EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – “We are extremely proud to partner with Ellijay Telephone Company to expand broadband access,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Georgia State Director Joyce White as she announced a $4.4 million investment grant into Gilmer County through ETC.
Holding a celebratory ceremony on February 7, 2020, ETC shareholders, administrators, and a group of employees were joined by numerous officials from Georgia’s State Government and the USDA to both announce the award and celebrate the accomplishment.
As a part of the USDA’s ReConnect Pilot Program, ETC’s application over the last year has “persevered,” as said by White during the ceremony. The grant they receive will provide $4.4 million to support the construction of 90 miles of fiber-optic cable infrastructure in Gilmer County.
Jason Smith, COO of ETC, said the service extension is going to be providing “1 Gig Fiber Broadband.” He went on to add, “The total project is estimated at $5.9 million, $4.4 [million] of that will be provided by the grant and almost $1.5 [million] is provided by ETC.”
The program is set to incorporate 2,159 households, two community facilities, and an Educational facility. Additionally, there have been 25 businesses and 24 farms pre-subscribed to the service.
House Speaker David Ralston spoke at the ceremony about the great need for better internet and high-speed broadband connections as the foundation of improvements in education, transportation, and healthcare. He noted key points like telemedicine and farming as specific examples. Ralston threw his support behind the application with a letter of support for ETC during the application process. He said he wanted to salute ETC’s efforts and called the program a part of efforts to revitalize rural Georgia.
State Sen. Steve Gooch also wrote a letter of support for ETC’s application. He spoke at the ceremony of the need for the internet’s infrastructure for industry and economic development as well. Gooch said attracting new businesses and industry are among the first question when companies scout new locations. He said questions about providers, speed, reliability, and hubs are always among the initial questions interested parties would ask.
Gooch also echoed Ralston’s words about education as he shared his experience from his travels around the state hearing from community leaders. He said they told him about families in their communities when kids were sent home with homework to be done online. Parents would have to drive the kids back into town to a library or business with wifi to complete their homework assignments. Gooch said responding to these challenges is easier when private companies partner with the public interests to achieve success. Gooch said, “This is one success story, but we need thousands of others just like it.”
Parts of those challenges include the costs of preliminary and ground-work of projects like this do not compare to the number of houses or facilities reached. ETC’s Jason Smith noted these challenges as he said the estimated costs of this project reach $65,000 per mile. He said, “When you consider that many of our most rural areas have less than five homes per mile, it is easy to see why a grant plays such a vital role in broadband deployment.”
Smith went on to say that the grant award is an early step in the project. With funding, he wants ETC to move forward quickly but said the project will not happen overnight. With an estimated timeline of five years to complete the expansion. However, Smith said that ETC is hoping to reach goals to reduce that time by one year if possible.
The ReConnect Program offers funding options through loans, grants, and combinations of the two in order to facilitate broadband deployment in “areas of rural America that don’t currently have sufficient access to broadband,” according to the USDA’s website and ReConnect Program Informational.
In March 2018, the USDA reports that Congress provided $600 million to them to expand broadband infrastructure and services in Rural America. On December 13, 2018, Secretary Perdue announced the rules of his ReConnect program and the loans and grants involved. They received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in total funding.
Additionally, Perdue announced in December 2019 that the USDA will continue ReConnect through another round of applications in 2020 and will fund another $550 million through the program.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – As Gilmer Schools and their nutrition department gear up for the coming Seamless Summer Program, Nutrition Director Linda Waters brought an unfortunate report to the School Board.
With a little over a month left to prepare, the School System still has not filled volunteer positions for every location they are running. According to Waters, they have already committed to the sites of First United Methodist Church, Tower Road, the Health Department, and the Boys & Girls Club.
However, in addition to the need for more volunteers, Waters said that the Mulberry Apartments site still doesn’t even have a sponsor. Waters also went on to say that they have come to understand a need at the Lakeside Trailer Park. Without sponsors, the risk is possible that the Seamless Summer Program could see these sites missing this year, leaving the need unanswered.
The main site of the program will see Gilmer Middle School serving as the prep center and “central hub” of the program that also serves summer clubs and camps as needed.
Having become an annual event, Waters noted this could be the first time in years that they might not have a presence at Mulberry Apartments. This could be a sign of decline in the community without sponsors and volunteers to oversee and manage what could be a growth in the program if the schools could open a new location at Lakeside as well.
Waters also delivered a new flier asking for additional volunteers for the program as she continues seeking those who might serve.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – For months now, the Gilmer County Board of Education has been pushing to inform and prepare citizens for coming changes to the Gilmer County School System. This month was no different during their work session as the Board is moving further with security upgrades and coming to a close on bus routes and school preferences for families.
School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs shared that the school system is altering their plans for the Centegix Security Systems’ “Crisis Alert System” that is being integrated in each school except Ellijay Primary and Gilmer Middle. Therein lies the change as Downs said they are going to go ahead and put the security systems into these last two schools as they prepare to change Gilmer Middle School to the College and Career Academy.
As for Ellijay Primary, the Board still plans to build the new Clear Creek Elementary School and move the security system there when built. Downs said the modular nature of the system will make it easy to move. She also added that they wanted to get the systems in while they had the state grant to help with the costs.
While the contract did come under scrutiny at one point, the installation has continued and Centegix currently has the hardware in all the schools and is now working on the network and inclusion into the current schools’ systems like intercoms.
As they move forward with the building of the new school and changing the school pathway of students from Kindergarten to 12th Grade, the Board recently approved new districts in the county. Along with the districts came the option for parents to enter a “school zone preference,” option to attend a different school with the parents providing drop-off and pick-up. Downs announced in Monday’s meeting that the application for this program is coming to a close on April 30, 2019.
She stated in the meeting that many families have already applied for the preference saying, “So far, we have had a tremendous amount of participation in that. As of this morning, we have 175 entries, and some of those entries have two or more children.”
However, simply applying does not guarantee acceptance as Downs further stated that system administrators will not even look at the applications until they have all been collected and the application window ends. While she did say she thinks the system will be able to accommodate most of the applications, they won’t know trends or finalized numbers until they go through the applications.
It is the Board’s intention to assign certain buses to each school to both increase a driver’s familiarity and connections in that school as well as lowering bus travel times as they would not need to travel across town to each school and to other elementary school districts. This would still leave Clear Creek Middle School and Gilmer High School routes spread across the county. Wilkes noted the possible issues coming from the need to keep elementary age children seated for more than two hours on a bus that will be alleviated with these new bus routes.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is ending its last week in February celebrating the month of CTAE success in both the county and state.
February has been CTAE (Career, Technical and Agriculture Education) Month in Gilmer County. The official month is Gilmer Schools’ way of sharing the program with the public to showcase some of the highlights and accomplishments.
According to Gilmer Schools WBL (Work Based Learning) and YAP (Youth Apprenticeship Program) Coordinator Janet Davis, the CTAE program is all about connecting the dots between the pathways of education in order to prepare students to be successful as they transition to college and the workforce.
The success of these programs is a part of what new Board of Education Member Doug Pritchett alluded to in a recent interview when he explained that the county has seen more investment into the students in whatever path they choose through projects like the new Agricultural Center. While Pritchett has only been on the board for two months now, he was quick to point out these programs as an integral part of Gilmer’s recent progress.
Davis went further this month when she said in an official release, “CTAE classes provide career awareness, spark interests, identify aptitudes & abilities, teach skills, combine academic knowledge with specific career & technical knowledge and create co-ops, internships & apprenticeships.”
While we celebrate the major successes across the state like a fourth consecutive year being the number one state for business for the fourth year in a row by Site Selection
magazine, February focuses on the educational influences and foundations in that achievement.
The program utilizes career clusters framework as an instuctional and guidance model as students prepare to transition out of high school. Regardless of their paths to college, careers, or the workforce, CTAE equips the necessary skills for the industry ahead.
In Georgia Public Schools, 61.75% of middle schoolers and 67.88% of high schoolers enrolled in at least on CTAE class during the 2017-2018 school year. Davis noted that 19,394 students participated in the Georgia Youth Apprenticeship Program (YAP) and 98.8% of employers would recommend the Georgia Youth Apprenticeship Program to other companies. She also pointed out that 49,911 students with pathway completion took the end of pathway assessments in FY 2017 as compared with 44,057 high school students in FY 2016 (a 13% increase).
These are just facts of the program, but success entails much more than facts. It is measured in the intangibles. Davis points to moments when she sees engaged students and inquisitive minds instead of blank stares and disinterest. She says that she sees the dots connect when she sees students smiles and listens to conversations about the future. Success is more that statewide facts and numbers, CTAE success is seen when individual growth takes place.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Education celebrated on Friday, October 19, to welcome its six new students into the Gilmer County REACH (Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen) Scholars Program.
The six 8th graders were hosted at Clear Creek Middle School with a ceremony for their signing of the program agreement in the presence of the Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, and Chris Green of the Georgia Student Finance Commission.
The six students included Naydelin Ajiataz-Arreaga, Ben Becerra, Emma Bell, Annalysa Brown, Candelaria Raymundo-Bautista, and Alba Monraga-Telles. Each student celebrated the day with family members and member of the community in concerted agreement of support and encouragement for their years in high school and their plans beyond.
REACH Georiga is a needs-based scholarship that begins in 8th grade. REACH Scholars are paired with a mentor and an academic coach throughout high school. Scholars must maintain good grades with a 2.5 GPA in core courses, good behavior, and good attendance throughout their remaining middle school and high school years.
Scholars who successfully complete the program and graduate from high school are awarded a $10,000 scholarship that can be used at HOPE-eligible institutions in Georgia.
Ralston praised the commitment of the students and schools in this effort saying, “If Georgia is to continue being the envy of the nation, if we are to going to continue to be the No. 1 state in the nation in which to do business, we’ve got to also lead in preparing our young people for success in college and in their careers.”
He continued to thank the students and schools for their work in the program saying the ceremony reaffirmed the commitment to education and seeing every student succeed. He also noted the states full funding for Georgia’s QBE (Quality Basic Education) program and increases in the state budget for securing our schools. He also spoke to the student’s futures noting the state’s financial contributions to the new campus. “A dream come true,” as Ralston called it during their groundbreaking ceremony according to UNG.
Green added to the sentiment as he noted the HOPE Scholarship program has already awarded over $10 billion to over 1.8 million students in its 25 years. As the REACH program follows those eligible institutions, Green asserted the commission’s efforts to spread the program to every school in the state. Congratulating Gilmer’s Scholars on their signing ceremony, he said he was proud to partner with the schools as the commission pursues its mission to help every Georgian to access post-secondary education.
Make sure to check out more photos of the signing ceremony at FYN’s Facebook Photo Album.
ELLIJAY, Ga – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners are moving forward with plans to seek state recognition of the school system’s major success in the wrestling world with a proclamation of Gilmer as the State Wrestling Capital.
Parents and Coaches filled the Commissioner’s conference room on Wednesday, September 12, to ask the board for a sign at the county line claiming Gilmer as the wrestling capital of the state in honor of the 17 state titles the county has brought home in the sport.
Coach Mark Waddell spoke first for citizens in the work session saying that what Gilmer has accomplished is “pretty unprecedented.” Noting the 17 team state titles, he said that these were only the team’s titles, not individuals.
As each student practices and becomes part of the team, several parents noted in the work session that their kids have become entirely different people. From the discipline to the camaraderie and the inclusion of faith into the program, many of those present threw support behind the idea, lauding the coaches who have done so much and pushed these athletes to accomplish even more.
One parent even said, “They carry themselves differently.” The changes the students go through during the program was constantly repeated emphasizing its importance to them.
Waddell asked for the support of the Commissioners in placing a sign to highlight the 17 combined titles. He noted that part of the success is that it is a singular program. It doesn’t individualize the middle school, the youth, and the high school. With the whole program on track to a singular vision, the success follows with the students accomplishing everything they can.
Coach Sam Snider also spoke about the program’s state recognition sharing stories about the numerous times that Speaker David Ralston brought Gilmer Wrestling to the capital to highlight their championships. Students from Gilmer are spreading across the country, Snider pointed to those who wrestle on scholarships in college and others who use what the program teaches to further their careers in other areas.
Honoring their success, these and other coaches want to highlight the students with a sign acknowledging them. As Snider said, “A sign that says Gilmer County has accomplished this rewards success.”
Coaches weren’t the only ones pushing for recognition of these students as several parents were present at the Work Session. Some spoke of the program’s influence, but Jim Fox emotionally recalled one of the parades they held for winning the state championship, “The memory I have is right across the square during the parade. People were coming out on the sidewalks from the different stores. And out of the city barbershop comes a man with shaving cream on half of his face and a bib trailing behind him… We were escorting all the trucks down the road and I got a view of the sunrise, the flags, and people cheering and wondering what was going on. They were coming out of the store saying, ‘Why is traffic stopped?'”
Fox continued saying that they were explaining that they were celebrating the young people involved in the state wrestling title when he was asked, “Gilmer County won a state wrestling title?”
Fox says he replied, “No, they won two.”
No less emotion came to the Commissioners Regular Meeting when coaches returned with part of the wrestling team. This time, though, it wasn’t parents or coaches to share what the program meant. It was a wrestler, Thomas Chastain, who stood before the Commissioners saying, “It helps everybody grow as a team. Most people don’t think wrestling is a team sport, but it is because you all have to work together to get a team score to get first. Not just one person can get first in duals.”
Addressing the request for a sign calling Gilmer the capital, Post Commissioner Travis Crouch said the state would only give the county one state-level recognized “capital” sign. Though that didn’t stop the board from planning to seek state-level recognition without the sign.
Additionally, Crouch brought up an older discussion that the county seek a county-owned sign at the line recognizing the Wrestling Capital among other things.
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris noted that an electronic sign of substantially larger size than requested was something the county could feasibly look at next year as they move forward seeking the state’s recognition as well. Engaging in talks with Speaker Ralston, they hope to have the item in the legislative session early next year.
In the last few moments of discussion during their regular meeting, one of the coaches offered his deepest thanks to the commissioners for listening and for what they do.
Paris responded by saying, “This is not so much something that we are doing as it is something that ya’ll have earned.”
And with that, an unanimous decision was made to move forward with both options.
Ellijay, Ga. – At the Lion’s Club Fairgrounds, the High School’s annual Teen Maze saw students traversing their mock future through both good and bad decisions by random chance.
Spreading the thoughts across the students, they flip cards and take chance spins of wheels to see how one bad decision spirals into catastrophe for their lives. Though some make it to “graduation,” many fall short as their mock decisions lead to probation, early parenthood, STDs, Jail, or even death.
The event continues to grow over recent years, though it still retains much of the highlights from the past including the ever popular, yet all too realistic, crash involving a drunk teen. The crash kills one and sends two into critical condition, with a third still needing hospitalization. It seems the only one to make it through the wreck without major injury is the drunk teen himself. As the mother of one of the critical students screams at him for what he’s done, she yells out that he should be the one on the ground. Through the continued abuse, emergency responders try to redirect her into an ambulance as the teen is led to the back seat of a police car, and inevitably on to a string of events that many of the students themselves will soon walk through in the maze.
The wreck includes critical care life-flight, firefighters, police, and actual response procedures for the student’s injuries. Around a hundred students watch from each group through the day as the sheet is pulled over the one dead, and the others are placed in neck restraints and emergency response wades through the blood and carnage.
Past the grisly scene, the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office put the students themselves behind the wheel as they attempt to navigate a small driving course in a golf cart while wearing “drunk goggles” to simulate the disorientation. One of the newer additions to the maze, the response to this course went so far as to ask for another course requiring the students to write a text while driving, catering to both the rising concern over texting and driving and Georgia’s new law against it. Having begun the project this year, it is a continuing part of the overall project.
These are the kinds of comments and suggestions that Director Merle Naylor, of Gilmer Family Connections, asks for each year from those involved. Naylor confirmed this year saw 325 students attend the event throughout the day hosted by over 125 different volunteers dedicating time to the event. Most were all day volunteers.
A great chunk of the volunteers, this year saw 47 senior nursing students come from Chattahoochee Technical College, according to Naylor. Some of these volunteers man the hospital zone where Gilmer Students look closer at a medical dummy simulating many of the injuries they saw in the crash outside.
Even with the volunteers and Lion’s Club members aiding in set up, the process begins for Naylor months in advance as she begins writing scripts and conceptualizing the program. Finally, the Friday before the event, she and other Lion’s club members set up everything for the event and spend the next three days decorating and preparing the zones with their displays and the needed supplies.
Over 30 stations are constructed, not including the outside zones like the party scene, the wreck, and the drunk driving course, for the one-day event.
It has become so large that Naylor voices concerns over the size and how she can fit everything in every year. Added stations and courses require more time for students to navigate the entire day, and some don’t even make it through the whole maze before their allotted time is completed. Add in unexpected events and a slight delay in arrival could mean cutting half the program for a group.
On top of that Naylor says one of her biggest desires would be to allow students to navigate the maze a second time to see things or experience stations they may have missed the first time.
As the program’s popularity continues to rise, those involved have been spreading the message, too. Naylor confirms that Pickens County School System has been observing the program over the last few years and are even considering hosting their own day next spring.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer ARTS program has weighed in on an ongoing survey from the Gilmer County Charter School System.
The survey is for options on an upcoming Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) cycle starting in 2020. As FetchYourNews previously reported in “BOE asks for citizen input on 2020 ESPLOST,” the options include a performing/fine arts center (on the Gilmer High School campus), a multi-use sports facility (gym, weight rooms, wrestling center, batting cages, track), or an indoor swimming pool. There is also an option for citizens to forego these options and write in their own suggestion in an “other” box.
Now, Gilmer ARTS has endorsed the option for a Performing Arts Center noting, “The options included a much overdue and badly needed performing arts center. Gilmer is far behind our neighbors in Fannin to the north and Pickens to the south. Both counties have wonderful performing arts facilities that enhance the performances of not only school system student programs but also community use for concerts and events.”
Gilmer ARTS also noted their partnership agreement with the school system and the hard work that the students have put in for some of the most successful programs in the high school. In their official release, Gilmer ARTS stated, “We have competition-winning programs in our schools with art, instrumental and choral music and have had for many years (Champions if you will).”
With little time left for the survey, the release asks for all citizens to either follow the Survey link or log on to the Gilmer Schools website and click the survey link at the top of the page, so they can offer their voice and vote on the possible options.