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Norcross High School Foundation’s Annual Gala Set for April 21

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The 22-year-old nonprofit continues its commitment to student excellence.

The Norcross High School Foundation was started in 2001 by a group of parents who really wanted to make a difference in the community. As one of the longest running foundations in the county, the original goal of the grassroots organization was to make sure children have a good place to be after school. The founders realized that it would take money to make that happen and went about raising funds to enhance the education experience.

Today, the foundation has taken that mission further by working with teachers, coaches, advisors and volunteers. Although it may be confused with a booster organization, it doesn’t focus on a single sport or extracurricular activities. And it’s not in competition with the Parent Teacher Student Association – it actually tries to work in concert with that organization for student success.

Norcross High School Gala

“Our mission, our vision, is that every student across high school will be prepared to excel in college, career and life. We ensure the success of students at Norcross High School by building community support and by raising funds to gain excellence in academics, arts and athletics,” said Tiffany Elner, co-president of the foundation.

“Not every student engages in athletics, not every student engages in art, so at a minimum by impacting academics, we are reaching every single student and that really was the goal was to take community resources from parents to bring in sponsorships and the business community,” she added.

With that mission in mind, the Norcross High School Foundation will host its annual gala on April 21 at Atlanta Tech Park.

The foundation wants its resources to impact all of the students, added Erin Griffin, also co-president of the foundation. With approximately 2700 students at the school, every dollar is needed.

The foundation raised $129,862 last school year, and since its inception has raised more than $2.6 million for Norcross High School (NHS). Close to half of that money – about $60,000 – was spent on classroom needs.

Every faculty member at NHS is asked to submit a list of things they need and want the foundation to raise money for.

“In the past, we had them on the wall like bricks, so they’ve just historically been called “wish bricks,” said Elner. “So basically, when someone purchases a brick at the gala, they’re funding this wish list item that whatever faculty member has submitted.”

There are items in every area of academics, arts and athletics. The requests also include counseling, fine arts and visual arts.

“With every single faculty member of the school involved, the giving touches every single classroom, every single activity, every sport that you can imagine,” Elner added. 

Foundation funds at work

Last year the funds went to directly support 160 faculty-led endeavors. One example is gains for the After School Matters (ASM) program where students receive extra help in academics. These students now have a newly dedicated lab space in the Gwinnett Online Campus Lab at NHS.

After returning to a 100% in person program, ASM served 86 students. Each one of the 14 seniors enrolled in ASM were on track to graduate in May or June (after attending summer school).

In March 2022, 41% of the ASM students were failing three or more classes, but by May, that number decreased to 27%. In March, 6% of students were passing all classes, which increased to 13% of students passing all classes by finals in May.

Foundation bricks also funded the purchase of graphic design software and hardware tools for NHS graphic design students to create logos and marketing campaigns for hypothetical and real-world assignments.

NHS graphic design students and their teacher met with foundation board members to create new social media logos using the tools purchased by gala bricks for the Foundation’s Giving Tuesday campaign. The students’ work is featured on the Foundation website and in Foundation social media posts.

Other wish bricks provided entry fees for students to participate in clubs and competitions in academic areas like math, Mock Trial and National Honor Society. Students in the arts program benefited from brick purchases for home improvement materials to build drama sets, sheet music and practice tracks for chorus students, as well as specialized materials for fine arts.

In athletics, bricks provided scholarships for students to participate in cross country and track, swimming and wrestling and provided training equipment for every sport at NHS.

This year, the foundation is looking to update the electronic sign in front of the school.

“The matrix sign in front of the school is very old …and we can’t really get messages out to the community,” said Elner. “You can only get two short lines of text on it. You can’t really convey a lot of information as people are driving by.”

In addition to the Wish Bricks, the gala will have auction items such as a beach vacation and golfing experience. There will be smaller ticket items as well.

NHS Foundation for Excellence Gala

Atlanta Tech Park, 107 Technology Pkwy., Peachtree Corners

Friday, April 21

Tickets: $125

  • Hall of Fall Induction Ceremony: 6:30 p.m.
  • Gala Reception: 7-10 p.m.
  • Live Auction: 8 p.m.

Hall of Fame

Another highlight of the Norcross High School Foundation gala is recognizing the contributions from individuals at the school and in the community towards student success.

“We are grateful for these people because our high school is a family in itself,” said Tiffany Elner. “Even after their children graduate, we have people who still come to games and give back to the school in so many ways.”

Many would say that you don’t see that type of dedication every day. “Norcross High School is such a special place that I think you do find people like that every day,” said Elner.

Carrie and Jed DeLong

Carrie & Jed DeLong
Carrie and Jed DeLong

Atlanta natives Jed and Carrie DeLong have lived in Peachtree Corners for 22 years. They consider themselves proud graduates of local public schools and their youngest daughter, Remi, graduated from Norcross High School (NHS) in 2021.

The DeLongs feel strongly about supporting educators and investing in future generations. They began serving at Cornerstone Christian Academy in 2008 and served on the capital campaign committee and the parent teacher fellowship executive board.

They joined the board of NHS Foundation for Excellence in 2017 where Jed served on the investment committee and Carrie served as co-president. The couple have supported many facets of Norcross High life including cheerleading, football, baseball, soccer and are especially proud of the creation of the sensory room for the special education department.

In addition to supporting NHS, Jed has volunteered with the City of Peachtree Corners as a member of the zoning board of appeals and has served as president of their neighborhood HOA.

Carry and Jed DeLong are longtime supporters of NHS and the community. Although all three of their children have graduated, they are still active with the foundation and help every year. 

Dr. Phyllis Alexandra Gerard 

Dr. Phyllis Gerard
Dr. Phyllis Gerard

Dr. Phyllis Gerard was born 60 years ago on the small island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She is the youngest of four children and proud of her Afro-Caribbean Latin American heritage. Dr. Gerard made her way to Bradley University in Peoria, Ill.

There she met her lifetime mentor, Dr. Richard L. Hayes, a motivating force and staunch supporter as she pursued her bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in community counseling. Dr. Gerard found employment in a counseling position at a school-based medical clinic in Chicago. Richard T. Crane High School, located on the west side of Chicago, taught her critical lessons about serving students with a myriad of needs. 

Dr. Gerard pursued a Ph.D. in counseling psychology at the University of Georgia. Dr. Hayes served as her major professor and influenced her desire to pursue a career in education. In 1998, while being interviewed by Dr. Francis Davis on the UGA campus, she was offered a position in a high school setting in Gwinnett County. 

During the interview at the old Norcross School building on Beaver Ruin Road, high school principal Judy Rogers asked Dr. Gerard to commit to remaining at Norcross for five years. She agreed, and the rest is history. 

Dr. Gerard has now served at NHS for 25 years in the counseling department and contends that this group of colleagues are by far the best group she has had worked with. She admits it is often difficult, but the work is incredibly rewarding. She calls her kids her “babies” or her “peoples” and delights in making them smile. 

Dr. Gerard’s daily task is to help students make better choices as they weather their own personal storms while identifying future paths that will lead to successful educational and/or career choices. 

Elner had high praise for Dr. Gerard and her dedication. “She is just an incredible counselor at our school, but she’s so much more than that,” said Elner. “She has such a heart for our students in her community and she has been so devoted to it. …People who aren’t even enrolled yet, who are just interested, she treats them like they are family because of how she sees them.”

Lee Newman

Lee Newman
Lee Newman

Lee Newman has served as the director of bands at Norcross High School since 2011. His duties include directing the Wind Symphony, Symphonic Band, Jazz Band, Blue Devil Marching Band, brass studies and leadership as well as teaching International Baccalaureate music classes. 

During his time at Norcross, Newman has continued a proud tradition of excellence. His ensembles have been invited to perform at the Georgia State Honor Bands of Distinction in 2013, 64th Annual UGA January Music Festival in 2014, the 2015, 2018, and 2020 Music for All Southeastern Regional Concert festival, the 2018 and 2020 Yamaha National Concert Festival, and the 2021 and 2022 Georgia Music Educators In- Service Conference. 

Newman has served in multiple leadership roles, including NHS Fine Arts Department Chair, Gwinnett County High School Band Co Lead Teacher, District 13 Band Chair and District 13 Chair. He was also named the Norcross High School Teacher of the Year for the 2019-2020 school year.

“He has impacted so many students,” said Elner. “It’s just neat to think that his children have grown up in the community and now he has one of his children as a student. …He does such a good job of engaging every single student in his program.”

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Twin Authors Chronicle Antics of ‘Four-Legged Brother’

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On Feb. 1, the young authors Megan and Mackenzie Grant released the children’s book, “How We Love Our Four-Legged Brother.”
Megan and Mackenzie Grant

Berkeley Lake second graders make fans across the globe with sweet children’s story.

When rescue dog Apollo found his forever home with Megan and Mackenzie Grant, the Berkeley Lake twins knew they had added a special member to the family. He’s so beloved that he’s considered their “four-legged brother.”

Apollo is a Boston terrier. The breed is known for its friendliness and love of people and children. According to the Purina Company, makers of all kinds of pet food, Boston terriers  make affectionate pets and are outgoing and social. 

While they are called ‘terriers,’ they are not in the terrier group, nor do they behave like them. They are far happier at home with their owner than getting into the usual mischief. 

But Megan and Mackenzie see him as a silly addition to the family.

“He’s super cool because he’s always up for fun and loves us a whole bunch. And guess what? We love him back even more! He’s like the best friend ever, wagging his tail and making everything awesome!” they said in a press release.

Apollo’s birthday inspiration

As his first birthday approached, the girls, six years old at the time, wanted his day to be special.

“I said, ‘Well if you want to come up with something to do, let’s write it out,’” said mom Tameka Womack.  “So they started writing out all these different adventures, and it was so cute.”

Megan recalled that their teacher had told them about someone who had published a book, and she asked if they could, too.

“When I read through it, they had all the different things, like playing dress up because we had bought some clothes for him. And we take them out for long walks around the lake and stuff,”  Womack added.

Although their favorite subjects in school are PE and art, they did such a good job with the tale that Tameka worked with them to get it published. On Feb. 1, the young authors released the children’s book, “How We Love Our Four-Legged Brother.”

Publishing success

The 30-page book took off almost immediately. Available for print and digital through Amazon and print editions through Barnes & Noble, the book has reached customers in the U.K., Germany, France, Japan, Canada, Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy,  Poland and throughout the U.S.

The girls and their mom were so pleased and surprised to find out the book was No. 1 in its category on Amazon.

“They were just so excited that people actually bought the book,” said Womack. “They were just like, ‘Wow, who is buying this?’”

Feedback from fellow twins, animal lovers and teachers showed that the story resonated on many levels.

“As an educator, I am always on the lookout for diverse and inclusive literature for my students. ‘How We Love Our Four-Legged Brother’ not only captivated the imaginations of the children in my class but also served as a wonderful conversation starter about friendship, empathy and the beauty of diversity,” wrote Ashleigh Darby.

The royalties from book sales are tucked away, with a percentage going to Apollo’s wardrobe.

“He won’t go out in the rain without his raincoat … or out in the winter without his sweater,” said Womack. “We have a little budget for his clothes because every time the girls see something, they’re like, ‘Oh, I think Apollo will like it.’  I’m like, I think he would too, but let’s let it stay in the store.”

Nurturing creativity

Although both mom and dad are engineers and kind of hoped that the twins would follow in their footsteps, Womack said she’s okay with them being artistic and creative.

“Writing is teaching them some responsibility and teaching them a little bit about money,” she said. “Now they want to write a book every day.”

Between raising three daughters (the twins have an older teenage sister), running a household with her husband and keeping up with her career at Georgia Tech, Womack said she’ll look for time to continue helping the girls with their dreams.

“With summer coming up, I would definitely encourage parents to help their children explore their creativity in any kind of way, from digging holes in the ground to … seeing the world … to creating books instead of being on the internet,” said Womack. I try to limit my kids’ screen time … and build real memories.”

Find “How We Love Our Four-Legged Brother” on Amazon.

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Local State Reps Give Roundup of Legislative Session

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(left to right) Dale Russell, Rep. Ruwa Romman and Rep. Scott Hilton // Photos by George Hunter

Hilton, Romman trade friendly banter that reflects diverse views in Georgia government

Georgia State House District 97 Representative Ruwa Romman and District 48 Representative Scott Hilton, whose constituents include parts of Southwest Gwinnett County, including Peachtree Corners, sat down for a second time to share information about legislative action at the State Capital

Their discussion was part of the Southwest Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce First Friday Breakfast series at Atlanta Hilton Northeast.

Although they sit on opposite sides of the aisle, Hilton and Romman both seek to sponsor and pass legislation that improves and maintains a high quality of life in the Peach State and provides its residents with what they need. 

Elected in 2022, this was Romman’s sophomore year in the State House. She serves on the Georgia House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee, Georgia House Information and Audits Committee and Georgia House Interstate Cooperation Committee. 

Hilton previously served in the State House from 2017 to 2019 but took a “sabbatical,” as he calls it, to serve as executive director for the Georgians First Commission under the Office of Governor Brian Kemp

He was re-elected to his current position in 2022. He is the vice chair of the Georgia House Creative Arts and Entertainment Committee and the Georgia House Education Committee, as well as a member of the Georgia House Public Health Committee and the Committee on Georgia House Urban Affairs.

Senate Bill 63

The moderator, Norcross resident and former WAGA political reporter Dale Russell started off with a topic making headlines: Senate Bill 63. This law, signed by Gov. Kemp shortly after the session ended, prohibits charities, individuals or groups from providing bail funds for more than three people per year unless they register as bonding agencies. It also expands mandatory cash bail to 30 new offenses.

“I think it’s going to bring home safety to the community,” said Hilton. “I ran on that issue because as I was knocking on doors, I’ve heard from folks who [want to] keep our community safe. And unfortunately, no community has been immune from the uptick in crime that we had seen post-COVID, so this was one of those bills in response to that.”

Hilton gave examples of crimes where individuals out on bail committed acts such as murder.

“That was our commitment back to our constituents to say, ‘Listen, we’re not going to let bad guys back out onto the streets again to do more crime.’ This bill was in response to this; it’s going to keep our community safe, hold those accountable and bring justice to those who break the law,” Hilton remarked. 

“Unfortunately, right now, we’ve got district attorneys and sheriffs across Georgia who are blatantly disregarding the law and letting folks back out on the streets who pose, you know, safety risks to law-abiding citizens like you and I and your businesses,” he continued.

Russel pointed out that there’s been a lot of criticism of this law. 

“The ACLU was totally against it. Some felt like it was imprisoning poor people in the sense, for minor crimes,” he said.

“I do agree with the criticism for a few reasons,” said Romman. 

“The problem with this bill is that of the 30 crimes that are listed as now requiring a cash bail, the majority of them don’t actually require jail time, even if you’re found guilty of them. So now, somebody who would not even have ever served time for those crimes that are listed could now serve jail time because they cannot afford their bail,” she explained.

She added that the law doesn’t address the crimes it’s supposed to protect citizens from.

“We see these headlines, but this bill doesn’t address those because what we see happening is that a lot of churches now will no longer be able to bail people out that cannot afford their bail because of this bill,” she said.

“And churches that have been trying to, for example, reunite a parent with their children for Christmas, or whatever the case may be, can no longer do that. There is actually an exception written into this bill for bail bondsmen. So, it’s not like being able to pay cash bail is completely out of the question. It just means that somebody can make money off of it now,” Romman continued.

Hilton said the state isn’t done with addressing public safety issues as they come up.

“I know that’s been a priority of the governor, and I think rightfully so; you know, there’s a reason we’ve got citizens flocking to Georgia over the last ten years; we’ve added a million Georgians to our state, and they are leaving states with policies that don’t have this. They’re coming to Georgia for economic prosperity, for safety and for good schools,” said Hilton.

House Bill 1105

Another controversial bill, HB 1105, is framed as a public safety bill that requires local enforcement to coordinate with federal immigration officials when someone in custody is suspected of being in the country illegally. 

Some say it’s an immigration bill.

“I know that the federal administration is trying to tell us there’s not a crisis. But there is a humanitarian crisis going on right now on our southern border.  … But they’re not handling it the right way, and it’s starting to impact our communities,” said Hilton.

“We’ve got sheriffs who have folks in their custody, who [need] to be reported up to ICE. And essentially, they’re sort of ignoring what’s in the law right now that says you got to report these folks,” he explained.

Romman doesn’t see it that way.

“Again, when you read the contents of the bill, that is, unfortunately, not what it does,” she said. “I’m one of the few, if not the only, member of the legislature that’s done any border project work,” she remarked.

She talked about her work keeping unaccompanied immigrant minors safe.

“I want to remind people that when we talk about immigration, there’s an entire spectrum of people that we are talking about. And it’s not just at the border, it’s also people that fly into our country legally, that gets narrowed into a terrible immigration system,” Romman said.

“It forces our state and county and city police to do federal-level work without more funding. What we’re doing is we’re actually adding an increased burden, essentially onto their workload that we are not paying for. And in addition, within this bill, if they do not do this, they could lose more funding.”

She added that this will take the police away from focusing on local issues and trying to work with people who live in their communities.

“If a community member feels like if they reach out to police for help, and the police are going to deport them, they are less likely to report crimes and less likely to work with our local police department,” Romman said. “If we’re serious about immigration and its relationship to crime, immigrants are 30% less likely to commit crimes, and I don’t want to vilify an entire group of people.”

Romman said she supports a holistic, three-pronged approach that includes improving conditions on the border and pathways to citizenship.

Business-related legislation

When the smoke cleared, both Hilton and Romman joked that they had different opinions about many issues but agreed that’s a healthy part of how the government works. 

“The fact that we do disagree and the fact that you, the community, have varying choices and options out there. I think it’s a healthy part of the process,” said Hilton. “And we do have fun. I was telling somebody we play kickball about halfway through the session, and we do get along.”

The discussion moved on to topics such as the FTC ruling on non-compete clauses and tort reform, which just about everyone in the room agreed upon. Although employees could see the beauty of disallowing non-compete clauses, as business owners, they’d hate to see trade secrets put in jeopardy or valuable time and money put into training to benefit another company. 

And everyone wanted to see caps on personal injury claims for things like slip-and-falls and fleet vehicle accidents.

“One of the few regrets I have coming out of session is that we didn’t do more on tort reform,” said Hilton. “Right now, Georgia is the number one judicial hellhole in the nation, meaning that we have more lawsuits on businesses and payouts than anywhere else in the country.”

This was one area where both representatives had similar views.

“I don’t think this is a left or right issue,” said Romman. “I want to make sure that whatever tort reform we pursue does not let, for example, a bad-acting company off the hook. But on the flip side, if somebody is just going around and suing everybody all the time to try and make some money off of it, how do you protect corporations and businesses from those kinds of bad incidents litigation?”

“What I will continue to look for when it comes to tort reform is, how are we going about balancing that?” she added.

Looking ahead

As the session wrapped, Romman and Hilton pointed out legislation they’d like to see move forward next year.

“House Bill 971 creates a $300 tax credit for taxpayers who sign up for firearm safety training or purchase a safe storage device. It’s a bipartisan measure, viewed by some as a small but perhaps significant move for gun safety advocates, which was tabled in the Senate room,” said Romman. 

She said the bill wouldn’t even require someone to disclose that they owned a firearm, but it was meant to incentivize people to store their firearms properly.

“There wasn’t a lot of appetite if somebody didn’t properly store their gun to have consequences for that, so we thought it would just incentivize better behavior,” she said.

Hilton mentioned school safety. 

“Over the last three years, every single school in Georgia has gotten a one-time $100,000 grant for School Safety. That’s every school in Georgia; in this most recent budget, we included $45,000 in recurring money for every school in the state to do whatever they want to ensure their campuses are safe,” he said. This includes private schools as well.

At the end of the event, Hilton and Romman reminded the audience that they weren’t running against each other, and even though their views were different, their goals for a better Georgia were equally as passionate.

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City of Peachtree Corners Unveils Space-Inspired Tot Lot Playground

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Last November, the city began constructing a new tot lot playground for children under six years old that is themed around space exploration. 
Photos by Dorie Liu

On Friday, May 10, 2024, the City of Peachtree Corners held a ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremony of its new space-themed Tot Lot Playground on Town Green.

Last November, the city began constructing a new tot lot playground for children under six years old that is themed around space exploration.  This new play area includes a rocket ship, a moon rover, a crashed UFO and other fun designs. It was also created to be fully accessible, ensuring all children can enjoy it.

During the ribbon-cutting, children and their guardians enjoyed fun activities, including an ice cream truck, bubble lady, balloon animals, face painting and even a visit from Buzz Lightyear.

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