A teacher's influence can reach well beyond the individual students they see on a daily basis. This was the message delivered by Stanley Leone, keynote speaker during the Calhoun City Schools teacher assembly ahead of the new school year, which begins next Thursday.
Leone, who grew up in a violent home, was abused and at one point homeless during his youth and acted out by using drugs and embracing violence, told the teachers and staff of the school system that he had recently got engaged and that his wife and future children and grandchildren will have a better life because of the impact of several teachers in his life.
"So when you have 20 kids sitting in your classroom, they don't just represent 20 opportunities to make a difference. They represent generations and generations of opportunities," Leone said.
One such educator who changed his life for the better was a leadership teacher named Monda Simmons.
She began their relationship by shaking his hand everyday and taking a real interest in his life, a small act that for Leone, who because of his background didn't trust adults, sparked a change.
He would go on to play college football in Chicago, and Simmons would call him every week. He earned a bachelor's degree, then a master's, and he's now working on his doctorate. Leone considers Simmons to be Mom.
"I want you to know that without Mrs. Simmons, I wouldn't be where I am today," he said. "She loved me when I felt unlovable."
Leone also talked about a counselor named Joe who worked in a psych ward that Leone was sent to after a string of incidents that included him being assaulted by a family member, attempting suicide and pulling a gun on his mother's boyfriend.
Even in the psych ward, Leone said, he was still angry and lashing out, until Joe shouted at him and asked what was wrong. Leone, for the first time, broke down crying and shared his story, and then Joe did the same.
Joe told him, "You want the world to get big, you got to get smart."
Leone said he still got into plenty of trouble after that, but those moments with Joe have always stayed with him.
Leone said there have been several moments like that, when a teacher did something that made an impact even if the results didn't come until much later in his life.
"If it wasn't for those teachers, who never saw the fruit of their labor, if it wasn't for them, I would have dropped out of school a bunch of times," he said.
Calhoun City Schools' theme for the new school year is LAUNCH — which stands for Love Always, Understand Needs, Capture Hearts — and the event on Thursday included spacethemed costumes, music and celebrations.
Donny "Rocket" Robertson, dressed in a disco-style outfit, and Hayley "Comet" Gilreath, wrapped in lights, introduced the school system's new teachers, who then took the stage and danced for the crowd.
There were also songs performed by high school student Riley Anderson and middle school student Caleb Riley, as well as a performance from the high school's cheerleaders and drum line members.
Superintendent Michele Taylor interviewed a dozen or so younger students, asking them what they want to be when they grow up, what they think teachers do when they're not working, and even convinced one young lady to sing a song.
There were door prizes and updates concerning the new central office being constructed on South Wall Street and a health clinic partnership that's in the works with AdventHealth Gordon.
Teachers with 25 years of service were recognized, as were this year's LAUNCH to Excellence Award winners. Those awards went to Derrick Craig, Deidra Ross, Skylar Benham, Nathan Leatherwood and Great Hughes.
Jennie Coker, school and community relations director, said the event is a great way to get people excited for the new school year.
The first day of school will be Thursday, Aug. 8, and an open house is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 6, from 1 to 6 p.m. on all Calhoun City School campuses.
The Gordon County Voluntary Action Center and the Gordon County Family Connection are partnering to offer free classes on banking basics, effective communication, parenting and more beginning Tuesday, Sept. 3. The classes are intended to fulfill the class component of the VAC's Christmas Program, according to Gordon County Family Connection Coordinator Vickie McEntire, but are also open to other members of the public.
The Christmas Program is held annually and provides Christmas assistance to low-income families. To qualify families must live in Gordon County, provide proof of income or food stamps benefit letter, complete an application in person at the Voluntary Action Center, have custody of a child or children under the age of 18, and attend one community education class.
In addition to providing for the children of each qualifying family, the program provides families with a Christmas meal box and a gift certificate to a local grocery store. In 2018, toys and clothing were provided to 750 children across Gordon County.
"We are offering two pages worth of classes for parents this year," McEntire said at Thursday's Gordon County Interagency Council Meeting. "They are just one hour at a time and parents can choose which one they want to go to. These are also offered to the public. You don't have to qualify for the Christmas program to go to these classes, but you do need to register because some of them have a limit."
Some of the classes offered include "Preparing Children to Read," which will be taught by local librarians, "Cooking & Nutrition," which is done through the University of Georgia Extension Office, "Bank on Your Success — Banking Basics," which will be taught by a local banker, and "Conversations Count," which will be taught by Debbie Ross from Ferst Readers.
McEntire, who put together the classes and found instructors to teach them, said her favorite class so far has been the "Cooking & Nutrition" course.
"They cook right in front of you and talk about health, exercise and nutrition. It is a series of six, but you could go to just one and walk away with great information and a recipe," McEntire said. "I made a dirty rice and beans recipe that they showed us how to make, and my husband said it was the best thing he'd ever tasted. Now, I don't cook, but it was delicious. It was very healthy and the flavor was fully there, which is the best of both words."
For more information or to register for classes, email McEntire at email@example.com or call 706-602-5139.
Kyle Johnson, a certified public accountant who has worked in Calhoun in some fashion since 1996 and grew up visiting his grandparents in the Sonoraville area, recently moved his practice from its long-standing location at 264 Highway 53 to a new spot at 209 Peters St.
The move, he said, brought with it "the winds of change," just as his purchase of Ralston and Associates had in 2002.
"I purchased the practice on May 1 in 2002, which is the day the tornado came through town," Johnson said. "It just so happened that my grandmother, who was still alive at that time, was living in the area and I spent my very first day checking on her to make sure she was okay."
Before May 2002, Johnson interned with and later managed the Calhoun office of Ralston and Associates. He first took that position in 1996, just five years after graduating from the University of West Georgia with a double major in economics and accounting.
"I knew I wanted an accounting major from the beginning, but I did so well in economics that the head of the department actually offered me a scholarship if I would change majors," Johnson said. "I told him I wouldn't do that, but I said I would add the major as a double. It took me one more quarter to get that done, using my elective classes for major courses."
That background in accounting and economics is a vital part of what Johnson does today as a CPA.
"We do bookkeeping, income taxes, payroll and other things like that," he said. "With payroll, we do things like work with employers on direct deposits for employees, along with W-2s and tax returns that are required to be filled."
Johnson said his staff play an especially important role in keeping his office running and gave a special shout out to tax preparer Monika Childers and bookkeepers Brenda Blackmon and Wendy Perez.
Anyone looking for CPA services can reach Kyle Johnson at 706-629-2285.