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Former teacher helps build local charter school’s library book by book

Laura Dildine

Laura Dildine loved the classroom. She spent six years in one, teaching high school in Forsyth County. But when she started to see her enthusiasm outgrowing the traditional public school setting, she left teaching and began pursuing a law degree.

During her second year at Wake Forest School of Law, Dildine came upon an opportunity that merged her passion for education and her desire to help in a larger capacity. Through a fellowship with Wake Forest’s Community Law and Business Clinic, Dildine visited Carter G. Woodson School, a small charter school serving a mostly black and Hispanic population in east Winston-Salem, in February 2009.

The school needed a library. So Dildine started building one.

Motivated by the school’s passion for making a difference, Dildine initiated a remarkable community-wide campaign – with donations coming in from the local businesses, Wake Forest, public libraries, the local newspaper and dozens of other organizations and hundreds of individuals – that resulted in the accumulation of 5,000 books for Carter G. Woodson’s 300 students. More than a year later, Dildine stands on the verge of completing her law degree. Carter G. Woodson stands with a full library.

I just happened to have been in the right spot at the right time, and I guess I was a catalyst to help bring all these people in Winston-Salem and North Carolina together. After all those years of looking for reform, I realized there is reform right in front of me, and it’s happening at Carter G. Woodson.

“I just happened to have been in the right spot at the right time, and I guess I was a catalyst to help bring all these people in Winston-Salem and North Carolina together,” Dildine says. “After all those years of looking for reform, I realized there is reform right in front of me, and it’s happening at Carter G. Woodson.”

Before Dildine stepped onto campus, Carter G. Woodson’s library system consisted of a weekly visit by a bookmobile. The school didn’t have the money to build and operate a library. Charter schools are publicly funded for operations, but run by private boards and given autonomy to explore new ways and methods of teaching.

When Carter G. Woodson opened 13 years ago, a library was among the long-range goals. But until Dildine arrived, no real movement had been made. She began her campaign without any funding.

“She started what we call the journey,” Carter G. Woodson principal Ruth Hopkins said.

That journey started modestly. Dildine, while she had a background in education, knew very little about opening a library. She researched it, though, and learned that she would need 10 books for every one student to be considered a full school library. During the middle of her summer fellowship for the Public Interest Law and Business Center, she had about 350 books. But after a story ran in the Winston-Salem Journal, donations came flooding in.

So did the help. People from all across the community gave up their Saturdays to accept, donate and organize the books.

“It was really a true community effort,” Dildine says.

The generosity was staggering. Wake Forest donated study carols. Womble Carlyle donated computers. Local churches, libraries, individuals and even other schools in the area donated books.

“No one in any educational institution is going to be sad when arms and legs walk in the door to support any child to get them reading material in their home,” said Hopkins, the principal. “I know the background of where reading is going in the country. The books that are in the homes are coming from the schools. … And that book affects everyone in the house. You look at that cover, it starts conversation. It makes the living room look good to have it on the coffee table.

“It was great for me to have an unspeakable spirit with people who had the same vision.”

Dildine continued to work with the school throughout the fall, on her own time, even after her fellowship had run its course. She saw it through to the holiday break, when Carter G. Woodson hired a full-time librarian, Margarette Snow, thanks to a grant from the Winston-Salem Foundation. Dildine handed her work over to Snow before the spring semester.

Steve Virgil, an associate clinical professor of law and the director of the Community Law and Business Clinic, watched Dildine’s relationship with the school grow from the day he first took her to Carter G. Woodson in February 2009.

“As a former teacher, she connected with the school in a deeper way than many students do,” Virgil said. “Laura’s also someone who’s really looking for ways to serve and make the community better. We do have students who have continuing engagement with our clients or the area or mission. But Laura has a more personal investment.”

Dildine, a Morehead City native, will start a year-long clerkship for a federal judge after graduating this month. Then, she’s not convinced she won’t try to go back into education, on a larger scale.

She’s has already met with North Carolina’s Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan (’78) to talk about possibilities for reform in education. And Dildine doesn’t plan to stop there, not until she’s made the difference she always wanted to make.

“If I could close my eyes and say, ‘Why did I go to law school? What would I like to be doing in five to 10 years?’ I would definitely say I’d like to be affecting change in public education in North Carolina,” Dildine said.

– By Michael Graff