Casey Hancock

PBS documentary premiers at Center Theater on March 12

 180 Days: Hartsville offers inside look at local education

After a year of filming in Hartsville schools, PBS will premier 180 Days: Hartsville at Center Theater on Thurs., March 12 at 6:30 p.m. The 45-minute, edited version will be followed by a live panel discussion featuring some of the documentary's leading characters. The event is free and open to the public. The full-length (2-hour) program, co-produced by the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC) and South Carolina ETV, (SC ETV), will air on Thurs., March 17 from 8-10 p.m. (check local listings for station information.)

180 Days: Hartsville tells the story of a fifth grade student struggling with behavioral issues that threaten his academic performance. It illustrates actions taken by his principal, teachers, mother as they use the Comer School Development Process (SDP) to work together and identify solutions to bring about a positive resolution for the young boy. The documentary also details a year in the life to two principals: one, the daughter of sharecroppers, and the other, a first year principal.

180 Days: Hartsville was funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) as part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative to stem the dropout crisis by supporting community-based solutions. While not specifically mentioned in the documentary, the community-based solution in Hartsville features the Comer SDP, underway at four Hartsville elementary schools since the 2011-2012 school year. Now in its fourth year of a five year pilot program, teachers and staff at the schools foster an atmosphere of consensus and no-fault problem solving as they focus on links between behavior and learning. Dr. James P. Comer, founder of the Comer SDP, and Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine's Child Study Center, has spent his career promoting the collaboration of parents, educators and community to improve social, emotional and academic outcomes for children that, in turn, help them achieve greater school success.

The Comer SDP is part of the PULSE initiative announced in February 2011. Partners for Unparalleled Local Scholastic Excellence (PULSE) include the Darlington County School District (DCSD), Coker College, the South Carolina Governor's School for Science (GSSM) and Mathematics and Sonoco. Coker College, GSSM and DCSD staff provide flexible and innovative teaching programs for Hartsville students. Sonoco has provided $5 million in funding over five years to improve collaboration in and among schools, strengthen the local school system, provide students with incomparable educational opportunities designed to help them excel academically, and prepare them with skills necessary to be successful in the work force.

“PULSE was created to improve academic and behavioral outcomes by enabling educators, parents, families and community partners with tools to bridge the gap between education and development in learning,” says Sharman Poplava, executive director of the TEACH Foundation, the not-for-profit organization that manages funding for PULSE. “The documentary highlights one success story at the elementary school level, and we have hundreds more similar stories. We hope other towns and cities will assess their own unique public and private resources and develop workable plans to improve education in their schools.”

ALO engineering students visit Sonoco's biomass boiler

Putting classroom activity into real-world experience

Seven Hartsville High School students in PULSE Accelerated Learning Opportunities (ALO) engineering and AP Calculus classes finished the 2014-15 school year with a visit to Sonoco's biomass boiler facility. The $75 million boiler was part of a $100 million investment in the company's Hartsville, S.C., complex.  

Sonoco engineer David Rhodes, who was one of 15 guest speakers to visit the ALO engineering class, organized the trip and gave the students an inside look at the boiler, which is fueled mostly by woody material from regional logging, but can also run on natural gas. Touted as a technological advancement that helps business grow and succeed, the boiler can produce 16 megawatts of green energy and steam, both of which are used at the Hartsville complex.

ALO instructor, Dr. Jerome Reyes, explained that the trip to Sonoco allowed students to reflect on what they learned about engineering throughout the year, and see it in action firsthand. "Touring Sonoco's facility and conversing with multiple engineers about high level concepts like design and construction, to engineering details such as power efficiency ratings and dimensional analysis suddenly made everything we've done all year real for our students."

Engineering student Christopher Rhodes noted, “The trip was invaluable. It allowed me to experience real applications of an engineering degree. I was able to see what an engineering job setting could look like, and it gave me a new respect for everything we discussed in class.”

Similarly impressed was engineering student Rubaiya Anika. She was suprised to learn that such sophisticated engineering facilities and related job opportunities were available in the small town of Hartsville. "I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet engineers and ask them questions," she said. "I now have a newfound desire to embrace our community more.”

After the tour, Sarah Smith, a freshman engineering student, commented, “Seeing the company, and talking to the engineers that work there, has made an impact on the career path I’ll likely take.” She was decidedly impressed by the design and operation of the biomass machinery. Smith added that she wants to pursue future opportunities for an internship at Sonoco based on her experiences at the company.

Dr. Reyes said one of the most rewarding aspects of the field trip was listening to the engineering students have intelligent conversations with the engineers on site. "This is what the PULSE ALO program is all about. We are offering students the opportunity to enhance regular academic requirements with challenging, thought-provoking course work. Their reaction after the trip to the biomass boiler clearly illustrated how far the students had come since the start of class in August."

Reyes added that the trip left the students with one resounding message: as much as they learned about engineering this year, they realize they have only scratched the surface. "Opportunities like these combined with a genuine thirst for knowledge will catapult these students to successful careers in engineering," he said.

Scoutreach packs go horseback riding

Boys earn belt loop for endeavors

October was an exciting month for Scoutreach pack members. The four packs from the Comer schools each spent a day at Tally Ho Equestrian Center in Timmonsville, SC. They included:

  • Pack 542- Washington Street Elementary
  • Pack 543- Thornwell School for the Arts
  • Pack 544- West Hartsville Elementary
  • Learning for Life Group 500- Southside Early Childhood Center

The children learned many new skills that align with the Comer developmental pathways. They used the physical and cognitive pathways when receiving instructions how to ride. They used the ethical pathway as they learned several ways to care for a horse before, during and after riding. They exercised the social pathway, sharing an adventure with their friends, adult leaders and riding instructors. They also used the language and cognitive pathways, learning safety rules and hand signals to communicate with the horses. Some scouts were brave enough to ride without a lead.

Scouts that participated earned belt loops for horseback riding, presented at the November Scoutreach banquet.


Scoutreach banquet draws families

Capacity crowd celebrates scouting milestones

More than 200 scouts, their families and den leaders attended a banquet at St. Luke Methodist Church on Nov. 20. Four Scoutreach packs from the Comer schools in Hartsville celebrated recent successes and gave the children progress belt loops.

Belt loops are awarded to scouts after completion of the three belt loop requirements in an academic subject or sport. Academic belt loops are gold, and sports belt loops are silver, except for the archery and BB-gun shooting belt loops, which are brass colored. Belt loops are worn on the Cub Scout belt. 

At the banquet, the scouts earned Reading and Writing belt loops after a recent trip to the library. To see the list of all requirements need to earn this achievement, use this link.

Scouts who attended the horseback adventure also earned the Horseback Riding belt loop. To see the list of requirements for this achievement, use this link.

In attendance were scouts from Pack 544 at West Hartsville, Pack 542 from Washington Street and Pack 543 from Thornwell. Southside students belong to Learning for Life Group 500.

There was a catered dinner, a slide show showing the activities since the beginning of the school year, a short program and then recognition of the scouts. Family members enjoyed good conversation and lots of laughs.

Mentors meet their charges

October 2014

St. Luke United Methodist Church hosted the fourth annual mentor meet and greet celebration for students attending the Comer schools. The PULSE mentor program was created to develop lasting and meaningful relationships between mentors and mentees in the Hartsville community. The program has more than 60 mentors serving 70 students in the four Comer schools.

Over 50 students, parents, teachers and district officials attended the event. To break the ice and create a more relaxed atmosphere, there were games and activities for everyone. In addition, two students performed for all in attendance. Austin Burgess, a student at West Hartsville elementary, provided a formal welcome in the form of a poem. Ja'Leya Liles, a student at Thornwell School for the Arts, delivered a rousing rendition of Kelly Clarkson's song, Breakaway. This is the first year the students/mentees have performed.

Students share ALO experiences

Details on year 3 challenges and opportunities

ALO classes are rigorous and challenging. Students from a variety of classes share their experiences and offer insights for other students considering ALO courses. Courses include AP Computer Science, Molecular Biology, Advanced Chemistry, andAP Calculus.

AP Computer Science (first year taught)

"I thought the class was extremely informative and it was fun to learn programming. Dr. Dostert was extremely helpful in teaching us while we were programming and tried hard to get us to learn. The course itself was extremely challenging and rewarding. My expectations were exceeded as far as what I hoped to learn in the class."

"I found the class very fun, exciting, informational, and interactive. Dr. Dostert's teaching ability helped us be confident in asking for assistance, but didn't let us depend on him too much. He was also very good at helping me fully understand most of the material. However, I think a more selective group of students will help this class a lot. Students can really take a lot of information away from the class, just as long as there aren't many distractions. But in the end, it was challenging and I looked forward to it every day. Our end of the year project also combined everything that we have learned throughout the year so we had to recall and use what we have learned in different, more difficult ways."

Molecular Biology

"I feel better prepared for college as a result of the teaching style, expectations and course work. I felt challenged to always do my best work, pay attention and participate in the class discussion. Dr. Flaherty was prepared to lecture and address any of our questions. He went above and beyond to make sure we were learning each day of class, and established a relationship with each student and encouraged the learning process. This PULSE class was more effective than any other high school class I have taken. 

"[This class] prepares me for a college class. The teacher treated us like adults, [and the course] better prepared me for taking notes in college. [This class] needs to be encouraged more to other students."

"This class has taught me useful information not only about molecular biology but also numerous life and college skills. Students who plan to take this PULSE course should be prepared to be challenged in every way possible. Be prepared to work! The teacher establishes a good relationship to the students and learning is individualized when needed. Questions are highly encouraged to help the students with their understanding of what is being taught. The social (Twitter) aspect of the course was a new and interesting way to acquire more scientific information. Taking good notes, having good listening skills and paying attention to what is taught and said will greatly help the advancement within the class. Posting grades could be a possibility so that the students can know what their grade in the class is, and so that they know what they need to improve on. Overall Molecular Biology is a great course to take especially when pursuing a career in the field of science."

Advanced Chemistry

"The course was much more understandable to me than my first year of chem honors. The teacher was very thorough with his notes and explanations. I enjoyed having a teacher that you could see the enjoyment of teaching the subject. The fact he used only notes for examples but gave us notes from his memory of teaching the subject so long and from having such a true understanding of the subject."

"I absolutely loved being in the PULSE advanced chemistry class. The teacher was fabulous, understanding with the students, and cared for the students and their understanding of the topic. The choice of taking Advanced Chemistry through the PULSE program will forever be a good decision. I will take all of what I did in this class with me to, through, and past college. I loved this course and would recommend it to anyone interested."  

"I thoroughly enjoyed taking AP Chemistry through the PULSE Program. It was a very interesting class. We were actually able to participate in interesting lab assignments and were treated fairly. The material was challenging but we were always prepared for tests and exams. The access to AP text and workbooks was a nice addition to our studying. Being able to take the AP Exam gave incentive to take the class and pay attention. Teaching methods were successful and interactive labs were too. I wouldn't change any teaching practices for next year; especially the College Level Grading Scale."

AP Calculus

"AP Calculus has been an adventure this year. While it has been extremely hard, it has been very useful in that I have learned an abundance of information. This class has made me work hard, and I feel like everything that we have done was very calculated and efficient. There are not many things I could say for improvement, other than not as much homework (no, the amount of homework was really not that much). But really, I truly, genuinely can say that this class was done near to perfect, and I have learned so much. "

"This Calculus class has been extremely beneficial to me this year. I would not change any part of it. Dr. Reyes adequately prepared us for the AP exam and pushed us to learn and to succeed. It was difficult and took a lot of hard work, but it was worth it. I learned so much this year and if I could go back I would not wish for it to have been any different. I am thankful I was given this opportunity and I feel that it has helped me greatly as I prepare to go to college in the fall."

Teachers, staff attend Comer 104 training

Two-day sessions review SPMT, SSST concepts and ideas

The Coker College library was buzzing with activity for two days in early August as teachers and staff from three of Hartsville's four Comer schools participated in professional development. Dr. Camille Cooper, the Implementation Coordinator for Hartsville and the director of Learning, Teaching and Development for the Comer School Development Program at Yale University, led the instruction.

The first day focused on the functionality of the School Planning and Management Team (SPMT). Starting on a positive note, a quick review of successes from the 2013-14 school year enabled paired teachers and staff from different schools to compare information. In one instance, teachers from Thornwell School for the Arts and Southside Early Childhood Center compared notes on incentive programs designed to encourage appropriate behaviors. At Southside, the Bear Hugs program is tied to the Comer Pathways. At Thornwell, the Tiger Paws program is also tied to the Comer Pathways, but it was modified for students in grades four and five who thought the rewards were too babyish.

Other first day sessions encouraged teachers and staff to work in breakout sessions with other schools, present findings and share common solutions. While discussing the role of the SPMT, Dr. Cooper suggested each schools strive to streamline its activities with a comprehensive school plan that combines required plans, such as TAP, the system for student and teacher advancement, Title 1 and others. “By aligning goals and activities, these plans can all work together,” Dr. Cooper says. “Streamlining makes it easier for teachers and staff to be successful.”

Later, participants from each school worked individually to assess the progression of its SPMT. They then worked together, discussing among themselves and arriving at a consensus, and later presented findings to the other two schools. Every school noted that communication could be improved, and that by focusing on school issues rather than personal/personnel issues, the team would be more effective. Other issues included bringing new teachers up to speed on the Comer Process and learning who is in charge of what on the teams.

The second day of professional development was similar in structure, but focused on the Student and Staff Support Team (SSST). Again, the day started with recognizing successes and identifying where gaps exist so plans can be made to fix any areas of identified improvement.

New team members were especially grateful for the overview of how the SSST fits into the school's day-to-day activities. One teacher explains, “This was a great session. I am new to the SSST and I am committing to being an active member in every way possible.”

The teachers and staff also reviewed and evaluated discipline procedures. Each school presented an overview of the process for disciplining a child, and then the entire group made suggestions and recommendations on how to overcome barriers that do not support development.

“Dr. Comer believes that when a child acts out, there is a development issue along one of the pathways,” says Dr. Cooper. “We need to prevent potential problems from becoming crises. We do this by providing classroom teachers with strategies to support development and model desired behaviors.”  

Learn more about the SPMT in the January 2014 issue of the Comer Connection
Learn more about the SSST in the March 2014 issue of the Comer Connection