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Pinckneyville Middle School Win State Odyssey of the Mind and Head to World Finals

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The Pinckneyville Middle School Odyssey of the Mind. Photos courtesy of their Go Fund Me page.

This girls team is heading back for the 4th time seeking a 3rd win

If you haven’t heard, the Pinckneyville Middle School Odyssey of the Mind just placed 1st at the Georgia state competition and have been invited to represent Georgia at the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals in Orlando in June.  

Some people might never have heard of Odyssey of the Mind (OotM) or do not understand exactly what it is, so here is the official description as well as a link to the Odyssey website for anyone who would like to know more.

“[OotM] is an international creative problem-solving program that engages students in their learning by allowing their knowledge and ideas to come to life in an exciting, productive environment. Participants build self-confidence, develop life skills, create new friendships, and are able to recognize and explore their true potential. OotM proves that students can have fun while they learn.”  

The competitions consist of the performance of an original skit based on the exact set of required elements given (the “long-term problem”) as well as the performance of the “spontaneous problem,” in which teams are asked to perform random tasks on the spot with no prior preparation, such as creating a bridge out of unique materials that can actually support weight.  So, in effect, it’s a great combination of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) with the arts (STEAM)!  It also requires a lot of teamwork and effective communication.  

“The Pinckneyville MS team is made up of 7 girls, including two of ours, with my wife Lisa Dommert as their coach. They’ve really helped put Peachtree Corners and Georgia on the map among thousands of Odyssey teams from around the world.  They’ve placed first in the world twice already, besting 71 world finalist elementary school teams in 2018, placed 4th among over 60 world finalist middle school teams in 2019, and reclaimed the top spot among over 60 world finalist teams in 2020.  They are shaping up to be one of the most dominant teams in state history and one of the few to consistently beat the Chinese and Polish teams who have been very strong in recent years,” supporter and parent Travis Dommert said.

It is an honor once again to be one of the teams that will be competing at the World Finals in Orlando and to represent Peachtree Corners, Gwinnett County Public Schools, and the state of Georgia!  They sincerely appreciate any assistance, large or small, that you can provide as they prepare to make the journey to Orlando!  All donations collected on their GoFundMe page will be withdrawn at the end of our fundraising campaign and deposited into a bank account created by Jeff Ebert (a team parent); these funds will then be distributed equally among the team members and volunteer parent coach.

The girls will also be fundraising on Saturday, May 8 in front of Sprouts Market in Peachtree Corners, from 2-4 p.m. They thank you for your support!

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Education

Gwinnett County Public Schools to require masks based on latest CDC guidance

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In response to the latest guidance for K-12 schools issued on Tuesday, July 27, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Gwinnett County Public Schools has updated its back-to-school plans to require masks. As of July 28, masks will be required for students, staff, and visitors to all Gwinnett County Public Schools’ facilities and on school buses, regardless of vaccination status. This decision takes into account current conditions, the rise in COVID-19 case rates in Gwinnett County, and the ineligibility of children age 12 and younger for the vaccine.

In announcing the district’s position, CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks affirmed that Gwinnett County Public Schools will follow the CDC’s recommendations. “The facts and recommendations are clear… masks do make a difference and we must do all we can to keep students in school, in person.”

In addition to the CDC’s guidance calling for masks to be worn by everyone in the K-12 environment and recent recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the following considerations also played a role in today’s decision by district leaders:

– GCPS’ primary concern is the health and safety of students and staff.
– It is critical for students to be in school and to benefit from in-person instruction.
– Elementary students and young middle school students currently are not eligible to be vaccinated.
– Many GCPS students and employees who are eligible to be vaccinated are not vaccinated.
– The CDC and other health partners indicate wearing a mask is a key tool, even for vaccinated individuals, in stopping the spread of COVID-19.
– A federal executive order requires all students on school buses to wear masks.
– In the classroom setting, students who are identified as close contacts to a student who is positive for COVID-19 will not have to quarantine if both students are wearing masks. Quarantined individuals could be out of school for up to two weeks.

In light of the latest CDC guidance and the district’s decision to require masks, GCPS will allow families to make a change in their child(ren)’s instructional preference (either in-person or digital) through Monday, August 2. Families should contact their local school should they wish to make a change. In sharing why the district has set this deadline, Mr. Wilbanks explained, “We realize this does not allow families a lot of time to make this decision, but we must have this information by this date to ensure schools are staffed appropriately to serve students and student schedules are finalized prior to the start of school.”

Schools will communicate with their staff members about scheduling mask breaks during the school day, providing times when students can take off their masks. In addition to these breaks and during lunch, children will be allowed to take off their masks while they are outside (on the playground, etc.) Students in band and PE will have times during the day in which they will not wear masks (i.e. cardio exercises, etc.). Accommodations will be made for students and employees unable to wear a mask for documented medical reasons, for instance, a pulmonary condition such as asthma or sensory issues.

Mr. Wilbanks indicated that, in light of today’s announcement by the CDC and the steady upward trend in cases in Gwinnett, this is the most prudent course of action. He said, “A layered approach is needed to keep our students safe and in school. Masks are one of the tools proven to be effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. It is time for us to mask up and take advantage of vaccination opportunities to help our community get past the pandemic.”

With this in mind, GCPS is doing its part by placing an emphasis on wearing masks to start the school year more safely and will continue to encourage our GCPS community to get vaccinated. The district is partnering with the Gwinnett Health Department to host a weekly vaccination clinic at Discovery High School every Wednesday from 3-7 p.m. through the end of August.

While disappointed that the school year will start with masks, GCPS is very happy that its students will be starting the school year in person. Please know that district leaders will continue to monitor for new guidance from the CDC, health partners, and the state, using it to make updates throughout the 2021–22 school year.

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Education

Local student represents Georgia at American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation

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ALA Girls Nation 2021 visits Washington Veterans Memorial. Photo from facebook page.

Emma Fass of Peachtree Corners is one of 94 young women selected to attend the 74th American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) Girls Nation session July 24-31 in Washington, D.C. As part of the premier ALA program, two outstanding high school seniors are selected to represent their respective state as “senators” at ALA Girls Nation after participating in one of 47 ALA Girls State sessions held across the country. ALA Girls Nation is a seven-day leadership conference that provides aspiring young women leaders with practical insight into how the federal government operates, instills a sense of pride in our country, and promotes youth civic engagement. Many participants of the program go on to have careers in public service at the local, state, and national levels. 

Fass, a rising senior at Norcross High School was active in many ways during her week at ALA Georgia Girls State. She also participates in many activities in her school and community. 

At ALA Girls Nation, Fass will participate in mock senate sessions complete with caucuses and debating bills that range from personal to political interests. Other activities on the agenda include a visit to Arlington National Cemetery where they will place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a community service project, and a tour of the D.C. monuments.  

“ALA Girls Nation is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our nation’s future leaders to learn about the inner workings of the federal government before they are of voting age,” said Wendy Riggle, ALA Girls Nation Committee chairman. “After attending their local ALA Girls State program and then ALA Girls Nation, the girls return home ready to be engaged citizens at all levels of government.”  

The American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) is a community of volunteers serving veterans, military, and their families. . Founded in 1919, the ALA is one of the oldest patriotic membership organizations in the U.S.A. To learn more and to volunteer, join, and donate, visit ALAforVeterans.org. 

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Education

Summer Reading Recommendations from the Community for Adults and Kids

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zara preveen
Zara Praveen

To read or not to read… is not the question. The real question is… what to read this summer? We asked librarians, community leaders, students and more to give us their top title choices for a great story or an excellent poolside read.

Big Nate series, written by Lincoln Peirce

The books are a humorous comic for young readers with 15 books in the series. It is about a 11-year-old boy whose friends are named Francis Pope and Teddy Ortiz. His hobbies are playing chess, baseball, basketball and cartooning. He is often sent to detention by his least favorite teacher, Mrs. Godfrey.

His enemies are Gina, a girl who always says she is smarter than him, which is true — and usually finds herself in academic competitions with Francis. Another one of his enemies is named Arthur. He is great at everything and makes Nate jealous. Also, Nate is the all-time record holder for detentions in school and is convinced that his destiny is unshakable.

Zara Praveen

A Series of Unfortunate Events, written by Lemony Snicket (real name Daniel Handler)

The series details the journey of three orphans being relentlessly pursued by a wicked Count out for their fortune. It’s a series that is more than likely to keep you busy, spanning 13 main novels as well as some extension works. It’s suitable for a plethora of ages.

I originally read it around 7 years old and loved it. I recently reread it and found that my love for it had not faded. It is a completely immersive experience. You find yourself immensely frustrated at most characters that aren’t Violet, Klaus or Sunny for not realizing the threat of Count Olaf. In other words, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to practically anyone!

Sharika Awasthi

The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks

This book is an easy and inspiring read. What I love about it is that it challenges you to pursue your zone of genius, your natural gifts and to keep a positive mindset. It also lays out the steps to teach you how to do this. It’s perfect for those who are searching for “more” out of life. I hope that others enjoy this book as much as I do.

Rena Williams

What If? by Randall Munroe

It answers questions like “What would happen if you threw a baseball at 90% the speed of light?” or “What if you made a periodic coffee table out of all of the elements of the periodic table?”. It is a (mostly) well-researched and fun tour through physics, computer science, chemistry and Earth science.
I recommend this book because it teaches me to think creatively with science. It poses creative questions and answers them with solid research and novel ideas. Also, the art includes some of the best stick figures you could ask for.

Brandon Horsley
Physics and Robotics, Paul Duke STEM High School

Choice 1: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson — Great read for any teenager who just went through our modern pandemic.


Choice 2: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson — It is just so detailed and beautifully written. The author connects the true tale of the 1893 World’s Fair and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. The book is so detailed and combines extensive research with nail-biting storytelling.

Dr. Jonathon Wetherington

Principal of Paul Duke STEM High School

Ice Cream Summer by Peter Sis

This is a sweet summer read about a young boy who explains to his grandfather in a letter that he has not forgotten about school because he continues to enjoy writing, math and geography through the imaginary world of ice cream!

Dr. Taffeta Connery
Principal of Simpson Elementary School

Cloth from the Clouds by Michael Catchpool


This is a wonderful story with beautiful illustrations that teaches children (and adults) to treat the Earth with care and to take only what we really need. It’s a great lesson on stewardship over our planet.

Angelina Whitaker
Blue Sky Law

Picture Books:

The Good Egg by Jory John — Funny story that encourages self-care and accepting others.
I Am Enough by Grace Byers — All about loving who you are!
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan Higgins — Hilarious story about a dinosaur named Penelope meeting her classmates.
The Story of Fish and Snail by Deborah Freeman — A great story about leaving your comfort zone.
I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes — Celebrates individuality!

Novels:

The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer — Combines the modern-day world with fairy tales.
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper — A must read for everyone! The story is told through the eyes of a child with cerebral palsy.
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley — Set in WWII, this story presents a love/hate relationship with its characters.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang — Story full of empathy and compassion and tough lessons about today’s world. The themes address poverty and injustices in a migrant community.

Allison Anderson
Greater Atlanta Christian School Lower School Media Specialist

The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate — This book chronicles the journey of three very young and different women looking for the one person who binds them together just after the Civil War, and a young teacher in modern times who rounds out the connections. I found the bravery, the persistence and the innovation displayed by these women inspirational and entertaining.

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd — Since Jewish men in the culture of his time either married or were ostracized, what if Jesus were married? I gained deeper understanding about the culture, as well as the rules and expectations of women.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig — What if we could experience the consequences of different choices in our lives, and what if the outcomes of a different choice don’t match our imagined outcomes

The Guardians by John Grisham — People who are unfairly incarcerated need advocates, and this story introduces us to some interesting characters who are on a mission.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah — This painful description of life in the Texas dust bowl and the disappointing alternative awaiting the family in California puts wearing a mask to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19 into vivid perspective.

Betsy Corley Pickren
WoodFire Leadership, LLC and Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce board member

Sixty Things to Teach College Kids Before They Graduate by Cliff Bramble (local author)

This life skills book is not only concise, thoughtful and easy to read, it is a perfect gift and keepsake for any young person heading out into the world. It also covers a lot of topics that parents may worry they “forgot” to teach their children when they leave home.

Cathy Nilsson

Boundaries with Teens: When to Say, How to Say No by Dr. John Townsend


I picked up this book since I now have a teenager in the household. While much of the book is common sense, it serves as a good tool navigating this next season.

Colin Creel
Principal of Cornerstone Christian Academy

Know What You’re FOR by Jeff Henderson

Two thought-provoking questions are the foundation of this book: 1) What do you want to be known for, and 2) what are you actually known for? After reading this book as a company in “book club” format, our team reflected on vision, purpose and core values. We worked together to identify gaps between the questions and develop strategies to narrow them. We experienced awesome discussion, enthusiasm and excitement about potential to positively impact our communities, clarity on how to do so and opportunities for additional growth. This is not just a business book, it’s a strategy for life book that will challenge and invigorate you to dream big!

Wendy Willis
Business Development at Tandem Bank, Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce member

Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler


I have enjoyed reading (on several occasions) a book titled, Crucial Conversations. Stephen Covey wrote the foreword for the book: “Crucial Conversations draws our attention to those defining moments that literally shape our lives, our relationships and our world…This book deserves to take its place as one of the key thought leadership contributions of our time.”

Steve Dorough
Past Chairman of the Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson


It’s Brooklyn, 1970s. Hot and humid with the corner fire hydrant spraying water and Stevie Wonder blaring out a window. Adult August is transported back to this time, hanging with her friends on the block, weaving their way through adolescence, innocently seeing the city and its people as beautiful but quickly learning the dark side to another Brooklyn. This short read is a poetic coming-of-age story about friendship, loss and resilience, and the weight memory holds for a black woman visiting home.

Erin Twohig-Canal
Lockridge Forest, Peachtree Corners

Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor (winner of the Pulitzer Prize)

The perfect book for lovers of history and historical fiction as well as those who are interested in Civil War and Georgia history. I discovered this treasure as I worked my way through all the winners of the Pulitzer Prize. While I hesitate to call it my “favorite,” I will say that I found myself deeply engrossed and some of the stories continue to swim around in my brain. Andersonville tells the story of one of the most horrific prisoner of war camps from the perspective of multiple players both historic and fictional.

Erica McCurdy
McCurdy Solutions Group

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

Science fiction is not a genre I used to read before picking up All Systems Red. The narrator is the self-named enhanced artificial intelligence Murderbot who has hacked their governing module and gone rogue. Keeping the humans they’ve been assigned to alive (contrary to their name) while dealing with, at times, crippling anxiety and a desire to watch sitcoms and TV shows on repeat is extremely entertaining, as is the action that kept me glued to every page, and devouring the other novellas and novels in the series!

Chanpreet Singh

The Mark of the King by Jocelyn Green


This book was a hidden gem for me. I was not too sure about reading it but was so glad I did! It is a historical fiction about the settlement of Louisiana, with a lot of history thrown in. It is a well-written page-turner, and I always recommend this book when someone asks for a recommendation. Not your typical HEA [happily ever after] book, and definitely an emotional ride, but so good!

Candace Ross

If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall

This book inspires you to think about all of the daily activities and things around us that we many times overlook. It makes you wonder about what other details you can include to describe life on Earth and all of its wonders!

Maria Sabino
2nd and 3rd grade ELA and Social Studies Teacher at International Charter Academy.

The Flying Cutterbucks By Kathleen Rogers —The story of how strong women in an abusive military family protect themselves and craft a new life.

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue —A young woman in an African village starts a revolution against an American oil company that is destroying the land.

Invisible Women: Data bias in a world designed for men by Caroline Perez — Describes how data does not take into account gender in many areas.

Broken Places Outer of Spaces by Shyama Golden — It is a story of how creativity is born from hardship.

Homo Deus: a brief history of tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari — An examination of the history of human civilization in the 21st century

Charles Hawk
Assistant Principal at GIVE Center West

For middle school students, especially the boys: Code of Honor by Alan Gratz
Code of Honor is an action-packed celebration of heroism and family that asks us to look past the exteriors. When an Army Ranger is taken by Al-Qaeda and makes anti-American videos, it is his younger brother who knows his brother isn’t a traitor and decodes the messages he is hiding in the videos.

For middle school students, especially the girls: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling — I promise this is not a book about cacti. After all, the huge cacti in Arizona have multiple arms and Aven has none. People in her hometown are accustomed to the girl who does everything with her feet. So moving is going to be hard. Her move will require her to solve a mystery, make a friend (with a boy who has an entirely different challenge) and help run the family business, all without arms.

Fiction for adults or older teens: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby — The face we show the world is never all of who we are. Bone Gap is a book about what we see and who sees us. It’s no surprise that someone evil would want to kidnap beautiful Roza, her mother told her “there will be boys who will tell you you’re beautiful, but only a few will see you.” What is strange is the eyewitness; he can’t tell anyone what he saw. Told from the perspectives of both the stolen Roza and the misunderstood witness, it’s a book you won’t forget.

Nonfiction for adults or older teens: Undefeated by Steve Sheinkin — Jim Thorpe, known as the greatest athlete of all time, excelled in football, baseball and won Olympic medals in the decathalon and pentathalon. Jim’s story covers the evolution of college football, the Native American boarding school system and his extraordinary athletic success. You will learn how Pop Warner fits into his story and why his Olympic medals were revoked. It’s a great read and an exceptional audiobook as well.

Bonnie Baker
Library Media Specialist at Greater Atlanta Christian School

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