Paige Welch saw a need for community conversation after hearing her students’ concerns last year.
The Hutchings College and Career Academy teacher has planned Coffee with a Cop session at the school from 5-7 p.m. Thursday. A panel of six to eight Bibb County sheriff’s deputies will field questions and comments from the audience. The community is invited.
Welch, who teaches graphics design communication, said her students were distressed and angered by national episodes of violence against and by police officers last year. They had a lot of questions after their discussions, so Welch suggested inviting in officers to speak with them. She applied for a Teach to Inspire grant from the Peyton Anderson Foundation and received $2,500 for the project.
Welch said the issue is one that hits close to home for her on both sides. Her daughter, Sidney, is biracial, and her son Weston is a white police officer in Warner Robins. She worries about her son’s safety as he works — and the discrimination her daughter could face.
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“This is really important to me ... that these things are talked about so we can come to some resolve about how we feel toward one another,” said Welch, a runner-up for the Bibb County Teacher of the Year this year. “I just want this to be a good first step.
“I realize that it’s not going to solve all the problems. I hope that we can do (more) things like this in the future.”
The Rev. Gail Tolbert Smith, of Universal Light Christian Center in Macon, will serve as moderator for the event. Food prepared by culinary pathway students will be served, and mugs, shirts and coasters made by students in the graphics design pathway will be given away to the first 100 attendees.
“We want as many people as we can possibly handle to come,” Welch said. “I was always taught to go into a problem with a solution. Our solution is actually this place. It’s Hutchings. Our hope is that people will come in and see what we do here and know that this next generation will be better than the last, based on what we do.”
Naome Morris, Shiesha Mitchell and Nadia Lucas are some of the main students who have helped with the project, Welch said. Morris and Mitchell are documenting the project and putting together a presentation so they can enter it in a SkillsUSA competition, with entry costs covered by the grant.
Lucas created the design for the coffee mugs, shirts and coasters and will enter a separate contest.