Hartsville named All America City

PULSE program key component of application


The city of Hartsville and its residents are still celebrating the victory of being named an All America City (AAC). Sponsored by the National Civic League, the AAC designation is given annually to towns, cities, counties, tribes, neighborhoods and metropolitan regions for outstanding civic accomplishments. The 2016 award program highlighted community efforts to "ensure that all our children are healthy and successful in school and life."

The process to become an All America City is daunting. The application asks direct questions about race, crime and employment. Specifically, each city must elaborate on three key community-driven programs, and make presentations to a jury of civic experts focusing on those examples of collaborative community problem solving. The application states: “We welcome descriptions of projects that ensure the success of all children, including at-risk children, through health or healthy community strategies and/or education strategies particularly seeking to improve attendance in school and/or projects that reflect the intersection of health and education.”

The Partnership for Unparalleled Scholastic Excellence (PULSE) was an integral part of the application's success story. The public-private partnership began in 2011, when then Sonoco president, chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) Harris DeLoach approached local leaders to improve educational opportunities and academic achievement for Hartsville students. Those leaders, Robert Wyatt, president of Coker College; Murray Brockman, president of the South Carolina Governor's School for Science and Mathematics (GSSM); and Dr. Rainey Knight, superintendent of the Darlington County School District, brainstormed ideas that eventually become PULSE.

PULSE initiatives create the framework for student success by providing an elementary school environment that supports and encourages whole child development and offers academic challenges for high school students. The goal is that at graduation, students will be prepared, contributing members of society and the workforce through the combined resources and collaboration. The two key components of PULSE—the Comer School Development Program (SDP) at four Hartsville elementary schools and the Accelerated Learning Opportunities (ALO) at the high school for students excelling in science, math, the arts and language.

ALO students benefit from collaborative teaching program between GSSM and Coker College. Classes through GSSM include Advanced Chemistry, AP Calculus AB, Robotics, Molecular Biology, Pre-Engineering and Mandarin Chinese I, II and III. Classes at Coker include art, music, theater and dance. Dual credit is available for the arts classes and Mandarin Chinese.

The Comer SDP uses a no-fault problem solving strategy among three teams at the school. The teams encourage parental involvement and participation. By creating and working a comprehensive school plan, the SDP focuses on nurturing the whole child along six developmental pathways. The Comer schools have seen an increase in student growth and academic achievement as well as a reduction in disciplinary issues.

The application also outlined numerous successes in both the elementary and high school initiatives. Also mentioned were the PULSE mentor program, and Scoutreach, which is active in all four of the Comer elementary schools. The former enlists citizens to mentor elementary school children and the latter is an extension of the Boy Scouts of America, designed to provide leadership skills to children in rural areas.

Sharman Poplava, executive director of the TEACH Foundation, which oversees the administration of the PULSE program, and member of the AAC team, says she is proud of the town's accomplishment. “It's a wonderful testament to the residents of Hartsville that we have been named an All America City. There is a tremendous amount of ground work that has to be done to prepare and participate in this process.

“This year's theme of student success is what the PULSE program is all about,” she adds. “Hartsville is a special place that strives to improve educational outcomes for students. It's nice to be recognized for all the things that our community is doing right.”

Poplava was joined by two ALO students, Stone Martin and Archie Torain. Tara King, principal of West Hartsville elementary, a Comer school, also attended on behalf of the PULSE program.

Hartsville is one of 10 cities that earned the All American City designation for 2016. The small South Carolina town was also an All America City in 1996.

Read the entire application and the numerous PULSE successes here.

Scouting celebrates 106th anniversary

On February 8, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) celebrate its 106-year anniversary. After incorporation by Chicago businessman and publisher, William D. Boyce, a group of public-spirited citizens worked to set up the organization we know today. The BSA is one of the largest youth organizations with more than 2.4 million youth members and nearly one million adult volunteers.

Hartsville schools have more than 115 boys involved in the BSA Scoutreach program locally. Scoutreach provides special emphasis to urban and rural scouting programs and is implemented as an on-site after-school program. Funding for Scoutreach is underwritten by Sonoco Products Company. The program is administered by the Pee Dee Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America and the TEACH Foundation, which oversees the Comer School Development Program (SDP) in four Hartsville elementary schools where the packs reside.

The purpose of the Scoutreach program in Hartsville is to support the Comer SDP precepts of child development which align with the BSA goals to build character in young boys and young adults, to train in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and to develop personal fitness.

Since the program was implemented in 2011, a total of 358 young boys at Washington Street, West Hartsville, Southside Early Childhood Center and Thornwell School for the Arts have enjoyed educational activities and been taught lifelong values combined with fun.

In the 2015-16 school year, the program boasts 115 young boys comprising BSA troops 500, 542, 543 and 544. Each school focuses on a difference grade level. There are Tiger Cubs from the first grade and Wolves from the second grade at Washington Street. The third grade Bear Cubs are at Thornwell and the fourth grade Webelos are at West Hartsville. Although Southside students are too young to be Tiger Cubs, they participate in BSA Learning for Life which promotes the came BSA values. Read more about Scoutreach.

Scoutreach is one of the many ways Partners For Unparalleled Local Scholastic Excellence (PULSE) is preparing our children for the future.  

After 180 Days: Hartsville/A Community Perspective wins award

A video produced by the TEACH Foundation earned an Award of Excellence from the South Carolina Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. After 180 Days: Hartsville, A Community Perspective was evaluated by independent judges from Nashville, Tenn., Altanta, Ga., and St. Louis, Mo.

The entry consisted of two parts: a work plan outlining the objectives and results of the project and supporting documentation illustrating the outcome. The work plan focuses on storytelling, and explains how Hartsville schools became the subject of a year-long video project managed by the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC). The project, called 180 Days: Hartsville was a two-hour documentary and part of the PBS public media initiative American Graduate: Let's Make It Happen. Co-produced by South Carolina ETV (SCETV) and NBPC, it aired in March 2015.

The documentary primarily focused on a fifth grader struggling with behavioral issues throughout the 2013-14 school year. Interspersed throughout the film, viewers could catch glimpses of key community outreach and involvement. However, the documentary was a snapshot and didn't explore the details of the Partnership for Unparalleled Scholastic Excellence (PULSE) initiative that played a significant role in the successful outcome of the student’s challenges.

PULSE is an inventive and repeatable path to improving education outcomes in rural schools through collaboration, innovative community resources and increased parental involvement. One of the programs within PULSE is the Comer School Development Program (SDP) which directly set into motion the success that ultimately ends the full, two-hour PBS documentary. In addition to elementary school programs, PULSE is implemented in the high school through Accelerated Learning Opportunities (ALO) not brought out in the documentary.

According to Sharman Poplava, executive director for the TEACH Foundation, After 180 Days: Hartsville, A Community Perspective explains the scope of PULSE and how it has impacted education in a small southern town. “The PBS documentary tells an important story about the redemption of a young student,” she says. “It is just one of many stories. We wanted to share a broader perspective on how the PULSE program created the environment for that redemption and success.”

In After 180 Days: Hartsville, A Community Perspective, the outcomes of PULSE are highlighted in different segments using interviews from community members who are committed to improving education in Hartsville. Also participating is the Comer SDP team at Yale University, including Dr. James P. Comer himself, who puts missing facets from the documentary into perspective. The TEACH Foundation was able to compile a video that answers pertinent questions about both aspects of the PULSE program and provides a roadmap other communities can follow for similar success.

Judging criteria for the awards included: effective writing integrated with design and visuals appropriate for the medium and the audience, creative and innovative approaches communicating with the target audience, and documented measurement of objectives. In the evaluation, the judges commented, “I was impressed with the quality and content of the video. It does an excellent job of describing PULSE's goals and aspirations.”

Poplava agrees enthusiastically. “We are delighted about receiving the award,” she explains. “It validates our belief that PULSE has an outstanding and pertinent message to share on education in South Carolina, particularly in the Hartsville schools.” 

The video can be viewed here and is embedded below.

Students enjoy character education program

NED: Never give up; Encourage others; Do your best

Students at all four Comer schools hosted a character education show in an assembly-style program. Called NED, which stands for Never Give Up, Encourage Others, and Do Your Best, the show is produced by All For Kidz Inc. The NED program is designed to motivate students and inspire teachers to use it to enhance the Comer School Development Program (SDP) in the classroom.

The NED program uses a multi-sensory learning model to inspire students. It was especially well-received at the Comer schools because it aligned with four of the six SDP pathways: ethical, social, cognitive and language pathways. 

Teachers received grade-level lesson plans about the NED performance. In the classroom, teachers were able to draw on parts of the performance as a strategy to connect with the Comer pathways. Teachers also have access to a website for additional classroom instruction and to elaborate on the Comer connection. 

The program was performed by one person. She talked to a life-size cut-out of a cartoon boy named NED who makes the wrong choices on his visit to Hartsville. He gets into trouble with a space alien. She engaged the children with yo-yo tricks and funny noises. The program was modified for Southside students, who are younger that those at West Hartsville, Washington Street and Thornwell School for the Arts.

To reinforce the instruction, the performer interviewed three students at the end of each performance to see if they understood what NED meant and why it’s important. Students received balloon animals and balloon hats for their correct answers. 

Dr. Comer named to President's Advisory Commission

Brings expertise in development and learning to prestigious panel

Dr. James P. Comer

Dr. James P. Comer

Dr. James P. Comer, founder of the School Development Program (SDP) and Yale Child Study Center professor, was recently appointed to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. Comer and 14 other members will advise the U.S. president and the secretary of education on ways to advance federal programs that improve educational opportunities for African Americans, increase participation of the African-American community in federal agency programs, and engage stakeholders in a national dialogue on the mission.

Charged with strengthening the nation by ensuring that all African Americans receive an education that prepares them for college, productive careers, and satisfying lives, the commission is part of the Obama administration’s broader mandate to restore the country to its role as the global leader in education. The mission fits into Dr. Comer's philosophy of development and learning.

“It was my belief 50 years ago that the focus of research and intervention in African-American education should be on excellence and potentials more than deficit; and should use a holistic and public health approach,” says Comer, the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale University Child Study Center. Comer has spent his career working to improve schools and education, “especially for children who have been closed out of the social and economic mainstream.”

In Hartsville, four elementary schools are in the third year of a five-year pilot program using the Comer SDP. Teachers, staff, administration and parents are learning the connection between development and learning. The Comer SDP is recognized worldwide for its success in improving scholastic performance of children from lower income and minority backgrounds.

Read the entire release.

Full employment in kindergarten classroom

Southside teachers embrace development model

Full employment promotes classroom community and student development

By Cynthia R. Savo and Catherine Romaine Henderson

(Editor's note: One of the challenges of implementing the Comer School Development Process (SDP) is learning how to apply the principles of child development to school and classroom practices and parenting.

The Comer SDP faculty provides professional development that teaches educators and parents how to integrate child development knowledge and principles into classroom practice and parenting. Rather than prescribing how educators and parents successfully integrate development and learning, the Comer SDP encourages participants to work together using creativity to identify possible solutions that make sense in a local context.

This article appears in the Feb. 2014 issued of The Hartsville Comer Connection, and highlights best practices of applied pathway knowledge and developmentally supportive practices in Hartsville's Comer classrooms.)


The idea for full employment in the classroom was an outcome of Comer 102 professional development. That training included a session called, A Day in the Life of a Developmentally Supportive Classroom. Core teams from each of the schools looked at every activity that takes place inside and outside a classroom during a typical school day—taking attendance, passing in homework, working in centers, greeting visitors, recess, lunch in the cafeteria, assemblies, using the restroom and more. (Download the chart outlining daily activities listed starting with a child entering a classroom, their departure at the end of the school day and everything in between.) One question guided the discussions: How could each activity support children’s development along the six pathways?

Nancy Williamson and Lana Faile’s 5K classroom at Southside

At Southside Early Childhood Center, kindergarten teacher Nancy Williamson and assistant Lana Faile developed a list of 24 jobs based on the previous workshop's discussion about classroom activities. With one for each child, the jobs included energy conservationist, concierge, domestic engineers, computer tech, a meteorologist, meal time coordinator, equipment handler, guest relations assistant, and others. Each child would have a job with specific duties for a week. Then they would rotate so by the end of the year, each child would have performed every job on the list. Part of the responsibility includes wearing a colorful laminated badge with the job title.

The excitement about the jobs is palpable in the classroom. Visitors are treated to presentations, where the children identify their jobs and duties. For example, the meteorologist explains that his job is to look out the window every morning and give a weather report to the class. The computer tech is responsible for turning on classroom computers each morning and turning them off at the end of the day. The meal time coordinator counts how many lunches are needed and reports the total to the cafeteria manager.

Mrs. Williamson says the children take their jobs seriously. “They wear their badges proudly around school,” she says. In the rare case when someone is fired for not performing job duties appropriately, they try to do better next time.

“The most coveted job is the kindergarten cop,” says Mrs. Williamson. Other favorites include domestic engineers who keep the tables clean, and the energy conservationist, who turns the lights on and off.

Classroom jobs support children’s development

The brilliance of the classroom job strategy is apparent. Children are developing along the social and ethical pathways, learning how to get along in a community, and understanding that every job supports the classroom in some way. The language pathway is also a focus, as children are learning words like meteorology, conservation, and concierge. They are also learning about self-esteem, worth and confidence, characteristics of the psychological pathway.

In January, during a visit to Hartsville, Dr. James P. Comer spent time in Mrs. Williamson and Mrs. Faile’s 5K classroom. The children were visibly excited to meet Dr. Comer and eager to explain their jobs and responsibilities to him. He confirmed that a job for every child provides a concrete way to contribute to classroom community, and creates a feeling of belonging and cohesion. It also supports brain development.

“Executive functioning must be developed, and you begin to develop it in early childhood,” Dr. Comer explains. “Providing children with jobs helps them gain executive functioning capacity. Kids from mainstream families get it because their parents have jobs and requirements that lead to and promote executive functioning. For kids whose families are not part of the economic mainstream, it's even more important.

“Executive functioning—the ability to plan, organize, and carry out tasks—may be as important, and perhaps more important, than academic achievement,” Dr. Comer says. “That’s what our children need to be successful in school, at work, and in life.”

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.”