Valdosta Daily Times

June 9, 2013

Business and Philanthropy: Education

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Getting right to the point: Education is important.

We might all disagree about charter schools vs. public schools, about the role of tenure, teacher performance standards and everything else, but no one argues against the importance of education, an importance which can’t be overstated.

Look at the national level, where investments in a nation’s education influences national productivity. Or the local level, where quality public schools help make cities and states more economically competitive. Or the individual level, where study after study has shown education leads to higher wages and increased employment stability.

Which leads us to CPIE, or Community Partners In Education. Started in 1990, CPIE is a local organization that brings together businesses, groups, organizations and individuals with the common goal of supporting schools, teachers and students.

Every year, CPIE coordinators conduct a needs assessment in each school to determine the needs of their schools and teachers.

At the beginning of a new school year, partners meet with the coordinators and teachers of the schools, with the assessment serving to inform them of each school’s needs.

While it would be impossible to mention all of the more than 400 members of CPIE in this article, discussing what they do as a whole serves to illustrate CPIE’s importance in the community.

“Many of our partners choose a school,” said Lynne Wilson, Lowndes County School System coordinator. “They may choose the school closest to them or they may choose two, one in the city and one in the county. Others might have a child or grandchild in the school they choose. And then some choose to be PALs (Partners-At-Large) and help every school.”

The businesses involved range from locally owned, such as Greek Row which focuses on providing incentives for students, such as T-shirts and bicycles for perfect attendance, to multi-national companies, such as Starbucks, which works with several schools to award Teachers of the Month with free coffee for a month, or Chick-Fil-A.

Other companies focus on supplying the teachers, students and schools. Take Smith Drug Company, for instance, which provides school nurses’ offices throughout the county with the basic medicines they use the most: aspirin, ibuprofen, etc. It’s not something that springs to mind when you think school supplies, but it’s just as important as the pencils and paper.

And there’s plenty of that, too.

“Southeastern Federal Credit Union drove up at the beginning of last year with a truck full of paper,” said Jennifer Steedley, Valdosta City Schools public relations director. “They looked at our needs. With the budget cuts schools have had to make, teachers are limited in the number of copies they can make.”

“We’ve chosen to align our giving with educational causes, such as CPIE, because the quality of our local education affects the entire community we serve,” said Lori Cauley, with SFCU. “We believe in the right to an education and strive to assist our educators in providing a quality education to our community’s children.”

And some businesses give of their time, such as Dana Richards with Adams Orthodontics.

“They work with just about every elementary school and do a lot of dental and health-care education, said Wilson. “Time is one of the most valuable resources. It’s often one of the hardest to give, but it means a lot to the kids. They have their parents and teachers telling them things, but when someone comes in, that’s way cooler than your parents telling you something.

“You know, we’ll often have a partner who says they can’t do much, that they can only do one little thing,” said Wilson. “But all those little things add up to make a huge difference. There is nothing so small that a partner does that it does not make a difference.”

Along with CPIE, Teachers Harvest, a part of Second Harvest food bank, also strives to make a difference. Since its opening, Teachers Harvest has served more than 2,500 teachers, distributing more than $1.25 million in products ranging from filing cabinets to pencils and from desk chairs to construction paper. The difference it and CPIE make go far beyond the numbers.

“With budgets getting tighter and tighter, classrooms have been hit from every direction,” said Charlie Crews, franchise operator Chick-Fil-A on St. Augustine, who, along with the other Chick-Fil-A establishments in town, is part of CPIE. “But when the community gets together to provide these services on a continual basis, it lets teachers, administrators and students know they’re valued. It’s like that old saying: It takes a community to raise a child.”

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