Kristin Cooper, North Carolina’s first lady, lauded the community spirit she’s seen on repeated visits to Lenoir County and, returning to the county Tuesday, had specific praise for a grant program for local teachers that is financed entirely by donations and fundraisers.
“Not every place has what Lenoir County has,” Cooper told an audience of community leaders and educators. “They could learn some things from you.”
Gov. Roy Cooper’s wife was the featured speaker at the second annual Lenoir County Education Foundation Mini-Grant Luncheon, one of three key fundraisers that allow the Foundation to dole out thousands of dollars in grants of $500 or less to LCPS teachers.
The first lady was primed for an event benefiting teachers after a tour Tuesday morning of La Grange Elementary School. When her black SUV pulled up at the school, second graders waited outside with a placard welcoming her and bearing a picture of the school mascot.
“You’re the Tigers?” Cooper said, looking at the sign.
“Wildcats!” the children answered.
The first lady noticed a banner over the school’s door, proclaiming this as “Home of the Wildcats.”
“See?” she said, laughing. “It’s good to read.”
Her first stop on the school tour was Georgia Tingen’s second-grade class, where the children sat on the floor in a semi-circle listening to a story read by their teacher.
Literacy has been a cornerstone of the first lady’s platform since she assumed the role nearly two years ago. In championing the value of strong reading and writing skills, Cooper has called attention to the uphill battle faced by young learners who are poor, hungry and perhaps abused or neglected – all circumstances Cooper has come to know intimately as a long-time volunteer advocating as an attorney for foster children in the guardian ad litem program in Wake County.
“I actually remember how some of the kids I represented were language delayed,” she told the luncheon audience
Cooper is a proponent of Reach Out and Read, a program aimed at eliminating the language gap often seen in children of poverty and has promoted Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to boost access to books for North Carolina’s children.
“We do come to schools in support and to make sure they have books and things to get books in the hand of kids, but the most important thing is getting them early,” she explained to reporters in La Grange.
Claudia Rivera, who is based at La Grange Elementary as the lead teacher in LCPS’s English Language Learners program, brought the literacy theme to the luncheon with a short presentation on the learning aids an Education Foundation mini-grant allowed her to buy last school year.
Her grant, “Engineering Our Reading Comprehension,” was one of 34 funded by the mini-grant program, which awarded more than $15,500 to teachers in 2017.
The Lenoir County Education Foundation is an arm of the Kinston-Lenoir County Chamber of Commerce. It’s next round of grants will be announced in December, funded by proceeds from the luncheon, a golf tournament and its annual adult spelling bee.