‘Big guy’ building relationships

Jan. 11, 2013 @ 06:20 PM

(Second in a two-part series)

At Northern Vance, first-year principal Michael Applewhite is steadily and tirelessly working to build relationships with students.

Visitors of the school can see this first hand. Simply walking the halls during a class change one may observe throngs of students, and one man towering above them all: Applewhite.

“At first they were like ‘whoa’, you know, because he’s a big guy,” said Devonda Bailey, marketing and principals of business teacher at Northern Vance. “But the kids, you can see relationships forming now.

“He’s firm, but also very personable. They respect him.”

Applewhite is currently in his 19th year as a school administrator, and in his fourth school as principal. He has extensive high school experience from Wake County, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Cumberland County.

“I’m used to populations of 2,500 plus, and here we have 1,000 plus with the 100 STEM kids,” Applewhite said. “It gives me more hands on opportunities to work uniquely with individual students, so the frequency is there more.”

During his first year as principal Applewhite implemented a student-faculty basketball game and organized pep rallies in an effort to build school pride and unity.

“You have to have good behavior to get to go,” Bailey said. “They really work toward being a part of these things.

“The children voiced to me that it was something they weren’t used to, but it was a welcome change.”

Encompassing himself in his new environment at Northern Vance, and embracing his surroundings, has been a mission by Applewhite since day one.

“Coming into a new school you want to get to know the culture, the climate of the school, tendencies — you have to know the students, staff and parents, and that’s been great.”

Building relationships with students is not something Applewhite has worked to accomplish from behind his desk. He’s constantly walking, talking to students, checking rooms, and by doing so has built a reputation of being involved.

“He’s in the hallways a lot,” Bailey said. “We definitely see him every day.

“He’s very supportive about what we do as teachers, so that’s been a plus.”

Bailey, also in her first year at Northern Vance, received Applewhite’s support in working to head up an IBM Mainframe Club, a technology club linked to North Carolina A&T State University.

“One of the things we’re promoting strongly here is what we call our IBM Mainframe club,” Applewhite said. “It’s to intensify technology strategies for kids, engage in jobs, to really emphasize a whole other level of working with technology.”

The club, scheduled to begin in the spring, has already received strong student interest.

“We have a lot of kids that are technology oriented, and want to go to schools such as N.C. State, and A&T, that strongly emphasize those skills,” Applewhite said. “With the STEM program here, we’re going to build that cadre of kids, so we’ll have clubs that coincide with our STEM program and build upon that.”

With technology being a strong focus by Applewhite, he’s been thrilled to see five students from Jeff Arthur’s honors engineering class be selected as finalists for N.C. State University’s Emerging Issues Prize for Innovation.

Nearly 30 teams of high school and college students from across North Carolina submitted innovative product ideas. Of those submissions, five teams from each high school and college categories were declared finalists. Public online voting in February will help determine the winner.

“I always emphasize technology,” Applewhite said. “We want to take kids to a deeper level so they can continually gain interest and apply their skills and knowledge.

“Kids have skills they need to be aware of. They need to be empowered.”

Contact the writer at amauser@hendersondipatch.com.