Spc. Shawn Kaverman of Fort Benning is looking forward to his chance to help students in the Partners In Education program and give back to the community.
Kaverman, a member of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, joined about 280 soldiers, teachers and other volunteers as the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce held a kickoff conference for its Partners In Education program. In its 25th year, the program gives businesses, military units and nonprofit groups an opportunity to help improve students' achievement, self-esteem and understanding about the work world.
Officials said there are about 250 PIE partnerships serving Muscogee, Chattahoochee, Fort Benning, Harris and Talbot counties. Last year, volunteers contributed more than 67,430 hours with a value of an estimated $488,867. Combined with financial contributions, the total is more than $750,000, said Debbie Caballero, chairwoman of the chambers' PIE Board of Directors.
Kaverman, a native of Michigan, said members of the "Sledgehammer" brigade will partner with Blackmon Road Middle. "I find it's really awesome, and you are able to give back," he said.
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Gwenetta Echols, a graduation specialist at Chattahoochee County Middle School, said the Rangers on post were already working with the high school, but she also wanted help for the middle school.
"When I attended this meeting, I thought we are going to get two for one," Echols said. "So we made it happen."
The military has made a difference for students attending school in the rural county.
"Our Partners In Education have brought things to Chattahoochee County," she said.
During the last field day at the school, Echols said about 25 soldiers were taking part in activities. On another occasion, staff members were invited to the post for a team-building exercise.
During the kickoff, volunteers spent most of the morning attending classes on successful partnerships and best practices at some schools.
"They learn about top projects from last year," Caballero said. "They hear from peers who have done really, really good work. They take ideas and use them in their schools."
Guest speaker for the event was state Rep. Brooks Coleman Jr., a career educator who serves on the Education Committee. He looked out among the crowd and said, "You are ones who can make it happen in schools."
He recalled how his mother encouraged him to stay in school after he claimed he would turn 16 and start work for General Motors in Atlanta. During the late 1950s, he could make $50 a week.
His mother said he would be the first Coleman in the family to finish high school. His mother threatened to walk him to school every day and stay at the school if needed.
Coleman, who later began to like school, said he graduated from Bass High School in Atlanta. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree and took a teaching job, earning $3,000 a year.
He later added a specialist degree. When he received a letter stating he could boost his salary to $12,000 with Ph.D, he said, "I ain't no dummy."
As he was walking down the center aisle to get his doctorate, his mother came running down the aisle and he wondered what he'd done wrong.
"She grabbed me and said, 'Brooks, mama is so proud of you,'" he said. "I think it's time for you to quit school."