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Originally published on The Columbia Daily Tribune website

Peter StieplemanIn the Columbia Public Schools, we believe our students are our kids. We believe every one of our kids is entitled to A.E.O. — Achievement, Enrichment, and Opportunity. Three simple words, and each one denotes access.

Access to a great teacher who will nurture and develop our kids. Access to enrichment because gaps are closed through enriching experiences. Access, in general — the elimination of barriers to an excellent education.

We truly believe these things. They are our district’s ideals. It’s why we were so enthusiastic with the prospect of partnering with Tad Bartimus and Dean Wariner. The ideals of Talk Story, Write Story are AEO. The opportunity for our kids to work closely with influential mentors from our community had the potential to create a seismic shift for generations to come. There are not many initiatives I support through blind faith, but this was one I simply could not turn down. And Tad, Dean, and the mentors did not disappoint.

Our kids (this term is not intended to be condescending, but rather a respectful nod to the influential book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, by Robert Putnam) have personal stories to tell. These are stories of disappointment and conquest. They are stories that prove how determination can triumph over circumstances. Their stories are not easy to tell, but they are important to hear.

We say thank you to Tad and Dean, who are leaving Columbia, and thank you and welcome to longtime community volunteer Laura Erdel and retiring CPS educator Fran Atkins, who are taking over as Talk Story, Write Story’s mentor leaders. They will recruit and guide community volunteers to work closely with our staff at Hickman beginning this fall. Our hope is to expand this powerful and empowering program to more students at our high schools in subsequent years. Such good work!

Peter Stiepleman is superintendent of Columbia Public Schools.



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