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Celebrating Black History Month Through Art, Word and Craft



Black heritage will be explored in a vibrant variety of ways in Peachtree Corners and throughout the county as libraries, schools and the community celebrate Black History Month.
Among school programs planned, Duluth Middle School will do a tribute to HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and create a living wax museum of historical Black figures.

Coleman Middle School is working on a Feb. 24 Literacy Night featuring activities around the book “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds and presentations by students and community members.
Meanwhile, the Peachtree Corners Branch Library is preparing for family programs, including a Black history scavenger hunt and an Underground Railroad quilt block activity for children.

In another virtual program, Gwinnett County Public Library’s (GCPL) Ron Gauthier will discuss the moral and religious thoughts of abolitionist Frederick Douglass with Professor Scott C. Williamson of Kentucky’s Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary on Feb. 3 at 7 p.m.

Partnering for voting and civil rights history

Gauthier, the library system’s youth services community partnerships manager, is working with a library task force and school representatives to deliver a new series of lessons on national and local voting and civil rights history to Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) students.

Ron Gauthier, Gwinnett County Public Library (GCPL) Youth Services Community Partnerships Manager (Courtesy of GCPL)

The program began in 2019 when Gauthier presented a program for Bay Creek Middle School at school media specialist Mona Pop’s request.

Customized to meet teachers’ requests, the program became popular and has expanded to other middle schools and a couple of high schools in a virtual format.

The task force is working to match the program to the students’ social studies curriculum with a goal of making it available to all eighth-graders. Their work has been enhanced with funding from a Library of Congress grant, “Teaching with Primary Sources.”

Margaret Penn, the library system’s director of Branch Services, said the grant is designed to “connect students with original documents of history and photos, anything from legislation to newspapers to first-person accounts.”

A series of 55-minute programs accompanied by lesson plans features lectures and visuals and is “loaded with primary sources” from the Library of Congress, the Digital Library of Georgia and other sources, Gauthier said.

He said children have been fascinated to learn of the youth who participated in the Civil Rights movement, such as students who protested segregation through lunch counter sit-ins. They’ve learned about Claudette Colvin, who was arrested at the age of 15 in Montgomery, Ala. for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus, nine months before Rosa Parks.

One of the Library of Congress video clips the program uses is an excerpt from “CBS News Eyewitness: The Albany Movement,” broadcast in 1962. In the video, teenage demonstrators are arrested for singing and praying in front of the segregated public library.

“The act of civil disobedience, actually kneeling in front of the library, is a really powerful video image,” Gauthier said.

Pop, the Bay Creek media specialist, said Gauthier’s presentation is one of students’ favorite Black History Month activities.

“The project is well-designed, thoroughly documented and Mr. Gauthier’s presentation is captivating and memorable with an extensive array of supporting documents, photographs, illustrations, newspaper clippings, stories and other related content that engage students in critical thinking and help them develop knowledge, skills and analytical abilities,” Pop said.

“We are looking forward to having Mr. Gauthier this February again at our school as our media center’s special guest to celebrate Black History Month and learn more about the struggle for social justice and the efforts of the many civil rights activists against segregation, Black voter suppression and discriminatory practices.”

Dr. Dawn Jo Alexander, a GCPS teacher leader, said the partnership of the nation’s library with Gwinnett’s school and library systems is “a great example of organizations coming together to make teaching and learning engaging and authentic.”

“The LOC has thousands on thousands of primary sources that the Gwinnett County library system and schoolteachers can use to teach history in an age-appropriate and authentic manner. These resources are not just limited to Black History, they also tell the story of American History,” Alexander said. “At the end of the day that is what we want, authentic, rigorous learning that will stick with students for years to come.”

Mining history close to home

GCPL is looking for current and former Gwinnett residents willing to give first-hand accounts of how they were impacted by the voting rights and Civil Rights movements in this county.
Interviews will be recorded and maintained in the library’s first-ever collection of oral stories developed in-house, with funding from its Teaching with Primary Sources grant. Excerpts will be used in library programs about the Civil Rights movement for audiences of all ages, Penn said.

Of particular interest to the library are people who actively participated in organized movements for justice and equality for Black people; people who were personally impacted by segregation, discrimination, denial of the right to vote and other injustices; and people who lived in Gwinnett during the Civil Rights milestones.

“We really wanted to include a local component, so that people could see what happened down the street from where they currently live, basically,” Penn said. “And so, part of that is finding those first-person accounts to include in our materials so that students hear not just about the big events that many of us learned about in school, but also about how those events connected at the state level and at the local level.”

The first recording, produced in December, features a person who attended the only school for Black students in Gwinnett County for decades and who later, as an adult, helped spare it from demolition, Penn said.

Plans are to convert that school, the former Hooper Renwick School, into a museum and a new library branch.

The library system hopes to gather many more first-person accounts of experiences from the era of the Civil Rights movement.

“The library is an educational institution, and that’s for all ages, all members of the community,” Penn said. “Part of educating the community is educating us about each other. This is a big county, with a lot of people in it, and it’s still growing by quite a bit. Learning about each other’s history and culture and traditions is important for us to be able to live well together here.”

You can find a “Share your story” form at gwinnettpl.org/news/civil-and-voting-rights.

Find events and programs at Gwinnett Public Libraries

Donna Williams Lewis is a freelance journalist who covered metro Atlanta for decades as a writer and editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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Arts & Literature

Norcross High School Students’ Art to be Featured at Dogwood



Atlanta High School Art Exhibition

The Atlanta High School Art Exhibition has become a staple of the annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival at Piedmont Park. Every year, talented high school students from across Atlanta come together to showcase their skills and creativity in an event that celebrates the power of the arts.

The exhibition takes place over the course of three days during the Atlanta Dogwood Festival. One of the largest art festivals in the Southeast, the Dogwood Festival will run April 14-16 this year.

This year, 14 Norcross High School (NHS) students in grades 9-12 have works selected from among hundreds of submissions from high school students across the state of Georgia — Gisela Rojas Medina (11), Beila Rivas (12), Luptia Ortiz (12), Journey Pierre (12), Eva Rios (9), Harlet Martinez Castro (11), Fatima Huerta Rodriguez (11), Madonna Phan (11), Katelynn Pallotto (12), Dani Olaechea (11), Katherine Martin (12), Elena Garson Padoan (12), Grace Peagler (12) and Le’Anah Smith (12).

The students have the opportunity to display their artwork in a professional setting, connect with other artists and potentially win awards for their work.

The exhibition showcases the best in high school art and is highly competitive. The artwork on display includes drawing, painting, sculpture, photography and jewelry pieces. Not only does the event showcase the students’ artwork, it also brings students together to create a community of young artists in the city.

Students explored a range of different art media and themes. Gisela Rojas Medina focused on creating work from photographs of herself as a child. She then printed them using cyanotypes and hung each faded photo to create a mobile reminiscent of childhood memories.

“This piece was inspired by my own faded and distorted memories,” Medina said.

The Atlanta High School Art Exhibition is free and open to the public. A Satellite Show will be held April 2-30 at the Limelight Gallery at Binders, 3330 Piedmont Road in Atlanta.

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Arts & Literature

North Metro Academy of Performing Arts Settles into Peachtree Corners



North Metro Academy. Photos by George Hunter

Gwinnett County’s first themed elementary school aims to incorporate arts education into a robust, imaginative, and collaborative environment.

“The arts are an essential element of education, just like reading, writing, and arithmetic. Music, dance, painting, and theatre are all keys that unlock profound human understanding and accomplishment.” — William Bennett, former US Secretary of Education

Those words were declared many decades ago, long before students and even some staff members at North Metro Academy of Performing Arts (NMAPA) were born. But the sentiment rings as true today as it did then. 

Gwinnett County Public Schools’ first themed elementary school, NMAPA is still somewhat of a hidden gem. Dr. Rodriguez Johnson, principal since the school was established in 2014, along with students, staff, and the community are working to change that.

“It’s amazing that we have over 40 different elementary schools represented in our community here. We have kids that come from Lilburn and Lawrenceville and Duluth and all over to attend our school, and it’s really about that close-knit family community,” said Johnson. 

“We have our kids learning the same curriculum that they do at every other elementary school,” he continued. “I think it’s just really our personal connections that really separate us from our sister schools.”

The purpose of the K-5 school, open to every Gwinnett County resident, is to give students the opportunity to develop unique interests, uncover hidden talents, experience satisfaction in accomplishments, gain a sense of responsibility and pursue education as a way of life through educational programs tailored to their own specific needs, according to the school website.

This hidden gem didn’t pop up overnight. It has been a dream of lifelong educator Beauty Baldwin. After decades of dedication to educating students in Schley, Muscogee, and Gwinnett counties, Baldwin retired in June 1994 as the first Black female superintendent of Buford City Schools, as well as the first in the entire state of Georgia.

Her commitment to education and her community is evident with a school and a municipal building named for her. In 2016, the Gwinnett County Board of Education dedicated Baldwin Elementary School in Norcross in her name. In 2020, a ceremony was held to dedicate Gwinnett County’s newly- renovated elections office as The Gwinnett Voter Registrations & Elections Beauty P. Baldwin Building.

Perhaps her passion for education and commitment to children and the community is most evident in the former Hopewell Christian Academy that opened in 1997, shortly after Baldwin thought she had put away her educator hat. Many years later, she admitted that one never stops being a teacher.

Baldwin served as Hopewell’s administrator for 16 years until it became a Gwinnett County Charter School. The move to the public school system came with a name change — North Metro Academy. In May 2021, the Gwinnett County Board of Education approved transitioning NMAPA from a public charter school to GCPS’s first themed elementary school.

But the work doesn’t end there.

Room for everyone

North Metro Academy of Performing Arts engages students in instruction that integrates the academics and performing arts in ways that address the unique needs and interests of each student, said Dr. Johnson. He added that, unlike the fictional school of the arts in the movie “Fame,” there’s no auditioning for a spot at NMAPA.

There is currently no wait list and no child within Gwinnett County is turned away.

“Before we moved onto this campus, we had around 320 students. We expect to continue to increase our enrollment each year,” Johnson said. “We’re really excited about our future and our continued growth. And we’re extremely excited about being here in Peachtree Corners and Norcross.”

Although Peachtree Corners is considered a more affluent area than many other parts of the county, the student body is quite diverse and there’s a place for everyone.

“I think a lot of families choose us because they know that when they come here, we are an extended part of their family and there is no judgment. Every kid is one of our students and we make sure that we build a rapport with all of them,” said Johnson.

“We have such a small staff that I think that really helps us build those relationships, too,” he added. “Our parents know the teachers and we treat everyone like family.”

The first group that started kindergarten at NMAPA will be transitioning from fifth grade to middle school at the end of the academic year. 

He said he gets requests from parents who want to see the theme extended to middle school, and perhaps even high school. However, Johnson is focusing on the ones in his care and preparing them for their best futures.

“Right now, we’re just trying to embrace our new space and continuing to grow our program,” he said. “Hopefully, one day, we will have so many students on the waiting list that we’ll have to have a bigger building.”

Photos by George Hunter

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Paladin Pacer 5K and Fun Run Debuts New Course



Paladin Pacer 5k and Fun Run

Pinecrest Academy’s 4th Annual Paladin Pacer race is set for Saturday, February 25. It’s open to all runners, walkers, and hikers. As in previous years, the Pacer includes a 5K event and a Fun Run.

The 2023 Pacer will debut two changes this year.

  • The entire 5K course will be run or walked on Pinecrest Academy’s 68-acre campus, which includes a cross-country trail. In previous years, the 5K portion of the event has run along Highway 141.
  • The 5K portion of this year’s Pacer will be a Trail Race. Trail running, running in a natural environment with minimal paved or asphalt roads, has become a popular sport. It increases the physicality of the race by adding climbs and rougher terrain. Paladin Pacer participants should be ready for over two miles of scenic dirt trails, grass, and hills.

“As an avid runner, I am particularly excited about our transition to a trail race,” said Mary Tollett, Paladin Pacer Race Director. “Trail run enthusiasts usually have to travel to a destination, sometimes to rural locations, to participate in a trail run. But this one is right here in our neighborhood.”

Paladin Pacer 5k and Fun Run
Photo from Last Year’s Paladin Pacer 5k and Fun Run. This year the 5K will be a trail race on campus.

The 1-Mile Fun Run includes three laps around the school driveway, allowing parents to support their “little Olympians” throughout the race. It’s also perfect for the casual walker or jogger.

The epic costume contest will return this year. Cross-country teams are encouraged to participate as a group, as are families with children of all ages.

“We are thankful to be part of Forsyth County, a vibrant and growing community, and delighted to be able to offer a unique running experience for our neighbors,” said David O’Shea, Pinecrest Academy Director of Advancement. “The Paladin Pacer is an opportunity to come together for a fun community event while getting some exercise and trying out a new local trail run!”

Paladin Pacer 5k and Fun Run
Photo from Last Year’s Paladin Pacer 5k and Fun Run

Awards will be presented for Overall Male/Female and Top 3 Male/Female finishers in each age group, along with an award for Best Costume.

Registration is open, and the early bird rate for both the 5K and Fun Run is available through February 17. All participants registered by February 13 will receive a race t-shirt.

For more information on the 2023 Paladin Pacer and to register, visit active.com/cumming-ga/running/distance-running-races/paladin-pacer-trail-race-2023. Limited sponsorships are available. Please contact David O’Shea at doshea@pinecrestacadem.org or call 770-888-4477.

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