Mount Airy Schools: A Center for All Students


All students in the community deserve excellent educational opportunities. While school districts are competing for students, Mount Air has found an unusual approach to reach all students no matter where they teach school. Mount Airy City Schools (MACS) believe that every child in their community deserves to be ready to graduate with the workforce and problem-solving skills needed to succeed. This is regardless of whether they attend a private school, a charter school, a home school or an innovative traditional public school.

“Choosing Mount Airy City Schools is the best decision we’ve made for our child,” says a home-learning family that works with MACS. In a recent visit from Innovation Project (TIP)an innovative nonprofit organization that supports 17 school districts across the state, MACS shared its collective vision.

TIP has provided counties with tools to help them reach all children in their community through tools such as locating home school networks, collecting addresses and contacts for homeschooled families. TIP considers the core value to be that every child is able to realize their potential to the fullest, no matter where they attend school. TIP has helped MACS succeed in this.

MACS collaborates with many home schoolchildren and has returned more than 50% of students who have previously chosen a charter school. This non-judgmental approach helps families make the right decisions about where to go to school, and helps build a partnership between family and school that gives their children success.

During this visit to MACS, participants from 12 other school districts adopted a vision of creating a “community center” in our schools.

The group has seen this in action since a visit to the Central Office of the Community (CCO). This office was recently renovated with money from Sarah County Commissioners, who over the past two years have set up a control center where food, technology and supplies were delivered to families during COVID.

The CCO attracts many partners to the space, including Surry Sunrise Rotary, Mount Airy Chamber ambassadors and other community groups, creating a hive of activity in the office that serves others. TIP members visited the facility to see where backpacks are filled and stored, families receive and send food, and there is a Surry Community College community on our campus that teaches college courses.

Microschool, summer training and bus

TIP and MACS are long-standing partners working on innovation initiatives. One of the last was the beginning of a “microschool” for MACS. It is a small school with 20 members that allows students to study at home most of the week. These students meet virtually with a certified teacher every day and gather together once a week to conduct a lesson “on site”. This hybrid approach helps students learn STEAM lessons (science, technology, engineering, art and math) together, such as planting a flower bed, cooking, learning to swim, visiting the Greensboro Science Center and spending time with the Surry Arts Council.

During the TIP visit, students from the microschool were on campus and showed participants their lesson, which included creating a playground on paper – measuring and creating a 3D model of the playground before implementing their ideas and sharing them. Visitors were so impressed that they wanted to get logistical information to find out if the microschool would work for them. One third-grade microschool parent noted, “Jackson really loves microschool. This has helped his reading improve over the last couple of months. When I have questions, his teacher always answers quickly. I would recommend MACS Micro School to everyone. Not only is this a great school, but it has become a family, and I really appreciate his teacher for treating my child so well! ”

Another component of MACS ’vision to become a community hub was the description of Free Summer Enrichment (SEE). In addition to typical summer schools and sports camps, MACS offers more than 50 STEAM enrichment experiences. More than half of the district’s students attend the summer camp. It helps minimize the infamous summer slide and supports students and families along with the school family. SEE’s offerings include a bear baking camp, a mad scientist camp, a college application training camp and many other exciting topics for students. MACS has great summer K-12 opportunities where children’s learning never stops; no matter where they attend the school year, they can grow and learn during the summer.

Our tour group made its way through the Blue Bear bus, which is used year-round and summer to deliver STEAM on the road. The Blue Bear bus, the vision of Polly Long and John Doss, carries technology, Wi-Fi, hands-on STEAM classes, food and love to the neighborhood. When the children see the blue bear bus coming, they know that a day of fun awaits them. Participants were extremely interested in this innovation and sought to replicate it in their communities.

Photo courtesy of Mount Airy City Schools

Students are ready for a career

The group then headed to Mount Airy High School (MAHS), where STEAM instructor Gareth Howlett and students demonstrated aviation science and the drone program. The students shared all the companies in the community that use drones, and held a demonstration of drones. Four students worked and acquired a drone pilot’s license. Students Eli Bowers, George Creek, Owen Greenstreet and Jesse Beale received a pilot’s license under Part 107 of the Small Unmanned Aerial System (SUAS). They can now fly drones for commercial purposes. Various administrators and teachers from other areas were excited and impressed to see how today’s students are preparing for their future careers.

The trip ended with a visit to the cafe “Blue Bear”, where students of the professional course of MAHS treated cookies and branded drinks. The student speakers shared their recent trip to Wilmington, where they attended a TIP event and were tasked with informing school districts how schools can improve. They shared testimonies of how powerful it is for students to share strategies and ideas with district leaders to influence change in their district.

The Blue Bear Café also runs an entrepreneurship program that allows students to become entrepreneurs in high school. These students participate in a YESurry competition where they can offer their idea to a candidate. The winner actually gets thousands of dollars to start their business. This partnership was made possible by connecting with NC State University through TIP. The curriculum was provided between NC staff and Will Pfitzner, a local entrepreneur who also taught the class. MACS visited NC to see their lab and program for entrepreneurs. MACS has one of the first programs for high school entrepreneurs in the state.

This event at Blue Bear Café has enlivened the joint mission of TIP and MACS to make sure students ’voices are at the center of conversations and that unique and diverse innovation programs change areas for the better. This event highlighted the impact of school districts, families and community partners working together to ensure that every child is prepared to enter the workforce and live a life filled with success. With MACS as a community hub, all partners are working hard to achieve successful results for all.

Kim Morrison

Kim Morrison is the head of Mount Airy City Schools.

Carrie Venable

Carrie Venable is the executive director of communications for Mount Airy schools.

Mount Airy Schools: A Center for All Students

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