Donation from Microsoft aims to aid coding students

MicrosoftPetrina Carter noticed a gap between the haves and have nots in Halifax County in terms of access to technology when she came aboard as president and CEO of Tri-County Community Action Agency.

Microsoft’s donation of 10 SurfacePro 3 laptops to the Halifax County Mentor-Role Program on Monday should help address that learning gap, Carter noted.

She noticed a technology gap in youth ages 5-18 in the county, an area where more than 30 percent of those youths live below the poverty level.

The donation of the 10 laptops will allow the Mentor-Role Model Program, now underneath the umbrella of Tri-County Community Action Agency, to help girls in the organization’s girls’ coding program to get a leg up on computer skills, according to Carter.

The coding program as it currently exists is for girls ages 6-18, but one of Carter’s goals is to bring it to girls at the pre-school level.

“It’s a national program running in conjunction with the middle school,” said Carter.

“I’m hoping it will spark the interest of young people who want to go further in technology, whether gaming or coding.”

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SVHEC gets $500,000 for IT Academy

June 10, 2019

The Southern Virginia Higher Education Center was awarded a $500,000 tobacco grant on Thursday to expand its IT Academy, with the expectation of nearly tripling the pool of graduates who come out of the program ready to fill information technology positions in the area.

The grant by the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission will pay for new instructors, four new courses, and a physical expansion to double the size of the IT Academy training area.

“We hope to begin hiring instructors in the fall and start class in the spring,” said Brenda Terry, chief financial and operations officer of the SVHEC.

The expansion aims to meet the increased demand for skilled workers by local businesses, particularly Microsoft, which operates a massive cloud computing complex in Mecklenburg County. Microsoft has committed about $200,000 to the project, and has made other, prior contributions — donating old equipment, providing scholarships for students, and even setting up a program whereby its data center employees can volunteer at the IT Academy.

“We appreciate the continued support of the Tobacco Commission and Microsoft,” said Kelly Shotwell, who serves as the program coordinator and as a trainer at the IT Academy.

The bulk of the Tobacco Commission funding will go towards hiring and paying for three full-time staff positions, easing the burden from Shotwell, who is the only full-time employee tasked to the program. She hopes to hire two instructors and a lab technician to help set up the hands-on labs that the students must complete to earn their certifications.

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Next step for community strategic plan

Picture of Community Strategic Plan Kick OffThe next stage of the Community Strategic Plan — the implementation — kicked off Wednesday night at The Prizery with a call to action by community leaders who say Halifax County must do more to reverse its recent declines.

Working off that theme, a series of speakers talked about specific areas they hope to address: everything from educational and career training opportunities to expanding the local motorsports economy to organizing more community litter clean-up campaigns. But hovering above it all was a plea for citizens to get involved, and buy into the idea that Halifax County can captain its own ship.

“Change is disturbing when done to us, exhilarating when done by us,” said Board of Supervisors chairman Dennis Witt, one of three co-chairs of an ad hoc steering committee organized to draw up and carry out the strategic plan. “We have an opportunity to change Halifax County for the positive — to move forward, to provide all the quality of life issues we’ve talked about tonight.”

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Students in limelight at Halifax County School Board meeting

The Monday night meeting of the Halifax County School Board meeting was a moment to celebrate student accomplishments.

From Team 977 Cometbots to the Halifax County High School Culinary Arts team that has qualified for national competition in Anaheim, Calif., students were in the limelight during an otherwise uneventful session for trustees in Halifax.

Also receiving plaudits and recognition were HCHS’s award-winning FFA chapter, and junior Jared Dawson of Nathalie, who recently earned a career certification in mechatronics at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center and his degree at Southside Virginia Community College, where he took part in commencement this weekend.

Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg began the recognitions with a word of praise for the HCHS Leadership Program, under the guidance of Melanie Saunders. Lineburg noted that the juniors and seniors in the Leadership Program have begun taking an active role in school and community affairs, with students speaking before the Virginia General Assembly to help win passage of House Bill 1634, allowing Halifax County to hold a sales tax referendum.

“That class is really starting to turn into one of the most dynamic I’ve seen. It is starting to shape our county,” said Lineburg.

Pronouncing Halifax’s students as good as any school division’s anywhere, Lineburg turned over the floor to students and their advisors.

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SVHEC receives $10,000 grant

The Southern Virginia Higher Education Center has received a $10,000 grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, one of $120,000 in literacy grants the foundation announced Thursday it was giving to Virginia nonprofit organizations, libraries and schools.

These funds are aimed at supporting adult, family and summer literacy programs within a 20-mile radius of a Dollar General store or distribution center across the 44 states Dollar General serves.

The grants awarded to Virginia organizations are expected to positively impact the lives of more than 5,000 Virginians.

“In keeping with Dollar General’s mission of Serving Others, we are excited to provide grants to support literacy and education initiatives in the communities we proudly call home,” said Todd Vasos, Dollar General’s CEO and Dollar General Literacy Foundation board member. “Each year, funds provided by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation make a real difference by providing the tools that students, adults and families need to pursue new opportunities and accomplish their goals. We believe these programs empower the communities we serve, and we are honored to play a role in their success.”

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Prepping the Randolph's Rebirth

Sturdy but in forlorn condition, the Randolph Hotel is being gutted inside to prepare for a brighter future — one that Town of South Boston officials hope to usher in by 2020.Picture of Randolph Motel Sign

Workers have torn out much of the ceilings, walls, and plumbing inside the shuttered downtown inn, prepping it for extensive renovations and eventual reopening as a boutique hotel with a restaurant and rooftop bar. South Boston has lined up a hospitality industry partner to operate the hotel, but first comes the work of restoring the building to its former glory.

Built in 1929 and 1930, the John Randolph Hotel originally featured 44 rooms, each roughly 11 feet square with a shared bath with the neighboring room. “You’d have to lock the neighbor’s door [to the bathroom] and hope you remembered to unlock it,” explained Town Manager Tom Raab.

The plan for the new Randolph envisions a much greater aura of luxury — rooms are projected to go for $130 and $150 a night, with the target audience being the professional class associated with major businesses in the area, such as ABB and Microsoft. The number of rooms will be cut to 22, achieved by knocking out the walls between the old rooms.

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Destination Downtown South Boston earns national Main Street accreditation

Destination Downtown South Boston has been designated as an accredited Main Street America program for meeting rigorous performance standards set by the National Main Street Center, Destination Downtown South Boston Executive Director Tamyra Vest announced Friday. Picture of Downtown South Boston

Each year, the National Main Street Center and its partners announce the list of accredited Main Street America programs to recognize their exemplary commitment to preservation-based economic development and community revitalization through the Main Street Approach.

“We are proud to acknowledge this year’s nationally accredited Main Street America programs that have worked tirelessly to strengthen their communities,” said Patrice Frey, president and CEO of the National Main Street Center. “These programs deserve recognition for generating impressive economic returns, preserving community character and celebrating local history. Main Street America Accredited communities are part of a powerful movement of changemakers, and their dedication to improving quality of life in the places they call home is inspiring.”

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A boost from Beamer: Legendary Virginia Tech coach rallies to kick off school capital campaign

photo of Frank Beamer Rallying for New High School Halifax County High School Comet cheerleaders, band members and encouraging words from former Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer was just the recipe the school system ordered to get the county excited about building a new Halifax County High School.

“I was asked here a while ago why are you here. I said ‘we need to build a school.’ It’s so important these days that we give our kids the best education we can… I’m so impressed with what you all are doing here, and I understand the need,” said Beamer during a lunch at The Prizery to kick off the capital campaign to help pay for the new school.

With an impressive coaching career lasting over 40 years, Beamer said he is often asked about his foundation, and he said Superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg’s dad was just as influential in his life as anyone.

Lineburg’s dad was a coach at Radford High School and gave Beamer his first job as an assistant football coach.

“He knew football, but he taught me the one thing that was the most important thing — that you need to care about those players. In this business when things go bad and you lose on Saturday, there’s only one group who will get you out of it — it’s the players,” said Beamer.

The coach who led his team to 23 straight bowl games from 1993 to 2015 went on to talk about the three main things that one needs to be successful -- integrity, communication and organization.

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