Dr. Comer discusses SDP process in Hartsville

Speaks to TEACH Foundation board, visits schools

Dr. James P. Comer, founder and director of the School Development (SDP) at Yale University's Child Study Center, spent three days in Hartsville during January. He attended the TEACH Foundation board meeting, presenting research on brain development and discussing the SDP implementation process in the four elementary schools. Following the board meeting, Dr. Comer spent some time at each of the schools, visiting with the principals and talking to students and teachers. He also attended the District Planning and Management Team meeting in Darlington.

Dr. Comer explained to TEACH board members that there is a connection between development and learning. “Development and learning are inextricably linked. If children develop well, they learn well.

“Education as an enterprise doesn't focus on development,” Dr. Comer adds. “Instead, the focus is on the input and output of information.”

That input/output model worked through the 1950s and early 1960s, making it possible to find employment without an education. Today, in a high-tech environment, that is no longer the case. Children who don't succeed in school are unable to earn a living. “This change is the cause of many of the problems we see in society,” he says. “We are spending too much money on social welfare and entitlement programs and not facing the development issues that can make a difference.”

Because the human brain doesn't fully develop until age 25, most behavioral and impulse problems are caused by immaturity and underdevelopment. Rather than punish children for such behaviors, Dr. Comer's program supports creating a culture where adults work together to help children become more responsible for their behavior and learning. As this change occurs, it reduces many of the problems facing society.

“We can't assume that kids who are different are bad or dumb,” Dr. Comer says. “They are underdeveloped. If we can understand that and approach kids developmentally, we can make a difference.”

It is often the role of the school, Dr. Comer adds, to help children gain the skills necessary to interact positively and get feedback. “Using the six pathways, we show children what we expect in terms of behavior. When we help kids commit to desirable behavior, we get successful outcomes. Ultimately, children take responsibility for their own behavior and learning. Over time, we get to where we need to be to have the outcomes we believe are possible.”

Dr. Comer says that visiting Hartsville is a unique experience. “It's a pleasure to work in a community that doesn't use a one size fits all approach, but rather fits the program to meet the needs of the students.”

As the pilot program heads toward the end of year 3, Dr. Comer believes the components are all in place. “The end of the third year is the time when the School Development Program really takes off,” he says. “The framework is in place at all the schools. People are beginning to make the connections between development and learning. We are seeing teachers taking abstract ideas and creating concrete outcomes.”