Dr. Comer visits West Hartsville

Children discuss pathways with SDP founder

Meeting Dr. James P. Comer was an exciting moment for students at West Hartsville Elementary School. Dr. Comer stopped by to visit during a January trip to Harsville. Principal Tara King escorted Dr. Comer through the halls and introduced him to staff and students.

When meeting a fifth grade class, students were given the chance to ask Dr. Comer questions. One student asked him how he came up with the idea for his School Development Program. Dr. Comer credited the young man with asking an excellent question before explaining that he and his childhood friends had totally different outcomes in life. He wanted to study why that happened.

Dr. Comer also stopped by the Media Center and spoke to students who were reading and working on the computer. He also visited Miss Adams' science class. Although students were at lunch, he and Miss Adams discussed a pathway board she keeps on the wall. 

Dr. Comer visits Washington Street Elementary

Observes students and teachers in classrooms

Dr. James P. Comer visited Washington Street Elementary School during his visit to Hartsville, Jan. 22-24. Principal Valerie Sawyer gave him a quick tour of the school and introduced him to students and teachers. 

Dr. Comer was able to see a class of second graders learning how to do research on the iPad. The school is piloting the electronic device as a learning tool. During the class, he observed many of the pathways at work: Social, language, cognitive and psychological. 

Dr. Comer visits Thornwell School for the Arts

Students, teachers discuss benefits of SDP

Dr. James P. Comer went to Thornwell School for the Arts to learn more about how teachers and students are using data walls, and he found a lot more than he expected. Principal Julie Mahn met with Dr. Comer, taking him on a tour and explaining how the Comer SDP has impacted the school.

“It has been a whole turn around as far as our culture,” Mahn told Dr. Comer. “It has changed the behavior of this school. Parents are more involved, students are more involved. We are truly a blessed school."

Dr. Comer stopped fourth grader Miyon Mungo to talk about his education. The young man had a quiet conversation about how the Comer SDP has impacted his own life.

While looking at the data walls throughout the school, Dr. Comer was pleased to see that Thornwell is on track for the Transition year, year 3 of the program. This is the time when all the framework is in place, and decisions are being made based on data, rather than emotion. It is also when abstract ideas become concrete. He praised the data walls as an example of taking an abstract idea, such as a test score, and making it something concrete for students.

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.”


PTO family night at West Hartsville

Pathways night features the physical pathway

The January 14, 2014, the parent team hosted a PTO New Year's Resolution party at West Hartsville Elementary School and focused on the physical pathway. Parents, children and teachers were treated with a presentation by a dental health educator, a Zumba lesson and a healthy meal. 

Principal Tara King shared school information to make sure everyone knew about upcoming events within the school and community. The New Year’s Resolution Party addressed goal setting for students and parents, as well as discussing healthy eating habits, the importance of physical activity and community resources to address heart health and wellbeing.

Following a presentation on the physical pathway, the night concluded with Zumba and a dinner of soup and salad. 

Celebrating family connections during Grandparents Day

Thornwell School for the Arts

Any day with grandparents can be special, but when they come to school, it's even better. Students at Thornwell School for the Arts invited grandparents to come and visit in celebration of Grandparents Day.

Grandparents Day was an idea from housewife Marian McQuade. The woman living in Fayette County, West Virginia, wanted to champion the cause of lonely elderly in nursing homes, and also wanted to persuade grandchildren to tap the wisdom and heritage their grandparents could provide. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed that National Grandparents Day would be celebrated every year on the first Sunday after Labor Day.

The smiling faces on both children and grandparents at Thornwell School for the Arts demonstrates how important the love of a grandparent can be.

West Hartsville Back to School Bash

More than just a meet and greet

West Hartsville Elementary School will host its 2013-2014 Back to School Bash on August 15 from 4-6pm, at its campus on 214 Clyde Rd. in Hartsville.

Parents and students will have the opportunity to meet teachers and staff, locate classrooms, sign up for volunteer opportunities at the school and learn more about the Comer School Development Program. 

The Back to School Bash will also include a cook-out and fun activities for the families of West Hartsville Elementary. The midday personality, Ayers, from 103X radio station will be broadcasting live. Volunteers from Kelleytown Baptist Church and Automatic Data Processing (ADP), Inc., will be on hand to assist with the festivities.

Friends and families with students at West Hartsville Elementary are invited to come and kick-off the new school year. 

Families flock to West Hartsville Back to School Bash

Building relationships with parents and students key objective

The first Back to School Bash held at West Hartsville Elementary on Aug. 15, went beyond the traditional meet and greet, and engaged families in an entirely new way. The two-hour event was full of fun and entertainment that engaged children, their parents and siblings in ways to take the stress out of starting a new school year. Students walked the halls with their parents in a scavenger hunt, meeting teachers and visiting classrooms. At the Media Center, they chose a free book. After the indoor activities were done, a family-style cookout was held on the school grounds.

Recalling an African proverb, “It takes a village,” school principal Tara King says the teachers and staff understand that relationships are crucial to student success.

The school's Parent Team came up with the idea for the bash. The Parent Team is an involved group of parents, teachers and staff that evolved out of the Comer School Development Program (SDP). The school is beginning its third year of a five-year pilot program designed to improve student learning and academic performance. “We are all partners in the development of our children,” King explains. “Good relationships with parents are crucial to our success.”

Dorothy Anderson brought her fifth grader and 4K grandchildren to the event. Now that she is raising her grandchildren, she says it's important to keep up with everything they do. Active in many aspects of the girls' schooling, she notes, “It makes a big difference in how they learn.”

In Christa Henderson's fourth grade class, she explains how the day is structured, and eases any fears about changing classes. “Don't you worry,” she says to a young girl, “we won't let you get lost.”

Outside, as the event draws to a close, fifth grader Jocelyn Sellers proudly wears a West Hartsville sweatshirt she won. “I had fun today,” she says enthusiastically, recounting the games she played and the scavenger hunt tasks she accomplished. “I can't wait for school to start.”

One of the main objectives for the event, King says, was to get parents to sign up as volunteers. When one father signed up, he said he didn't think there was much he could do, but the teachers assured him, there would be plenty of ways he could help. Parent involvement can be as simple as reading to a class or serving on a committee.

“We want to encourage parents to be involved,” King says. “We are all in this together.”

For more information on volunteer opportunities at West Hartsville Elementary School, contact the school, 843-857-3720.