Jeffries Epps, director of information technology for Richmond County Schools, will be attending a community meeting at Dobbins Heights Town Hall this Thursday at 5:30 p.m. to inform the public about G.R.E.A.T (Globally Ready Engineering and Technology Academy), a program that was founded by Epps in 2009 with only seven high school students.
“We want to be great,” said Epps. “Anything less than that is unacceptable. In order to be great you will have to fail.”
Epps said that after talking to George E. Norris, Superintendent of Richmond County Schools, they both decided that it would be a good idea to go out to community centers and churches to make parents and their children aware that the opportunities of learning about advanced technologies are available here.
Norris said that a lot of times people don’t get involved because they don’t understand what the program is about and he would like to give the community the opportunity to be informed about this program. Norris said he feels that maybe some kids from a less affluent background were unaware of the program.
The G.R.E.A.T program allows participants to explore various advanced technologies, which could help them gain website designing skills, learn about computer programming and much more. Teachers often will recommend students to the program, if they feel the student may be interested in advanced technologies.
“This is the kind of program that we want all kids to know about,” said Norris.
Epps said that this program will increase job opportunities for those who participate and that they will be better prepared for a job.
“We are talking about survival and jobs,” he said.
Epps stated that at one time students were able to participate in this program after school for an hour and a half, but it really wasn’t enough time for them to fully grasp what they were learning. However, now students will have more time to gain hands-on experience with the technology.
Epps is hopeful to have a full load of students as well as a waiting list.
“A problem that I want to have is not having enough seats because that shows that kids and parents are interested in the program,” said Epps.
Epps looks forward to visiting surrounding areas to also inform them about the G.R.E.A.T. program and the advantages that participating in the program will entail.
“It is an effort to get everyone in the community involved in this program,” Epps said. “Basically we are reaching out to the community. If we cannot get them to come to us then we will have to go to them.”
Epps hopes that the program will inspire other school districts to explore the opportunities of advanced technologies.
“We are going to change the road. We are going to start in Richmond County and when we are done Richmond County will be a beacon of hope for the nation,” he said.
Epps and Norris both welcome anyone to participate in the program, but they would especially like to recruit minority children.
“We felt that minority children are under-presented in the program,” said Epps.
Epps would also like to recruit more girls into the program. “We have found that they like to solve problems,” he said.
Epps plans to use this known fact to figure out ways to get more young ladies to sign up for the program.
Epps also hopes that businesses in the community will get involved in the program. He eventually wants to approach those in the business community and ask them what the students in the program can do for them.
“If we do not get the community involved it will not be as powerful,” said Epps.
“We welcome parents and children to come out and see what we are talking about,” he said.
Epps was recently honored by the White House for being a Champion of Change for Tech Inclusion and bringing technology to public school students in Richmond County. This particular program was created by the White House to feature individuals, businesses, and organizations doing things that help and inspire their communities.
The White House stated that since 2009 Epps has trained students in grades 5 through 12 in the use of 3-D design, 3-D scanning, and 3-D printing technologies in order to prepare them for technology-related careers.
During the summer at the Richmond County Ninth Grade Academy in Hamlet, several students participated in an invitation-only summer program where Epps helped them to explore various advanced technologies, including 3-D scanning and printing.
The G.R.E.A.T. program is sponsored by the school district and will be held at the Ninth Grade Academy from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every third Saturday, except for the months of November, December and May. During those months, the program will be held Nov. 9, Dec. 14, and May 17.
The program is only offered during the school year.
If you have any questions or would like to sign up for the program contact 910-582-5860, ext. 1288.
— Staff Writer Iris Hunter can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.