WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

Thumbs up, thumbs down: Whirligig fest, $22M after-school program give reasons to cheer

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THUMBS UP to the N.C. Whirligig Festival, which will draw thousands of Wilson County residents and their eastern North Carolina neighbors to downtown Wilson's historic streets today and Sunday. 

Wilson's annual fall festival will have a closer tie to its theme this year, as the vendor zone has shifted toward the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, which opened last November. 

Attendees can marvel at Simpson's world-famous kinetic sculptures, browse vendor booths, savor deep-fried goodies, enjoy live entertainment and participate in family-friendly fitness challenges. With average attendance pegged at 50,000, most Wilsonians and Wilson natives run into plenty of folks they know. It's equal parts street fair, folk art celebration and hometown homecoming. 

The Whirligig Festival runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 on Sunday. Come out and experience Wilson's #DowntownTurnaround for yourself. 

THUMBS UP to the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson, whose leaders this week announced a $22 million commitment to establishing an after-school program for students at the county's six public middle schools.

The gargantuan grant will fund the construction of a youth center, facilitate transportation for participants and bankroll enrichment programs managed by the Wilson Family YMCA. This isn't babysitting; it's a bona fide supplement to the education that tweens and teens receive during the school day. And it could be a game-changer that raises grades and helps reduce obesity, alcohol, tobacco and drug use and other health risks.

"The opportunities for prevention and positive health outcomes are significant at such a critical age for youth, and our program partners are committed to doing what it takes to provide high-quality, effective after-school programs," foundation Executive Director Denise O'Hara told Times reporter Olivia Neeley.

We applaud the Healthcare Foundation of Wilson's vision and urge community partners to lend their support to this outreach effort, which could pay lifelong dividends for participating middle-schoolers. 

THUMBS DOWN to calls for the expulsion of a North Carolina Central University law student who used a racial slur and expressed support for the mailing of devices resembling pipe bombs to former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the offices of CNN.

N.C. Central student Morgan Kendall appears to have posted at least two backward, wrongheaded and despicable comments on Facebook. While we condemn their content, we acknowledge that they fall firmly within the realm of protected speech. Students told WRAL-TV that Kendall was not on campus this week and would be able to return to school on Monday. 

It's unclear whether Kendall had been suspended or chose to stay home. Any disciplinary action would likely run afoul of the First Amendment and a state statute designed to protect free speech at UNC System campuses. While private colleges can and do punish students for offensive speech, public colleges and universities are arms of state government and are constitutionally barred from doing so.

If law students fail to understand that, it raises concerns about the legal education they're receiving. 

Kendall should bear the social consequences for her speech, and she would be wise to make a sincere public apology. This may be a teachable moment for both her and her classmates. 

THUMBS UP to the Wilson Education Partnership, whose mini-grant prize patrol surprised and delighted nearly two-dozen Wilson County Schools teachers this week. 

The nonprofit doled out $14,000 in classroom grants Wednesday and Thursday, with amounts ranging from $57.60 (Lucama Elementary) to $1,000 (Jones and Winstead elementary schools). Teachers requested specific amounts and submitted project proposals to the WEP, whose committee chose the recipients. 

"Our whole platform is letting the community know we need to build a strong network for teachers and offer them support," said Robin Williams, the WEP's executive director.

Educators were overjoyed to receive the agency's support - Barnes Elementary first-grade teacher Karen Howell broke into a "superhero happy teacher dance" upon accepting a $160 grant award. 

Teachers use the money to purchase supplies and carry out innovative programs that bring curriculum to life through real-world applications. The $14,000 investment will improve the lives of well over a thousand students - talk about stretching a dollar! 

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