News Release, Charles County Public Schools

Waldorf, MD– 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.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...