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South Boston News / August 06, 2018
More than 1,000 people walked up the red carpet, past the marching band and cheerleaders into Halifax County High School for the school division’s first “Back 2 School Expo” on Saturday.

Students and parents filtered into the high school auditorium, greeted by a slideshow of past events in the county schools — students meeting with Sen. Tim Kaine in Washington, D.C., robotics competitions and sports events — as teachers, administrators and guests speakers awaited.

Partly a rah-rah session, partly a program to explain school programs and offerings, the Expo offered an advance look at the school division’s goals and expectations for students heading into the school year beginning Wednesday.

After the raising of the colors by the JROTC drill team and the Pledge of Allegiance, Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg spoke on new, as-yet unreleased 2017-18 test scores that he called the “best they’ve ever been,” and heralded innovative programs at the high school — mechatronics, a new leadership development course, and the county robotics team’s first world competition this past April.

“We put children first in our school system,” he said.

Lineburg was followed by school board vice-chairman Sandra Garner-Coleman, who organized the event. Emphasizing unity and cooperation, Garner-Coleman told the audience, “We are family. And what do families do? They love each other!”

Garner-Coleman asked a handful of students, teachers, principals, supervisors, school support staff and the entire school board to join her onstage for a rendition of “We Are Family” by guest vocalist Joyce Tucker.

It “shouldn’t matter what you have or don’t have” financially and materially for a child to succeed in Halifax County schools, she said.

That message was echoed by the special guest speakers for the event, Tisha Waller, Ryland Clark and Terry Davis, all graduates of HCHS. Waller, an elementary school teacher in Georgia, competed in the Olympics twice for the American national team; Davis went on to Virginia Union University and a long career in the NBA for the Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Washington Wizards and Denver Nuggets; Clark earned an engineering degree from N.C. State and a business degree from Duke University after his high school days.

Listed in advance as guest speakers but unable to attend the event were MMA kickboxer Will Worley, former Dallas Cowboys and Hampton University running back Alonzo Coleman and retired Green Bay Packers standout wide receiver Tyrone Davis.

“They are still on the burner for next year,” said Garner-Coleman, who pegged overall attendance at the Expo at 1,362 — students, families, school personnel, volunteers and others included.

Clark, the first guest speaker, ruefully told the crowd he’d “never been at the top of any athletic or academic event,” but that he could discuss the importance of making good choices in life.

A choice becomes a habit, which in turn becomes automatic. He urged kids to avoid drugs and alcohol, have an active and healthy lifestyle and get involved with the people around them.

Clark urged all to be sensitive and considerate, because personal choices affect others — we need to “band together, be real with each other, and take off the masks we wear every day."

Life is a race that is “long and hard, but only with yourself,” he concluded.

Waller, a 1988 HCHS graduate and American high jumper in the 1996 and 2004 Olympic Games, was next up on stage.

She revealed to the crowd that she arrived in Halifax at 2:30 a.m. that morning and woke up at 6:30 to get ready for the Expo.

When she got to the school, she held back tears at the sight of Gwen Smith-Mangum, a former teacher of hers, “who cared for me, who believed in me.”

After an impromptu roll call for students in all grades and their parents, Waller shared a motto from her own school that students should follow: “I can, I will, I must.”

Anything is possible with motivation and will: “It is not your circumstance or situation,” she said.

“I walked these halls just like you,” she said. Higher education, a good job, and a fulfilling life for all are possible.

Waller offered a message and challenge for parents and teachers, too. “Parents, you have to work with our teachers so students see the value of education. Parents, you have to support them.”

The former Olympian also stressed the value of routines for kids, of putting the electronics away and doing homework. Particularly important was the planned space for dinner.

Parents “can find out what’s happening at school,” she said. It allows parents to understand how their kids are doing, who their friends are, and what molds them.

“Every day is not going to be a great day,” she said. “But that’s what tomorrow is for.”

After Waller’s speech, parents representing each of the Halifax County schools gave eight symbolic pledges to love and care for their children. “I am a parent and the first teacher of my child” rang out one speaker.

Terry Davis, who played in the NBA from 1989 t0 2001 as a power forward and center, was the last guest speaker to take the stage. Pointing to the school and to the crowd, he said, “This is where it all started for me. I was sitting in the same seats you are sitting in.”

Citing the importance of teachers and school, he credited Susan Granger, a former HCHS teacher, with helping him realize his potential. “She saw something in me I didn’t know I had.

“I studied hard, I worked hard and I even got a degree,” Davis said.

For young people seeking direction, parents, teachers, and coaches are “our ultimate GPS system.”

But he noted that direction depends on self-love, a virtue instilled in him by his grandmother and faith. “Just be yourself,” he said. “You’re going to fail, you’re going to hear ‘no,’ but God will say yes,” Davis said.

With determination and motivation, Davis argued that greatness is possible for all. “Don’t believe that the next president, the next Barack Obama can’t come out of this room,” he said.

Parents and students left the auditorium at the conclusion of his speech to enjoy the local food, receive free school supplies and backpacks, get gift cards from the raffle and receive information on Mentor Role Model Program services.

Students who were 18 could also register to vote, experience the Danville Institute for Advanced Learning and Research’s STEM Mobile Learning Lab, and view vehicles from the Old School Car Club.

Parents also had access to Halifax County Schools IT department personnel for aid with the Parent Portal to view their children’s grades in real time.

Students also had a chance to pick up one of the 350 book bags donated by the Old School Car Club, H & M Logging, and KeJa’eh Enterprises. Through funds donated by Wind Beneath the Wings, Dr. Michael and Dr. Tiffany Bates and the Business and Professional Council, the Expo was able to purchase an additional 130 book bags for the children that did not receive a bag. The bags will be delivered to each child’s school upon arrival.

The Fountain of Youth Foundation gave away more than 200 books at the Expo. Hassen Fountain, founder, has organized hundreds of community libraries in the Richmond area and also has set up a library at Westside Village in Sinai. Hassen has been selected to set the library at the newly renamed Barack Obama High School in Richmond.

The top three schools with the highest attendance rates will be awarded $150 in gift cards each. The winners will be announced during the first week of school.

The Halifax County school year begins Wednesday.

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Like this alot. I was critical earlier about the new Superintendent and his dream of a $100 million high school. But, Mr. Superintendent, you fire up the students like you have done who when they get home they talk positive to their parents, well the school system will have a great year. And more importantly if the grade scores continue to rise the BOS might be willing to take a real look at your proposed projects. But, try and keep the thugs out and away from kids that are trying to learn and advance to a better. All parents want a better life and opportunity for their kids than they had. Money is so tight in Halifax County, but you remember grades and scores and events like this. Great job here.

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