Chatham County schools are envied nationwide for their technolo- gical savvy and are continuously awarded for special programs that go above and beyond the traditional classroom setting.
For a relatively small school system, Chatham County schools are able to offer a wide variety of experiences and opportunities to students, hoping to find special areas of interest and abilities that will impact their futures in a positive way. Several teachers and administrators have received regional and state honors for outstanding work in their specialty areas.
Recent awards include State Media Coordi-nator of the Year, Multi-Level Counselor of the Year and the Sarah Belk Gambrell Award for excellence in Arts Education.
Chatham County schools' 7,300 students also enjoy new, state-of-the-art facilities. The majority of Chatham County schools have been rebuilt within the last decade. Expansion is excitedly anticipated to accommodate the area's growth.
Chatham County is in close proximity to North Carolina's Triangle Research Park - which includes the cities of Raleigh, Cary, Durham and Chapel Hill - and the Piedmont Triad that includes Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem. This partially explains the wealth of high-quality teachers drawn here in droves in a time when North Carolina itself is experiencing a teacher shortage.
Many credit the friendly family atmosphere as the area's major draw. Another clue may lie in the Chatham County school system's strong staff development program that continually assists educators in honing their skills.
Much of this development is focused in staying ahead of the technological curve, an attribute noted in business and industry as well as education in Chatham County. Integrating the latest technology available into the classroom has long been a triumph of Chatham County's curriculum, hailed as one of the most innovative in the state.
The results of this dedication can be seen in the classroom where there is one computer for every three students; a computer in each room connected to the district's own Internet Service Provider (ISP) and Local Area Network (LAN); online tutoring and supplemental instruction to complement coursework; and an online catalog and circulation systems.
More than 90 percent of Chatham County eighth graders score at or above the computer competency level required for graduation from North Carolina public high schools. Chatham teachers also partner with nearby industries and universities to bring real-world applications to students. Teachers are routinely invited to local, state and national conferences to share Chatham County's model for technological success in the classroom.
Another way Chatham County schools excel is in their programs geared to those with special educational needs. The booming Hispanic population in Chatham County - which went from four Latino students in the mid-1980s to 1,300 currently - benefits from the far-reaching Migrant Education Program.
The children of migrants who have been drawn to Chatham's manufacturing jobs are often disadvantaged educationally by the lifestyle of continuously moving from place to place. Chatham County schools are dedicated to seeing that these children realize their full academic and personal potential.
A summer program offered to migrant students helps them to master material missed due to frequent moves. Small classes in an intimate setting raise these students' belief in their abilities with practice in English and a jump-start on the next school year's curriculum. A hotline for bilingual parents and cultural immersion programs are but a few of the ways Chatham County ensures the success of its migrant students. Spanish education is also offered to all students as early as grade school in one of many efforts to enhance children's cultural awareness.
The Minority Affairs Department aids this population as well as other at-risk and minority students with tutoring, clothing and any other basic need that will help children reap the benefits of a Chatham County education.
More than 1,000 students with disabilities, ranging in age from 3 to 25, are also served by special programs in Chatham County schools that recognize and work with each childŐs unique abilities. Chatham County's annual "Child Find" effort seeks out all children in the community with special needs whose lives can be enriched within the Chatham County educational system.
Academically and intellectually gifted children are also served by enhanced curriculums that focus on challenging their reading and math abilities. Students may refer themselves or their parents may do so. Teachers also use an observation checklist each year to help identify students who will benefit from studies that are more rigorous.
Preschool and after-school opportunities also abound here. While there are several private day cares in Chatham, many programs are administered by Chatham County schools at little to no cost for families.
Chatham's special programs are made possible not only by dedicated teachers and staff, but also by community members who volunteer their time and energy to the cause of outstanding education. Community members were instrumental in helping Chatham schools wire their systems for the Internet, and they continue to lay the groundwork for educational enrichment.
A dynamic parent community is pro- active in assisting the schools to offer extras, such as scholarships and additional educa- tional opportunities.
Chatham County schools' Parent/Teacher Associations and Parent/Teacher/Student Associations are essential elements of success here. They aid in everything from school beautification to facilitating open communication with such activities as newsletters and teacher support.
Chatham County schools also work closely with industry to enhance education. Reg-ularly coming into the school to talk with children about careers and offering technology to the classrooms, businesses here also participate in programs such as job shadowing and work force development. Nearby colleges provide opportunities for students to earn college credit and learn vocational trades while still in high school.
Other special extracurricular programs at the high school level are advanced placement classes, the all-county band, marching band, concert and choral, dance instruction, award-winning arts classes, drama, cultural awareness education, a drug-awareness program, the Environthon, physical education and healthful living classes, a quiz bowl, an SAT prep program, science fairs, career guidance with personal and group counseling, and student council.
Athletics programs excel in many areas including basketball and football. With more than 25 colleges, universities and technical schools within a 50-mile radius of Chatham County, education and training here can be a lifelong pursuit.
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Greensboro, A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina State University in Raleigh and North Carolina Central University in Durham are public institutions located within close proximity to Chatham.
Private institutions include: Duke Univer-sity in Durham; Elon University in Elon; Greensboro College and Guilford College in Greensboro; and Meredith College, St. Augustine's College and Shaw University, all in Raleigh. Junior colleges include Peace College and St. Mary's College, both in Raleigh.
Chatham County enjoys two Central Carolina Community College satellite campuses, one located in Pittsboro and one located in Siler City. Subject matter is concurrent with local industry. An emphasis on quality technical and vocational training and innovative programs has led to the satellites' growth in Chatham.
The Pittsboro campus has doubled in size in recent years and expanded seven programs and the Small Business Assistance Center. The Siler City campus was recently renovated as well.
Central Carolina Community College's role in providing training for residents has made it an integral tool for businesses and citizens in Chatham County. This continues a long tradition in North Carolina's history of industry partnering with education for the welfare of all. Would-be employees are trained to industryŐs modern specifications and can gain the skills to move up in their fields. Concurrently, businesses are assured of a trained and skilled work force that comes to the job with the latest information and skills.