Making the Grade

LunahZon Photography -
Stephanie Schou

Lake Norman Magazine
By Crystal O’Gorman | Photography by LunahZon Photography
Friday, Oct. 24, 2014

Out of more than 50 Lake Norman area public, charter, and private schools, 32 teachers were nominated to receive recognition as Lake Norman Magazine’s top five teachers. Beyond accolades and professional achievements, these teachers were chosen because they go above and beyond to create learning experiences for their students in and outside of the classroom.

Stephanie Schou

Stephanie Schou, a 26-year veteran seventh-grade English teacher at North Lincoln Middle School in Denver, believes in living a purposeful life, and she inspires her students to do the same.

Schou, 53, started a school club to participate in Pennies for Peace four years ago in response to Greg Mortenson’s book, “Three Cups of Tea.” The book details Mortenson’s journey from failing to climb the second highest mountain in the world, Pakistan’s K2, to successfully building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pennies for Peace is an international service learning program initiated through Greg Mortenson’s nonprofit, Central Asian Institute. Schou’s school club has raised more than $500 for this international initiative—bringing educational opportunities to these war-torn and impoverished areas of the world.

“If we can see the world beyond ourselves, then we can see what matters,” Schou says. “I teach my students to have an awareness of the effect we have on others. We need to live a purposeful life.”

Lori Ann Fortkort

When talking to Assistant Chief Administrator at Lincoln Charter School Jonathan Bryant about high school science teacher Lori Ann Fortkort, he says what makes her stand out among her peers is her empathy. “She is so empathetic to all students, as individuals. She just gets where the students come from.”

Fortkort, 53, started teaching chemistry, physical science, and AP physics to 11th and 12th graders at Lincoln Charter School in Denver eight years ago. Prior to that she spent 10 years working for the CIA, training field case officers and specializing in chemical quality assurance and budgeting. After that, she spent 10 years as a stay-at-home mom raising her three children, two of which have Autism.

Fortkort says her experience with the CIA has helped her provide real world examples of why science matters, but her two sons with Autism taught her empathy.

“It takes huge loads of patience…they taught me to smile more and be positive, because everyone is dealing with something.”

Amy Nestor

Amy Nestor, an eighth-grade math teacher at J.M. Alexander Middle School in Huntersville, makes her students’ education her number one priority.

Nestor, 38, offers free in-school tutoring for her students two to three times per week during the school year. She says she normally has anywhere from 20 to 32 students there. Last year, she created a Saturday Academy where students learned math through outdoor physical activities like relays and making graphs with chalk in the parking lot, and she filmed end of grade testing prep videos with call-in questions from students for CMS’ Math Xtra TV Show.

Her students even have her cell phone number and email address, and they regularly use it for help with math problems.

It’s no wonder the school’s test scores went up 12 percent last year.

Nestor, who has been teaching for 14 years, says, “If they are eager to learn, I am here for them.”

Grace Hale

Grace Hale, a second-year high school English teacher at Lake Norman Christian in Davidson, always finds ways to engage her students in learning.

At the beginning of this school year, when her students were studying “Beowulf,” Hale, 26, made non-alcoholic mead, had students come up with their own Anglo-Saxon names, and pretend like they were in a mead (festive dining) hall.

Lounging in her classroom’s living room—a portion of the classroom is outfitted with an oversized comfy couch, chairs, and bean bags facing a wall of bookshelves—she recounts the mead experience as well as her continued persistence to get students to act out skits related to what they’re reading in the classroom and experiencing in everyday life.

While she wants to help her students find ways to get interested in learning, she also pushes them to become independent learners.

Hale says, “I want them to take ownership of their education—find your way of enjoying and engaging in the work, make it relatable, and discover your passion for learning.”

Stephanie Sossamon

Three large, North Carolina landscape murals created out of recycled, color-coded bottle caps hang above bookshelves in Rocky River Elementary School’s library in Mooresville.

Art teacher Stephanie Sossamon proudly says, “All of my students and some teachers came together to work on this last year. We try to do something big like this every year.”

This is just one example of the way Sossamon, 34, uses art as a medium for building community.

Sossamon also works on service learning projects with her students, such as creating artwork for SCAN, a N.C. nonprofit working to stop child abuse, and Cornelius’ Habitat for Humanity ReStore and corporate offices.

As for her fellow teachers, she created a school-wide High Five program. Teachers are encouraged to write meaningful messages on colorful cut-out hand prints and stick them on each other’s classroom doors to compliment them on a job well done. She says it’s a way to see past the rigidity of day-to-day schedules and support one another’s hard work.

“It’s important to see how we can contribute to the community through art,” she says.

Nominations were solicited from area principals and assistant principals, and the final teachers were selected by a panel comprised of a former teacher, a parent, a UNC-Charlotte professor, and a former PTO president, none of whom reside in Lake Norman. All personal information was removed from the nominations prior to submission to the panel.


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Anti-bullying golf tournament in Marvin will benefit CMS  

Charlotte Observer
South Charlotte News
Sunday, October 27, 2014

Photo Courtesy of AAB. Firethorne Country Club holds kick-off tournament for first annual Athletes Against Bullies Nationwide Scramble.

Photo Courtesy of AAB.
Firethorne Country Club holds kick-off tournament for first annual Athletes Against Bullies Nationwide Scramble.

Learn more:

Athletes Against Bullies will kick-start its 2015 nationwide annual charity scramble with a golf tournament on Oct. 27 at the Firethorne Country Club in Marvin.

The tournament includes a pre-event party, silent auction, $1 million hole-in-one, an awards ceremony and dinner. All of the proceeds will be split between two beneficiaries: Hospitality House of Charlotte – a local nonprofit that provides housing for families whose loved ones are dealing with medical crises – and Athletes Against Bullies.

Athletes Against Bullies is a program that was started this year by SEU Promotions Charitable Foundation. The foundation promotes awareness of bullying and provides resources for schools, students and parents nationwide to prevent and handle it.

The proceeds from the tournament will help AAB pay for professional athletes to speak against bullying at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and provide Bully Ban software, a secure and anonymous way for students to report real-time bullying to school officials.

SEU Promotions CEO Scott Schaeffer said they started this nonprofit arm of the company in June as a way to celebrate SEU Promotions’ 20 years in the golf tournament promotions business.

“This has given us an opportunity to give back to not only our community, but nationally,” he said.

Schaeffer said the tournament will take a 25-city tour, and each stop will directly benefit from the money raised at the tournament in that city. Some cities where the tournament will take place include Charleston, Chicago, New York City and Atlanta. The event will again take place at the Firethorne Country Club on Oct. 26, 2015.

Schaeffer said they decided to focus on bullying because it’s a national issue that affects youths.

According to StopBullying.Gov, approximately 28 percent of all U.S. students in grades sixth-12 have been bullied.

Schaeffer said he hopes SEU Promotions’ well-established sports business reputation would help the nationwide tournament gain attention and turn around these statistics.

Several athletes, including former NBA star Al Wood, former international boxing champ Kelvin Seabrooks and former NFL player Perry Tuttle, are teaming up with AAB to be involved in the anti-bullying campaign.

Beyond celebrity athlete speakers, Schaeffer envisions that every CMS school would become integrated with Bully Ban. However, it’s a long-term goal. He said that would cost approximately $551,250.

“We are proud to work hard for a golf tournament that gives back to families and children,” Schaeffer said.

Celebrity Host, Clifton Davis

Celebrity Host, Clifton Davis

Clifton Davis, the actor best known for his role as the Rev. Reuben Gregory on NBC’s 1980s sitcom “Amen,” will host the 25-city tournament, including the kickoff tournament on Oct. 27.

“AAB is one way to share the love of God,” Davis said. “If you can help one kid to stop bullying and one victim of bullying, you have saved two lives.”

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South Carolina focuses on bully prevention in October

Fulton & Barr: The Legal Pad
Sunday, October 22, 2014

South Carolina follows a popular and important trend by declaring October as Bully Prevention Awareness month.

Prominent South Carolina representatives joined together to declare that being a bully is uncool; schools and students have joined the campaign by raising awareness through creative efforts.

One Greenville community group Think2XTwice held three workshops at Mauldin Public Library, where area students acted out what it’s like to be a bully or the victim of bullying. Student Actor Tre Smith admitted during the last workshop that he’d been bullied in the past.

He said to, “When I was bullied, I felt like nothing … I really didn’t feel like anyone cared about what was going on with me.”

That’s the reason why the Pacer’s National Bullying Center pushed for national attention of their anti-bullying campaign – no one should feel alone and in pain.

Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center is a branch of the Minnesota nonprofit Pacer Center. Their roots are in helping parents of children with disabilities, but the group expanded to cover bullying in 2006. Pacer’s mission is to dispel the myth of bullying as a rite of passage and make the public aware of the physical, emotional, educational and social impact of bullying.

Today is Pacer’s National Unity Day, where everyone is asked to wear orange as a symbol of their unified message of hope and support for victims of bullying.

National statistics on, show the alarming reality of bullying:

28% of U.S. students in grades 6–12 experienced bullying

20% of U.S. students in grades 9–12 experienced bullying

Approximately 30% of young people admit to bullying others

70.6% of young people say they have seen bullying in their schools

70.4% of school staff have seen bullying

62% school staff witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month

41% school staff witnessed bullying once a week or more

Facts cannot be denied, bullying is not okay. Fulton & Barr stands with fellow South Carolinians, united against bullying. Will you join us?

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Stand Your Ground: Is it gaining or losing ground in South Carolina?

Fulton & Barr: The Legal Pad
October 21, 2014

25-year-old Whitlee Jones had a right to kill her boyfriend.

According to a judge in Charleston, S.C. earlier this month, Jones received immunity from criminal charges under the Protection of Persons and Property Act– better known as “Stand Your Ground” law – because she was the victim of domestic violence and acted in self-defense.

The Protection of Persons and Property Act states that every person has the right to protect themselves by using deadly force in his/her personal, private space (including an occupied vehicle, business or home) against an attacker or intruder whom is trying to cause bodily injury, kill them or commit any violent act against them. The act grants immunity from criminal charges for any person who protects themselves under these circumstances with the exception of using deadly force against a police officer.

The judge believed Jones had the right to protect herself from an attacker, even though the attacker was her boyfriend who lived at the same residence. Solicitor Scarlett Wilson and Assistant Solicitor Culver Kidd disagree.

They plan to appeal the case and have asked lawmakers to be more explicit in the bill, as they believed the law’s only purpose was to protect people from home invaders and strangers who posed an imminent deadly risk.

Kidd called the law a criminal’s best contingency defense and “a potential license to kill.”

Public Defender Ashley Pennington said in The Post and Courier, “Confusion about the law has been an enabling factor, historically, that might have allowed more domestic violence. People were afraid to defend themselves. This law allows people who are being attacked to defend themselves.”

This debate has caused quite a stir with stories springing up nationwide aboutSouth Carolina’s lack of protection for domestic violence victims and racial profiling who the law was created to protect. The same rings true for interpretations of this law in Florida, which is the law SC used as a model when creating the Protection of Persons and Property Act in 2006.

Fulton & Barr would like you to weigh-in on “Stand Your Ground” law. Should it be used for immunity in domestic violence cases, when a domestic violence victim feels physically threatened by her abuser?

Read the summary of the aforementioned case below, and then, respond to our poll.

Summarized from Charleston’s The Post and Courier:

One evening in November 2012, Jones and Lee were arguing because she wouldn’t give him back a cell phone he’d given her as a gift. Lee acts out violently, dragging her by the hair through the neighborhood. This prompts a neighbor to call 911 and report the incident. By the time an officer arrives, Jones had left the premises and Lee denied any physical violence. The only evidence of a potential altercation, tufts of her weave (hair) laying in the middle of the road.

Later, Jones returns to pack up her personal belongings and move out (leave) Lee. Jones said that Lee became angry and violent again, standing in her way and shaking her. She stabbed him once in the heart – with a knife she’d just found upstairs and stored in her bra for protection. Lee died from that one stab wound. He was 29 years old.

While there were no prior domestic violence charges, Lee had an arrest record for possession and a misdemeanor in property damage related to an escalated argument between him and an ex-girlfriend. Jones has no prior record.

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1st Buddy Walk for Down syndrome awareness at UNCC

Charlotte Observer
University News

Sunday, October 19, 2014

  • Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte supporters enter UNC Charlotte’s Jerry Richardson Stadium for the first Buddy Walk held there.
  • Want to help?

    The Buddy Walk at UNC Charlotte’s Jerry Richardson Stadium has raised almost $200,000 for the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte.

    • To donate:

    • For information about the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte, visit

Julia Cirone smiled and welcomed participants to the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte’s Buddy Walk at UNC Charlotte’s Jerry Richardson Stadium on Oct. 11.

This was Cirone’s second year volunteering at the registration tents for the annual event, the first held at UNCC’s new stadium. She remained upbeat, regardless of the stopping and starting caused by scattered thunderstorms. Her hair was damp and curly, her smile wide.

“I like meeting everyone,” she said while passing out yellow event wristbands.

Julia Cirone welcomes participants as they register for the event.

Julia Cirone welcomes participants as they register for the event.

Cirone is a 17-year-old Providence High School student who loves to dance ballet at Jami Masters School of Dance and perform in drama class at school. She attends summer camp every year and volunteers in her church’s toddler child care.

When she’s not performing or volunteering to help others, she likes to curl up with a Nancy Drew book. She has a bubbly personality, a kind heart and an infectious smile.

Cirone also has Down syndrome. That’s why she was at the Buddy Walk: to raise financial support for the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte and community awareness for people like her, who live with Down syndrome.

Her father, Tony Cirone, said, “We’ve been involved with the Buddy Walk since Julia was born. … This organization has done a lot for my family, so we want to give back.”

He said the association helped the family acquire a support system to get through educational challenges, created a circle of friends for Julia Cirone and provided her with exciting opportunities like the sweetheart dance and full- and half-day camps.

Most importantly, he said, the walk raises awareness that people with Down syndrome deserve to lead full, happy lives integrated with the larger community.

“Julia has Down syndrome. It’s a part of her, but just a part of her,” Tony Cirone said. “It’s not the whole. She needs to be seen as a whole.”

The Buddy Walk is a nationwide event held on dates in October, which is National Down Syndrome Awareness month.

The walk was created by the National Down Syndrome Society in 1995 to promote inclusion and acceptance of people with Down syndrome, as well as provide a fundraising opportunity for local nonprofits.

At the UNCC event, forty-five minutes after the first storm pelted the arriving crowds, the sun came out, and participants lined up for the walk. Julia Cirone, her younger brother Ted and her father filed in with others amid vendor and group tents on the facility’s 6,950-square-foot hospitality deck.

About 3,000 people turned out for the event.

Chart-topping pop songs rang out over the sound system and pictures of local children with Down syndrome scrolled across the 70-by-300-foot electronic scoreboard, as walkers made their way off the deck and around the outside of the stadium.

The participants walk 1-mile in and around UNCC’s 49ers stadium.

The participants walk 1-mile in and around UNCC’s 49ers stadium.

Teams promenaded proudly together in colorful matching T-shirts: Super Cooper’s Side Kicks, Coggins Crew and Branson’s Buddies.

Mothers pushed babies in strollers and pulled toddlers in red wagons. Preschoolers rode on their father’s shoulders, and school-age children walked hand-in-hand with grandparents and friends. The crowd snaked along the sidewalk and looped back around, entering the stadium and walking through a balloon arch on the 49ers’ football field.

Participants and onlookers cheered while walkers passed through the arch and were congratulated by 49ers student-athletes.

The stadium filled with laughter and excitement as participants mingled and enjoyed the festivities.

Charlotte 49ers student-athletes sponsored the Buddy Walk.

Charlotte 49ers student-athletes sponsored the Buddy Walk.

Organizer Mike Corrigan said he’s been coordinating the event for 12 years, since his daughter Emma – who has Down syndrome – was 16 months old. “It is an experience. … It grows every year, and the family teams really get into it,” he said.

The student-athletes hosted sports activities on the field, Elevation Church had a fall-themed arts-and-crafts booth and the Down Syndrome Association sponsored activities including caricature drawings, face-painting, carnival games, raffle prizes and bounce houses.

Unfortunately, the storms only held off until 4:30 p.m., and the event was forced to shut down more than an hour earlier than expected. Despite delays and bad weather, Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte Director Kathryn Lariviere said she believed the event was a success.

Lariviere said the event wouldn’t have been possible without association volunteers, Elevation Church and Charlotte 49ers Athletics.

The 49ers Athletics sponsored the event, waived the stadium event fees and provided volunteer student-athletes and the use of field entertainment equipment like tackling dummies.

UNCC Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations Tom Whitestone said the 49ers student-athletes enjoyed sponsoring this event. “It’s important for us to give back to the community that supports us and to be a vital piece of that community,” he said.

“Community service projects such as this (are) one way we can do that, and the events are a win-win – benefiting the organizations and helping to instill certain values in our student-athletes.”

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