First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe visits Petersburg


By Amir Vera, Progress Index

PETERSBURG - The city welcomed the first lady of Virginia Tuesday at the city library to announce initiatives to keep Petersburg children busy during their winter break.

Dorothy McAuliffe’s visit comes after the city and public schools teamed up to form the City of Petersburg-Petersburg Public Schools Partnership, with a subcommittee who dealt with holiday planning. The committee’s purpose is to help give children alternative activities during the winter break. Thanks to this partnership the Petersburg Library, YMCA and Blandford Community Center will all be hosting events between Dec. 21 and 30 geared toward students in grades six through 12.

“I’m so impressed with the city partnership with the schools initiative because it is bringing together the resources of the schools with the resources of the community to ensure children and families have access to the services and the support they need for children to excel in school,” McAuliffe said. “We know school is the best place for children when they’re not in their [home] environment. For many students, school is the best place. The holidays can be a time when students get disconnected from the resources they need so much.”

Wayne Crocker, Petersburg Library director, said that disconnect is exactly why this initiative began. Crocker said he often heard from students, parents and even his own children that there was nothing for them to do during their break.

“Several months ago the city manager and school superintendent invited several persons to come together to discuss how we can collaborate better to serve the children of Petersburg. There were a number of issues that were brought to the meeting and put on the table,” Crocker said. “We wanted to know what we could do to address some of those needs [such as] having things for them to do, having a hot meal, a place where they can go to meet their friends.”

As a result community members, civic leaders and local governments worked together to ensure students had access to those resources during the holiday season. McAuliffe added that aside from students have activities at different venues during the break, they will also have meals provided to them by the special nutrition programs team at the Virginia Department of Health and FeedMore. She also said Petersburg Area Transit will provide free bus passes to those involved in these activities because transportation can be a challenge for many in the city.

“We know the challenges that we face in Petersburg, but they’re not insurmountable and by breaking down all the silos that we typically have between city departments and even school departments and really coming together to focus on something that we know we can make some substantive changes,” said Linda Shifflette, acting superintendent for Petersburg Public Schools.

One of the students who attended the event at the library and will benefit from these changes was T’orri Crocker, a ninth grade honors student at Vernon Johns Junior High School.

“The city partnership with the schools is an opportunity to provide activities for the students during the two-week winter break. I plan to attend the Christmas movie marathon because it will allow me to hang out with my friends,” she said.

Registration for the activities is free, required and on a first-come-first-served basis. Anyone with questions about the activities can call (804) 733-2387 extension 402.

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