jahe Saunders, Noah Wilkins, Shay Stallings, Timberlyn Chappell, Shalamar Boyce, Zamaria Kinsley, Jayla Porter, Ky’Asia Bunch, and Justin Powell.

The mission of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics is to educate and nurture academically talented students to become state, national, and global leaders, increase access to high quality public education in North Carolina, and cultivate engaged citizens who will work for the betterment of the world, through challenging programs, with an emphasis on STEM, driven by the pursuit of excellence and innovation.


“The Model” - Community Collaborative Presents at Carolina Engagement Week

On March 23, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center's Director of Program and Inclusion Initiatives, Dr. Crystal Harden, led the discussion "From Gates to Greats: Rural Science Education Engagement with the Saunders Science Scholars Program." Dr. Harden was joined by Dr. Barry Williams, Superintendent of Gates County Schools and Mr. Benjamin C. Saunders, Jr., President of Gates County Community Partnership. The presentation examined the Saunders Science Scholars program and the collaborative effort that makes the program successful.

The Saunders Science Scholars is a science enrichment initiative that provides resources and events that encourage the exploration of STEM to the community of Gates County Schools. The model used by Morehead Planetarium and Science Center in Gates County is defined as “a passionate entity (e.g., Morehead) with knowledge, infrastructure, and financial resources immerses itself into a community and develops trusting relationships with its government, schools, and citizens. The entity then spearheads collaboration for its betterment.”

“The establishment of community partnerships comes from an innovator's mindset to find ways to give students all the wonderful things they desire as they grow and learn in the public-school setting,” stated Dr. Barry Williams. “The purpose of education is to develop learners and leaders who improve today and tomorrow for all. To develop our students, we must be forward-thinking and utilize all resources to empower them and inspire innovation.”

The alliance provides a clear positive community impact. There is a better understanding of science for students and parents, more family bonding, enhanced social interactions, improved access to resources, and heightened community engagement.

“We are in full support of initiatives that improve Gates County,” said Sherley Jones, Jr., Director of Gates County Community Partnership. “Morehead has facilitated miracles in our community. We appreciate their passion, as it is contagious!”

“The model created in Gates County is one that Morehead looks forward to expanding into other surrounding counties. The benefits of the model to the school community and larger community are significant and invaluable,” stated Dr. Crystal Harden.

Morehead Planetarium and Science Center’s programming galvanizes populations and produces positive outcomes. Inequities are addressed and schools are strengthened. A verified blueprint for expansion and replication now exists. Those involved in the presentation hope that others use “the model” to enrich those in rural locations throughout the country.


Gates County Community Partnership Director Wins Primary for County Commissioner, Running Unopposed in General Election

Gates County Community Partnership (GCCP) would like to recognize Brian Keith Rountree, GCCP Board Member and Vice President, on his election victory to serve on the Gates County Board of Commissioners.

Mr. Rountree has been part of Gates County Community Partnership since its inception. He has served Gates County as a spirited volunteer for years, often behind the scenes. His wisdom, temperance, preparedness, and ability to empathize allow him to effectively lead.

Brian is a man of integrity who fights courageously for the betterment of those he serves. The elected office of county commissioner is a natural progression that will broaden his impact.

DISCLAIMER: As an organization that serves all of Gates County, Gates County Community Partnership does not involve itself in partisan politics, even when one of their own is in the process. Since the subject of this article is running unopposed in November's general election, they deem this article as appropriate.

Congratulations, Brian!


Gates County Community Partnership Welcomes New Board Member

Sandra Jordan Branch, of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, was recently elected to serve on the Board of Directors of Gates County Community Partnership (GCCP). Sandra is a native of Gates County and has worked closely with GCCP in various capacities over the last year.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as a member of the Board of Directors for the Gates County Partnership, and more honored to serve the youth and citizens of Gates County within this capacity. I am looking forward to promoting positive outcomes for our youth and the citizens of Gates County,” stated Ms. Jordan Branch.

Sandra Jordan Branch is an experienced administrator and educator with over 25 years of experience in the field of health and human services and 15 years of experience as an adjunct college lecturer. She possesses a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Ecology (Child Life) and a Master of Arts degree in Education (Special Education), both from East Carolina University.

Sandra is the owner, CEO, and clinical director of the Jordan Management Group, LLC, a human service agency specializing in assistance for children. Services include case management, community-based rehabilitation services, behavioral health and disability consultation services for federal infant and toddler/head start programs, and professional consultation to public, federal, and private practice agencies.

“We are excited to have Sandra in the fold. I have known her practically her whole life and she fits in perfectly with our needs as an organization,” emphasized Benjamin C. Saunders, Jr., President of Gates County Community Partnership. “Sandra has proven herself as a public servant in leadership capacities with other organizations. We are honored that she agreed to officially join us on this journey.”

The mission of Gates County Community Partnership is to inspire and increase community engagement by the citizens of Gates County for the educational and social development of its youth.


Gates County Community Partnership Awards North Carolina Promise Plan Scholarship

Gates County Community Partnership (GCCP) presented its sixth GCCP NC Promise Plan Scholarship to Victor Rountree, a 2022 graduate of Gates County High School. The award covers one-year of tuition at Elizabeth City State University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Fayetteville State University, or Western Carolina University. Victor will be attending Western Carolina University.

"As an organization founded to support the educational aspirations of Gates County’s scholars, we are proud to present this award to Victor Rountree,” stated Gates County Community Partnership director Sherley Jones, Jr.

The North Carolina Promise Tuition Plan is an initiative of the State of North Carolina established to increase access to a quality university education through the University of North Carolina system. Students who qualify receive reduced rate tuition with the remainder supplemented by the state. Gates County Community Partnership chooses to support the beneficiaries of the program, as they offer high value educational experiences.

“Since we started in 2018, we have worked on the belief that education is a priority and the pathway to a better society,” said Gates County Community Partnership director Benjamin C. Saunders, Jr. “This scholarship is important to us, the recipients, and our community. College is key!”

Scholarship recipient Victor Rountree summed it up best, "Education and self-improvement are best pursued with the intent of helping to make the world a better place.”

Gates County Community Partnership is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt public charity whose mission is to inspire and increase community engagement by the citizens of Gates County for the educational and social development of its youth.


T. S. Cooper Elementary School Launches Mentorship Program for Boys

Mentors Empowering Our Wildcats (MEOW) recently commenced at T. S. Cooper Elementary School in Sunbury, North Carolina.

The enrichment initiative focuses on youth development with fourth and fifth grade boys. The program uses the book "Simon B. Rhymin'," by Dwayne Reed, to inspire courage.

"Mentors Empowering Our Wildcats, will help our fourth and fifth grade students build confidence as they read and build relationships with male mentors," stated Ms. Lisa Wilkins, Educator, T. S. Cooper Elementary School. "The book, Simon B. Rhymin', and our conversations, will help students learn how to build a community and will demonstrate how one kid can make a difference. We are excited to offer this program to our students."

Gates County Community Partnership and Mr. Jeremy Wright, of Gates County Schools, volunteered their services as mentors to four groups of students during the inaugural session of MEOW. In the meetings, they conversed about life and the importance of an education. The groups also read a portion of "Simon B. Rhymin'."

"We would like to thank Dr. Tammy Boone and Ms. Lisa Wilkins for allowing us to launch Mentors Empowering Our Wildcats. Mentorship matters and it is our duty to play a role in uplifting our kids," emphasized Mr. Brian Rountree, Director, Gates County Community Partnership. "We will continue working with these students through the duration of the program, as we do what we can to support anything that benefits our children!"

Dr. Tammy Boone, Acting Principal and Assistant Superintendent of Gates County Schools, stated, "It really does take a village to support and advocate for our children! It is so heartwarming to know that our young male students will be impacted by male mentors who will have the opportunity to impart small nuggets of positivity into them that will play a role in their future development."


Gates County Schools Awarded Obici Healthcare Foundation Grant for Health and Wellness Facility

Gates County Schools is happy to announce they are the recipient of an Obici Healthcare Foundation Healthy Spaces grant of $49,993 to fund a health and wellness facility at Gates County High School.

The Obici Healthcare Foundation was established in 2006 to improve the health status of the people living in Western Tidewater, Virginia and Gates County, North Carolina by responding to the medical needs of the indigent and uninsured and by supporting programs which have the primary purpose of preventing illness and disease.

“This facility will be a catalyst for improved health outcomes for our citizens and students. It will also advance the level of performance of our athletes with equipment designed for that purpose,” emphasized Brian Rountree, Director of Gates County Community Partnership. “We would like to thank the Obici Healthcare Foundation for their generous gift to Gates County Schools and its community. Congratulations to our partner, Gates County Schools!”

Many will gain from the Gates County Health and Wellness Facility. The physical education department will use the space to assist students in developing healthy behaviors. Training will provide students with expert guidance in activities that promote overall health and wellness. Outside of school hours, student athletes and the community will utilize the facility. Gates County Schools will staff the space and will post hours for public use.

Gates County Schools is excited about the benefits the training center will provide, as there is compelling evidence that suggests exercise programs offered in communal settings improve physical fitness. Healthy behaviors are key to helping students achieve their potential. It is vital to ensure that healthy habits begin at youth.

Dr. Barry Williams, Gates County Schools Superintendent stated, "The Healthy Spaces Grant awarded to Gates County Schools for a Health and Wellness Facility by the Obici Healthcare Foundation has been achieved through the collaboration of Gates County Schools and the Gates County Community Partnership. Our community and our schools will greatly benefit from the facility with a focus on wellness and building healthy habits that can continue throughout an individual's lifetime. I appreciate the support of all those involved in this endeavor and look forward to continuing to institute programs and attain facilities that benefit the students and staff of our school district as well as the Gates County community."

Gates County School’s Health and Wellness facility should be open for use by Fall 2022.