“I have some pretty good success stories,” says Charlene Gladney, with a gleam in her eye.

That’s not a boast, just a fact – and it starts with her own story.

Charlene grew up in Greensboro, went first to NC State where she earned her bachelor’s degree and later to North Carolina A&T where she earned her master’s – both in electrical engineering. She then went the corporate route for a number of years along with her husband, who is also an electrical engineer and has earned his graduate degree. They worked at places like General Dynamics and Labcorp and as Charlene taught Sunday school, she saw a disturbing trend among some of the young people in her class.

“They were planning to drop out of school and manufacturing was going away,” says Charlene. “Their parents and grandparents had manufacturing jobs and made a good living – they were either in textiles or furniture – and I was like, ‘This is not a good plan we have to do something about this.’ I just knew what the end could be if they did not receive a high school diploma and I wanted them to think beyond just getting a high school diploma.”

That “something,” Charlene did ended up being Operation XCEL. It’s an after school and summer program that takes kids from kindergarten through middle school and transforms their lives.

“Last year, 100% of the children grew in their reading, math and science – we had 100% growth,” notes Charlene.

They do that with a team that has excelled in life much as Charlene has. Steven Ollison has biology and chemistry degrees, himself, and teaches at Jamestown Middle as well as with Operation XCEL. He believes education for kids at this age goes far beyond reading a book.

“They get to learn everything, hands-on, and we get to connect the curriculum to what they do,” Ollison says. “When they put their hands on it, they embrace it in a different way.”

Operation XCEL goes beyond academics to teaching kids how to be self-sufficient with things like learning nutrition and how to make healthy meals.

It was perfect for Tamiko Dumas and her son.

“When this program came into play, I thought that was great because they do focus on that – how children interact and how they should interact with each other,” she says. “For my son, with him 12 and being on the Autism scale, some of that social development is kind of hard for him.”

Although Tamiko did fine in school, that’s not the case for all the parents and that ends up being a challenge for their children. “Parents need a lot of help, navigating the school system, especially if they didn’t navigate the space well when they were in school, it can be intimidating,” says Charlene.

But that doesn’t mean they can succeed which is why Operation XCEL works with a simple but powerful motto: “Never count a kid out.”

See more on Operation XCEL in this edition of the Buckley Report.