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We, Mountain Projects: Angie Gass Roberson & Cayson Tiedge

Cayson Tiedge recently won high academic honors at Sylva’s Smoky Mountain High School, including National Honors Society, New Century Scholars and 4-H Youth Leadership Council. Now he attends the University of North Carolina on full scholarship and plans to pursue a degree in Psychology.

His academic path, though, started many years ago in Angie Gass Roberson’s Head Start class behind the high school on Fairview Road, where Cayson, then quiet and shy, was one of his teacher’s favorite children. She’s extraordinarily proud of his achievements.

One of many longtime Head Start teachers in Haywood and Jackson Counties, Angie is proud of the many relationships she’s built.

“I was a single parent of a child with disabilities, so I know what that feels like,” she says. “I know how much it means to receive help when you need it – it’s priceless – and I’m someone who wants to give back. I’m grateful for all the people who have helped me succeed.”

That gratitude translates into a generous and warm style of teaching.

“I want kids and their parents to understand that they are precious to me, that they matter,” Roberson says. “That they can come to me or the other teachers and we can relate to what they’re going through. I’ve had parents to come in and need to vent because they don’t have another adult to talk with. I listen the best I can. The most important thing about my job is being emotionally and mentally present for my families.”

Some students are at a disadvantage, Roberson points out, and occasionally Head Start is the only place a child might get a hot meal. Although the pandemic has restricted some activities for the short term, Roberson and other teachers, along with parent volunteers, often assemble food and clothing boxes for families in need. Within the framework of the program, employees work to meet the needs of the whole family.

“I hope the community will support these programs,” says Roberson. Make a financial contribution. Go to Sylva Linings and purchase things for your home. We are getting these children prepared for a positive future and when covid is out of the way, Lord willing, Head Start will expand the number of kids and families in our programs. I can’t think of anything better to invest in the future of our community. This is not just my job. This work is in my heart.”

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