WALKERTOWN — For a short time Thursday afternoon, Appalachian State University Chancellor Sheri Everts returned to a familiar scene: a K-12 classroom.
Everts stopped by each classroom at Appalachian State University Academy at Middle Fork, handing out books for every student to take home with them. Her visit was meant to be both an opportunity to increase literacy options for students, as well as show the university’s support to those in the elementary school.
“As a former, especially as a former English teacher, an opportunity to come to a K-12 setting where I know how important literacy is and to be able to get to visit them and see almost every child raise his or her hand about how much they love books and love to read, that warmed my heart,” she said.
The Middle Fork Academy is one of nine laboratory schools across the state, each of which will be run by an education college in the UNC system. The colleges will control the curriculum and management of the schools, all of which were selected for the program because of low performance in recent years.
On her first stop of the visit, Everts read with some of Heather Wham’s third-grade students. After that, she stopped with each of the 18 classrooms and dropped off grade-appropriate books.
“The book selections were connected to sustainability and really promoting students’ awareness of the natural world, and helping them to make a connection with animals in the natural world,” said Beth Frye, a professor at ASU and member of the curriculum team at the Academy.
At each classroom, Tasha Hall-Powell, principal at the Academy, introduced Everts as the chancellor from “our big school in the mountains.”
“We really want the kids to see the connection between App State Academy and Appalachian State University, and I think having her come here and visit with the children and the staff, it just really helps solidify the connection,” Hall-Powell said. “It makes it more real for the students and for me, so I was very excited and happy to have her here today.”
There are about 300 students enrolled at the Academy with a goal of 315 this year. The Academy is aiming for that figure because it would give the ideal teacher-to- student ratio in each classroom, university spokeswoman Megan Hayes said.
About 80 percent of the students enrolled in the Academy previously attended Middle Fork Elementary School, according to information provided by the university.
At one point this summer, there were 339 students enrolled to attend the Academy. Hayes said it is typical for numbers to fluctuate during registration and the first days of school. The university hopes to have the final numbers available soon.
The goal is eventually to increase the number of students at the Academy to 360 over the next few years, Hayes said.
ASU and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools entered an agreement during the summer that outlined what aspects of the school campus and building and services each entity would be responsible for.
At the end of June, ASU and WS/FCS officials agreed upon a lease effective from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2023 — consistent with the five-year duration of the lab school.
The university has agreed to pay the school district $426,840 annually in rent, with monthly installments of $35,570.
During her remarks to ASU’s Board of Trustees on June 22, Everts said “our legislators continue to recognize the importance of responding to our funding needs as we work toward opening the Appalachian Academy at Middle Fork in August.”
When asked after her visit to the Academy on Thursday about making sure both the Academy and university have the resources they need from the state, the UNC system and other groups or organizations that could provide support to this endeavor, Everts said her focus that day was on the students.
“I know that everyone wants to focus on the kids and what’s best for them, and that’s really my aim and focus here today,” she said.