Leaders from Forsyth County Schools and the community gathered at Alliance Academy for Innovation on Friday, Feb. 24, to welcome U.S. Representative Dr. Rich McCormick as he learned more about the district and toured the school.
The day started in Alliance’s media center where Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden thanked McCormick and several other community leaders in attendance, such as Board of Education members Lindsey Adams and Mike Valdes, Solicitor-General Will Finch, Commissioner Laura Semanson, Sheriff Ron Freeman and Chamber of Commerce President James McCoy.
“It’s an honor to be here this morning to welcome our new congressman, Rich McCormick,” Bearden told the crowd.
Before introducing district leaders and students to speak more about specific programs available at its schools, Bearden listed a few “points of pride” he wanted to share with the congressman.
That included the district’s standing as the fifth largest school system in the state with more than 54,500 students.
“To put that in some perspective, if you’ve ever been to Truist Park to watch an Atlanta Braves game, that stadium holds about 42,000 people,” Bearden said. “You could not fit all of the students in Forsyth County Schools into Truist Park.”
He also lauded the system for consistently earning the highest SAT, ACT and Milestones scores among large districts in the state and for recording a graduation rate of over 96% for the past three years.
And with the introduction of the new five-year strategic plan, the district is now focusing on making sure its students are “safe, connected and thriving.” Bearden explained the best way to do that is by building relationships and giving students more opportunities to connect.
“Congressman McCormick, we look forward to partnering with you,” Bearden said. “Your visit here today is very telling to me. It’s obvious you want to work with our school system and our community to provide the resources and support our students need to be successful. I appreciate that. Thank you so much for your visit today, your service to our community, our state and our nation.”
Bearden then introduced Dr. Valery Lowe and Brandi Cannizzaro, the director and assistant director of college and career development, respectively, to speak to McCormick more about the career pathways offered at Alliance and the district’s other high and middle schools.
To see the full impact of what those career pathways can do for students, though, they invited kids in some of these pathways to share their own experiences with McCormick and the crowd.
Chief Warrant Officer CK Villarouel, senior Marine instructor at North Forsyth High School, introduced some of his cadets in the JROTC program to each talk about what the program means to them and how it has shaped their lives.
Cheyene Hencely said her confidence has skyrocketed since she first joined the program nearly four years ago, and it helped her realize she should take part in other opportunities even outside of JROTC.
“I started just doing drill team my freshman year, and then I decided I really love ROTC,” Hencely said. “I loved that it was helping me become a leader.”
After high school, she plans to commission as an officer in the Marine Corps.
Lambert High School Principal Gary Davison then invited the school’s iGEM team to present their project, CADlock, that won them the 2022 Grand Jamboree annual international competition held in Paris, France.
For the project, the Lambert team created a blood-based test for the early detection of coronary artery disease. The screening test uses three unregulated miRNA biomarkers to find the presence of the disease, a much less costly and invasive procedure compared to current detection methods.
“iGEM is an opportunity for the students to participate in hands-on scientific research that makes a difference in the world,” program sponsor Janet Standeven said.
She told the crowd the iGEM team, taking part in collegiate competitions in synthetic biology, has been at Lambert for 10 years, and it is one of only eight in the U.S.
“This doesn’t happen in every high school, but it should,” Standeven said. “These opportunities change lives.”
When McCormick took to the podium, he said he was impressed with what each of the students and school leaders shared during the presentations. For him, academics didn’t come easily growing up, and he said it took him time to find out he wanted to pursue medicine, serving first in the Marine Corps.
Now with experience as a veteran, doctor and congressman, McCormick told the students they can find work doing whatever they love.
“Here in America, you can literally make money no matter what you do,” McCormick said. “The opportunities that exist here in America are unique, and it’s exciting to see that each and every one of you are going to be part of that fabric of America that makes it successful for the next generation.”
But to find success in whatever field they choose, McCormick told the students they need to build relationships with those around them.
“Nothing will trump the relationships in your life,” he said. “Be likable. Influence people. Change the world by your relationships.”
Before leaving, district and school leaders led McCormick on a tour of Alliance Academy, passing through classrooms where he was able to take a close look at what students in the school’s pathways are learning during the school day.
He visited with aerospace and drone technology students who showed him the collection of drones they work with as well as the airplane they plan to have built by the start of next school year.
Criminal justice, law and public administration students showed McCormick the school’s courtroom modeled after Forsyth County’s courtroom in downtown Cumming, and the congressman took a close look at the school’s ambulance where health care students learn how to work on patients.
To end the day, district leaders followed McCormick down the road to Forsyth Central High School where they led him on another tour and thanked him for his visit and interest in Forsyth County Schools.