180 Days Hartsville: An inside look at issues facing rural S.C. schools

By Harris E. DeLoach, Jr.

On March 17, at 8 p.m., SCETV will air 180 Days: Hartsville, a documentary about the state of education in rural South Carolina schools. The filming took place in Hartsville, South Carolina, and follows the actions of two elementary school principals and a fifth grader throughout the course of the 2013-14 academic year.

As with most documentaries, 180 Days: Hartsville delivers on situational drama and high emotions as a single mother and her support system struggle to keep her son on track while she works two minimum-wage jobs. What you won’t see in the documentary is the background of why the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC) came to Hartsville to tell this story.

The actual story begins in 2010, when Dr. Robert Wyatt, president of Coker College; Dr. Rainey Knight, former superintendent of Darlington County Schools; Dr. Murray Brockman, president of the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics (GSSM); and myself went to Yale University to meet world-renowned educator Dr. James P. Comer. Dr. Comer needs no introduction in the academic arena. His School Development Program (SDP) has been integrated into school systems worldwide. His decades of research have proven that when the principles of child development are incorporated into every day teaching practices, schools improve and children learn. Dr. Comer believes that development and learning are inextricably linked. Therefore, when parents, educators and the community collaborate to improve social, emotional and academic outcomes for children, students attain greater school success and personal achievement.

In February 2011, Sonoco, Coker College, the Governor’s School, Darlington County School District (DCSD) and Yale University announced the establishment of the PULSE program. PULSE is the Partnership for Unparalleled Local Scholastic Education and is a first of its kind, public-private education partnership. It is designed to deliver comprehensive scholastic excellence in Hartsville public schools by expanding curriculum opportunities and further improving student achievement through collaborative academic and social development initiatives. It is a two-pronged approach.

The first component of PULSE, not featured in 180 Days: Hartsville, is the Accelerated Learning Opportunities (ALO) program. ALO involves expanding learning opportunities for eligible Hartsville students attending Hartsville or Mayo High schools through collaborative teaching programs from the GSSM and Coker College. Since its inception in Fall of 2011, GSSM instructors provide qualified Hartsville public school students with enhanced science, math and language classes, such as organic chemistry, pre-engineering and advanced physics. Coker College provides college credit courses to eligible high school students in such programs as language (Mandarin Chinese), art, design, music, theater and dance. Student successes have been numerous, from higher AP test scores to scholarships and national recognition for students working with professors to publish academic papers.

The second component of PULSE is the Comer SDP. While not mentioned by name in 180 Days: Hartsville, Comer SDP is the foundational basis of all activity in the two schools featured in the documentary. The program is in its fourth year of a five-year pilot at four Hartsville elementary schools. At its core, the focus at these four schools is student development and improving academic achievement. This is done through classroom learning, school wide participation and supportive parental involvement.

A strong component of the School Development Program includes community support. Fortunately, Hartsville has an abundance of committed citizens who support our children every day, whether they volunteer at the schools, mentor our students, share their expertise in the community garden or act as den leaders for our ScoutReach troops.

The effect of the School Development Program in Hartsville is cascading: it doesn’t just help the students in the four pilot schools. Many of our students’ parents have gone on to continue their own education and increase their own personal and academic success. We have one parent volunteer who went back to college, and is now teaching at an SDP school.

While I may be biased, the story in Hartsville is unique, and I applaud the National Black Programming Consortium for wanting to tell the story of how our community is pulling together to make a difference in the lives of our children and the future of our great town. They are telling one story. We have thousands of great stories that began with a single vision. That vision is to provide students with incomparable educational opportunities designed to help them excel. All of the partners serve as catalysts for educational endeavors necessary to impart academic excellence on our students as they become the workforce of the future.

Following the airing of the documentary on March 17, there will be panel discussion from 10-11 p.m. on SCETV. I encourage you to tune in and see if you can find some common areas where you can make a significant difference in your own community.

Harris DeLoach is Executive Chairman and retired CEO of Sonoco Products Company, a Hartsville, S.C.-based global provider of a variety of consumer packaging, industrial products, protective packaging, and displays and packaging supply chain services. With annualized net sales of approximately $5 billion, the Company has 20,800 employees working in more than 330 operations in 34 countries, serving some of the world’s best known brands in some 85 nations.

Author: Duane Childers

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