Luncheon honors Partners in Education, 2012 valedictorians

2012-05-02T15:52:00Z 2014-08-25T10:46:07Z Luncheon honors Partners in Education, 2012 valedictoriansBy SUSAN OLP solp@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A partnership between a Billings elementary school and a local business has been a success for all involved.

That's what guests at the annual Partners in Education Salute to Education Luncheon heard Wednesday at the Crowne Plaza ballroom in Billings. About 250 educators, business representatives and others attended the event that also honored area high schools' 2012 valedictorians.

More than 60 local businesses partner with the district's elementary, middle schools and high schools. The Billings Partners in Education program is coordinated by the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools, which put on the luncheon.

"We want to say thank you for all those businesses that are partners in education that are here today," foundation board member Todd Vralsted said.

Representing the partnerships between schools and businesses, Washington Elementary principal Karen Ziegler and Michelle Jackson, of CenturyLink in Billings, talked about their experiences over the past school year.

Ziegler first shared some background on Washington Elementary. Seventy-five percent of the school's students qualify for free and reduced lunches, she said.

Some of the school's families live at the Women and Family Shelter, in motels or by doubling up with other families, Ziegler said.

"So at Washington Elementary, we have been blessed with having CenturyLink as our community partner, along with Wendy's, this year," she said.

Wendy's has partnered with Washington for six years, and General Electric Co. has volunteers in the school, Ziegler said. But when she was asked by the foundation if she wanted another partner, she welcomed the additional help.

Ziegler listed events throughout the year where CenturyLink pitched in. At a parent night in September, where Wendy's provided dinner and the school offered babysitting, CenturyLink put on a program in which parents could obtain Internet access and buy netbooks for a low price.

Employees donated 130 Christmas stockings to students in the backpack food program in December. They helped sponsor a night about Facebook safety. And the volunteers helped put on the annual cake walk, setting up and running games, helping with clean-up and bringing their families to join in.

Beyond that, Ziegler said, CenturyLink sends 18 volunteers to the school each week, to work in the computer lab and help students with reading and math. For students who don't always get to spend time with their fathers, the male volunteers really make an impression, Ziegler said.

"They have been phenomenal working with our children," she said. "Those kids look forward to just having a male face, a male companion."

CenturyLink, Wendy's and GE have all made a difference in the lives of the students, she said.

"As our educational and business partnerships continue to grow, the possibilities are endless for the lives that we touch and the opportunities that we can create for the future leaders of our community," she said.

Michelle Jackson, market development manager for CenturyLink, said the national company encourages its local branches to decide how to reach out in the community. The firm, which offers customers Internet, TV and phone services, also puts an emphasis on K-12 education and programs that support youth.

When employees talked to her about Partners in Education, it seemed like a natural fit.

"First and foremost, it means the opportunity for us to make a difference in a child's life," Jackson said.

Second, it allows the workers to be role models for the students, Jackson said. And third, it's a way to give back to the community.

As much help and support the students have received from the volunteers' efforts, she said, the volunteers have gotten much more in return.

"I can't tell you the number of phone calls that I have received from employees telling me stories on how it's touched them," Jackson said.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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