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A Class Act

Article Published: Dec. 1, 2011 | Modified: Dec. 1, 2011
A Class Act

WHS Honors Chorus instructor Lisa Combs leads her first period class through scale exercises last week.

Photo by Jeff Eason

About 30 teenagers ambled into Lisa Combs’ honors chorus class last Tuesday and enjoyed an hour-long lesson in scales, harmony and songs. The class will be one of the featured acts in the December 15 Chorus Holiday Concert.

“We’ll be singing ‘Lovely Child, Holy Child,’ ‘Carol of the Bells,’ ‘White Christmas,’ a medley from ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ and our finale will be ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’,” said Combs.

Anyone who has purchased sheet music for an entire chorus knows what an expensive proposition that can be. Fortunately for Combs and her students, the Watauga Education Foundation has been footing the bill for the sheet music for the past several years.

“The Watauga Education Foundation awarded Lisa Combs $1,500 to purchase music for the year,” said Melanie Bullard, executive director of the Watauga Education Foundation (WEF). We also helped purchase the chorus room’s new piano. The kids had raised much of the money before the school opened last year. The WEF Board toured the new school and discovered that the chorus room still needed $3,400 for a new piano. The board voted on the spot to fund the grand piano.”

The beautiful brown natural wood-grain Kawai piano is a tremendous improvement from the old upright piano the chorus class used before.

Bullard added that the Combs’ classes also recently received a grant from Blue Ridge Electrical Membership Corporation (BREMCO) towards the purchase of a new electronic piano.

“It’s so important for us to be able to buy new music each year,” said Combs. “Some of the students are in chorus all four years, so we have to have new music or their parents will hear the same songs at our concerts each year.”

Combs has been teaching music for the Watauga County School System for 24 years, first at Hardin Park and now at Watauga High School.

“My classes have been receiving Watauga Education Foundation grants since almost the very beginning,” said Combs. “The Hardin Park grants helped us purchase performance attire, ukuleles, dulcimers, a piano, and sheet music.

“That continues at the high school level. None of the students have to purchase their own performance attire for the different concerts.”

While the Watauga Education Foundation has helped to keep the performing arts alive in the county’s school system, Bullard is quick to point out that it endeavors to help the other curricula as well.
“It’s all about providing tools for teachers,” said Bullard.

“We started the WEF Golf Classic three years ago,” said Bullard. “We held it at Hound Ears the first two years then moved it to the Blowing Rock Country Club last year and added a junior golfer event to include the students. We are so grateful to the country club for letting us hold that event there on a Sunday. We made the decision to change the format with our students in mind. We wanted to help some of the kids who never would have had the chance to play at Blowing Rock Country Club.”
The annual WEF Golf Classic is held at the beginning of October.

“Peabody’s has also so been good to us,” said Bullard. “The Charity Wine Tasting is a very expensive event to put on.”

The annual Peabody’s Charity Wine Tasting is a pre-holiday event that has become one of the biggest social gatherings in the High Country. Dozens of wine purveyors, restaurants and caterers present their wares to the public in a swank yet casual setting, giving folks a chance to plan their holiday get-togethers.

“When people donate to the Watauga Education Foundation they know where the money goes to,” said Bullard. “Donars can stipulate if they want their donations to go toward teacher scholarships or other projects.”

Currently, the WEF is developing an endowed scholarship in honor of Kate Swift Reese, a teacher from the Beaver Dam community. After she died, her children established an annual scholarship for WHS graduates. WEF hopes to build the endowment to $1 million, and then draw off of that money to fund scholarships.

The WEF is also actively involved in bringing the Dolly Parton Foundation’s Imagination Library to Watauga County Children.

“One of the kindergarten teachers at Mabel Elementary told us that there were kids coming into school who had never seen a book,” said Bullard. “There were children who had never heard a nursery rhyme. We raised $25,000 to start our local Imagination Library and it’s free for kids from birth to kindergarten. It gives us a chance to reach the children who may not attend Watauga County public schools.”

According to Bullard, the WEF Imagination Library is run by volunteer Martha Fletcher, a former teacher, and over 300 kids have signed up for the program.

“All of the kids get a free hardcover book each month,” said Bullard. “The first one is ‘The Little Engine That Could’ and the last one before they go to school is ‘Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come.’
“It’s a great program and it’s supported by the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce and the annual Adult Spelling Bee.”

Bullard pointed to a 20-year study undertaken in Reno, Nevada that determined that having books in the home was the single most important thing for a child’s pre-school education.

“With the Imagination Library, the parents don’t have to drive to the library, and they get to keep the books,” said Bullard.

The Watauga Education Foundation was started in 1989 by a group of parents of county schoolchildren. It is supported by fundraisers such as the annual charity winetasting event and through individual and business pledges.

“$700 million has been lost to the public education system in North Carolina in the past two years,” said Bullard, citing budget cuts from the state. “Teachers are leaving lights out in parts of schools to save money. A lot of little things are going away. Those little things add up and create changes that make teaching much more difficult. We are trying to claw our way back to get funds back into the hands of our teachers.

“The Watauga Education is a bright spot in our county, and we’re working to support our teachers. They have the most important job of all.”

Flapjack Flip 2011

The Watauga Education Foundation will hold the Flapjack Flip 2011 Pancake Breakfast and Raffle at Watauga High School from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3.

Held in partnership with the Boone Service League, the WEF Flapjack Flip is a benefit breakfast of pancakes, bacon and sausage, coffee or juice.

One of the big attractions of the Flapjack Flip is the limited raffle of great items. Each item will be limited to 20 raffle tickets guaranteeing a 5% chance of winning with each ticket purchased.

Items offered at the raffle include $1,000 worth of legal services, a $300 purse with $50 gift certificate, private kayak lessons with $100 worth of apparel and gear, family membership in the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum plus an original Joe Miller watercolor painting, four Park-Hopper tickets to Disney World, a foodie fantasy of a wine tasting, cooking class, and dinner for two at four of the High Country’s finest restaurants, a Junior Ski season pass to Appalachian Ski Mountain, landscaping services, Appalachian Summer Mainstage Series tickets, three sittings with professional photographer Nicole Robinson, and much more.

To see a complete list of raffle items, visit

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