Fifth graders at Berry Elementary School recently attended a panel discussion — Preparing for Our Future — at the school. Coordinated by the school counselor, Olivia Coffey, the event is held each year to honor Black History Month.
The gender-based panels introduced students to adults who spoke of overcoming obstacles, their childhood career goals and how they got to where they are today.
Making up the male panel were Gregory Lorjuste, the director of scheduling for former President Barack Obama, Charles County Sheriff Troy Berry, broadcaster James Brown, chef Kenneth Clay, minister Steven Battle, multimedia artist Daniel Ferebee and DaNa Carlis, PhD., a scientist with NOAA. The female panel included entrepreneur and writer Courtenay Brown, chef Sherrie Edwards-Lassister, digital marketing consultant Sierra Wolf, attorney Makeba Gibbs, president of the Charles County branch of the NAACP Dyothea Sweat, Lydia Carlis, PhD, Board of Education of Charles County board member Tajala Battle-Lockhart, pastor Tonie Restrepo and Ashleigh Johnson, an executive assistant to a television host.
A theme that weaved through both panels was advising the students that no lesson is wasted.
“Once you learn something, it can never be taken away,” said Principal Louis D’Ambrosio before turning over the moderator duties to Marvin Jones, executive director of schools.
Next door, the girls heard a similar message. “Never think what you study will be wasted,” said Sherrie Edwards-Lassister, a chef. “You will use it all.”
“Don’t ever second guess the opportunities you have in front of you,” said Ashleigh Johnson, an executive assistant to a television host who was previously employed in the advertising industry. “You can learn something from [every opportunity.] Pay attention to what is going on around you. You never know where it can take you.”
Other panelists talked about how they have changed since they were in fifth grade. Makeba Gibbs, an attorney who regularly must speak in court and address judges, said she was painfully shy when she was in fifth grade, a trait some Berry girls said they share.
“We can learn from them and how they were feeling when they were our age,” said Kayla Wint, a Berry fifth grader of the guest speakers. “We can always do better with what we are doing now and stay positive.”
The panel discussions are an offshoot of a program Coffey ran when she was with Washington, D.C., public schools. Fifth graders attend because they are preparing for their futures as they head to the middle school, Coffey said. “They need to become good decision makers now, making good choices now will help them in the future,” she said.
Charles County Public Schools provides 27,108 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Kathy Kiessling, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial M. Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.