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Liberty Middle School student Christian Swope saves friend's life at school
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COVINGTON — It started as just a typical day at Liberty Middle School. Sixth-grader Christian Swope was eating his lunch in his class Wednesday when he sensed a classmate was in danger. He instantly recognized the signs that his friend was choking and couldn’t breathe. Swope ran to his aid, performed the Heimlich maneuver, and successfully dislodged the food from his friend’s throat before a tragedy could occur.

“My friend was choking and couldn’t breathe,” said Swope, who is 12. “My Auntie is a nurse and she taught us how to do CPR and the Heimlich, so I wasn’t scared because I knew what to do.”

Swope’s aunt, Mercy Aguilar, is understandably proud of her nephew.

“I have a skeleton that I bought during nursing school, so last year I taught my boys how to do different safety moves,” she said. “I was just so ecstatic and shocked when I found out. When you get a call from the school during the day you don’t expect it to be good news. I was just speechless and absolutely proud when they told me what he did. He actually saved a life.”

Aguilar said she never anticipated her nephew would need the life-saving skills she taught him.

“When I was teaching both of them the safety moves, I never in my wildest dreams thought they would ever put them to use,” she said. “But he did. I’m absolutely proud of him. He actually got it and was effective using the maneuver.”

After the frightening experience and it was determined his friend would be OK, Swope said his classmates, “called me a lifesaver and they clapped for me.”

When asked how he felt Swope said, “I feel good. And I feel proud of myself. When I got home my auntie called me a hero.”

Liberty Middle School Principal Keisa Vincent said she thinks young Christian is a hero, too.

“Christian stepped in and took charge of the situation and saved his friend’s life,” said Vincent. “In a situation where many adults may have panicked, Christian was calm and knew what to do. To know how to do the Heimlich maneuver at 12 years old is amazing. He’s definitely a hero in my book.”

When Newton County School System Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey learned of Swope’s actions she made it a point to meet him. Thursday morning, she paid a surprise visit to Liberty Middle School to meet Swope and present him with her Superintendent’s Coin of Distinction.

“This coin is reserved for the individuals who go above and beyond because it’s the right thing to do; they are selfless and demonstrate their commitment to others through their actions and words,” Fuhrey explained to Swope as she presented him the coin. “Very few people receive the Superintendent’s Coin of Distinction, but you get it because you’re a hero. You saved someone’s life when you performed the Heimlich maneuver in the classroom and that is most definitely worthy of the Superintendent’s Coin of Distinction.”

“He’s a remarkable young man,” Fuhrey noted. “I am beyond proud of him. I reserve the Coin of Distinction for only the best of the best, and Christian definitely meets the criteria.”

Fuhrey has awarded the Coin of Distinction only to those who exceed expectations, and relatively few coins have been presented during her tenure as school superintendent as it is reserved as her highest honor. Students in a class at South Salem Elementary School received coins when they worked together to rescue their teacher, who had a medical emergency on the playground. In another instance, she travelled to Henry County Schools to reward a student who stopped a high school baseball game in the midst of an at-bat to comfort an Eastside High School pitcher whose father had passed away unexpectedly after a medical emergency at a prior game. Most notably, Fuhrey awarded her Coin of Distinction to American civil rights hero, the late Dr. Frederick Douglas Reese, who was a member of Selma’s “Courageous Eight”.

“That’s how elite Christian is — he shares this recognition with Dr. Reese! It really is a very unique award,” said Fuhrey. “So congratulations to Christian on a job well done. I hope his coin serves as a reminder of just how extraordinary he is.”

Global Growers Network to establish organic, cooperative farm in Rockdale
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CONYERS — A 23-acre tract of land on Bethel Road in Rockdale County has been acquired by Global Growers Network in Atlanta for creation of an organic farm operation.

According to Global Growers Network, the farm will be home to 15 to 20 small farm operations led by growers from diverse cultures. The farm will model cooperative farming practices as a shared community farm that will grow fresh and culturally diverse foods from around the world. In addition, the site will feature spaces for community gatherings, farm events, pick your own fruit and vegetables and celebrations of local and global food culture.

“Global Growers Network is on a pathway to land ownership following 10 years of developing farms and gardens on leased land with our talented grower network, most of whom face current and historical barriers to land access,” said GGN Executive Director Robin Chanin. “Together, we are creating a model of land stewardship that will drive community wealth building while also preserving and sharing important cultural traditions.”

The farm property was acquired with financing from the Working Farms Fund program led by The Conservation Fund. Within three years, The Conservation Fund will secure a conservation easement that will permanently protect the farm and reduce the final purchase price for Global Growers Network. In the meantime, Global Growers Network will immediately begin to farm the land, while investing in soil health and farm infrastructure. This unique and patient pathway to farm ownership is part of a broader initiative to keep farms productive, protect metro area farmland, and grow a more resilient local food system. GGN broke ground as one of the first farm operations in Georgia to enter into this innovative program with the Working Farms Fund. GGN will embark on a campaign to raise the necessary funds for the ultimate purchase of the farm, as well as land improvements and facility renovations at the farm.

GGN, based in Decatur, operates other smaller garden sites in Decatur in Clarkston.

Developer seeks rezoning for The Oaks golf course, plans mixed-use development
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PORTERDALE — A rezoning request for 270 acres of The Oaks golf course property has been filed with the Porterdale Planning and Zoning Department.

The request seeks to rezone the property in order to redevelop the golf course to include a commercial node at the intersection of Brown Bridge and Crowell roads, develop a residential community, and convert nine holes of the existing golf course to a par three course. According to the application, the residential component will include 142 single-family lots, 190 townhome units and 360 apartment units.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Board will hear the request June 1 at 6:30 p.m. at Porterdale Memorial Gymnasium. The City Council will consider the request June 7, 6:30 p.m., at City Hall.

The application, filed by Infinity Homes and Development of Covington, is requesting that 5.26 acres on Brown Bridge Road be rezoned from single-family residential to Commercial Neighborhood; that 263.24 acres be rezoned from single-family residential and Commercial Neighborhood to a mix of single-family residential, multi-family residential and Commercial General; and that 1.5 acres on Crowell Road be rezoned from single-family residential to multi-family residential.

In addition to the rezonings, the developer is requesting a change to Porterdale’s Future Land Use Map.

Porterdale City Manager Frank Etheridge said the project is considered a Development of Regional Impact and, as such, will be reviewed by the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission.

The golf course property is owned by The Oaks Associates, a limited partnership made up of 10 partners. Former District 3 commissioner Nancy Schulz and her husband, Dick Schulz, bought the golf course in the early 1990s. Nancy Schulz holds the largest share of the limited partnership and works as the controller of the business.

Infinity Homes and Development is also developing the Cedar Shoals mixed-use project on Covington Bypass Road in Porterdale. Together, the two projects could add hundreds of single-family and multi-family dwellings and as many as 6,500 residents to the city, said Etheridge.

Etheridge said Porterdale is preparing to provide services to the new development. The Newton County Water & Sewerage Authority currently provides services to The Oaks, but Etheridge said that could change if the golf course is redeveloped.

“That will be negotiations that the city and Water and Sewerage Authority will have,” he said.

At Tuesday night’s Newton County Board of Commissioners meeting, a resident who lives near The Oaks expressed concern about the rezoning.

“I don’t have a problem with development if it is done right, if it is done well thought out,” said Gladstone Nicholson. “I hate to see future land use plans just willy nilly changed because a developer asked for some property …The idea here is that particular property is in the city of Porterdale, but yet all negative impacts will be felt by the citizens of Newton County … All spillover will go from that city directly onto Crowell Road. We talk about Crowell Road being overcrowded … whatever they build will impact us negatively.”

Nicholson asked the county to begin discussions with Porterdale about deannexing The Oaks property.

COVID-19 vaccination events for Rockdale students, families, staff set for May, June
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CONYERS — Rockdale County Public Schools and the nonprofit Kids’-Doc-On-Wheels (KDOW) are partnering to hold free COVID-19 vaccination events for those age 18 and older, including RCPS students, families, staff and community members. The events are free and will be held May 15 and June 12, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Rockdale Career Academy, 1064 Culpepper Drive.

The Moderna vaccine will be administered at the events. Moderna has been approved for those age 18 and older. The link to pre-register is available at www.rockdaleschools.org/vaccination. On-site registration is available but pre-registration is strongly encouraged.

“We are excited to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to all students, staff and families 18 and older on May 15th through our partnership with Kids’-Doc-On Wheels,” said RCPS Superintendent Dr. Terry Oatts. “This will add another layer to our COVID-19 mitigation measures, which include: free testing for staff since January, free testing for students and families since February, free vaccines for staff in March, requiring masks be worn by students and staff, maintaining social distancing, and promoting frequent handwashing and the use of hand sanitizer. We especially want our 18-year-old high school seniors and their parents to take advantage of this opportunity to receive the first dose of the vaccine prior to attending graduation. We look forward to our in-person commencement ceremonies and having more people who are vaccinated in attendance will only enhance our COVID-19 safety measures. We are working closely with KDOW to offer the Pfizer vaccine as soon as possible to our students age 16 and older and when approved by the FDA, make it available for ages 12 and up.”

Rockdale graduations will take place at each high school’s stadium on the following schedule: Salem High School, May 26; Rockdale County High School and Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology, May 27; Heritage High School, May 28.

Those receiving vaccines are asked to bring two items: 1) Either a drivers license or state ID, and 2) Either a health insurance card or Social Security card. Parents are not required to accompany 18-year-old students.

Attendees are strongly encouraged to pre-register online (www.rockdaleschools.org/vaccination) to allow the clinic to better prepare. Please note: The appointment times in the pre-registration form are not real appointment times; service is offered on a first-come, first-served basis from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. On-site registration is available but may slow down the process.

Georgia residents age 16 and older can also schedule COVID-19 vaccinations by going to www.gnrhealth.com/covid-vaccine- scheduling or going to https://myvaccinegeorgia.com.

RCPS, through its partnership with KDOW, has offered ongoing, free, drive-through COVID-19 testing services since January at RCPS schools – the first district in the state to do so. A schedule of COVID-19 testing dates for students, families, and staff is available at www.rockdaleschools.org/covid19testing .

KDOW also offers free, school-based telehealth and mobile medical services for RCPS families. These comprehensive pediatric services, which are available to all RCPS families on a voluntary basis, supplement existing school-based clinic services and can help reduce missed instructional time for students and missed work time for parents. For more information on telehealth with KDOW and how to sign up, visit www.rockdaleschools.org/telehealth.