Two Comer schools recognize students with all-A report cards

Thornwell and West Hartsville celebrate academic accomplishments


Thornwell School for the Arts (TSA) and West Hartsville (WHE) held completion ceremonies for grade 5 students on Thurs., May 28.

Nearly 350 family members came to support students as TSA graduated 77 students at the Center Theater. The school's choir performed a song, and Darlington County School District coordinator of k-12 ELA and Social Studies, Marthew Ferguson, was the guest speaker. Hartsville Rotary presented checks to Amiyah Adams (valedictorian) and Laila McDaniel (salutatorian) for making all As from grade 1-5.

As WHE graduated 81 in the school auditorium, nearly 300 family members attended the celebration. Rotary presented a check recognizing Kristyn Anders (valedictorian) for making all As for five consecutive years.

Spring Fling offers ideas, activities to prevent summer learning loss

Large crowd participates in festivities

Students and their families represented the four Comer schools in high style at the Spring Fling, with more than 300 people filling Hartsville Middle School. The Spring Fling, sponsored by the PULSE program, and funded by the TEACH Foundation, was designed to help parents and caregivers learn creative ways to prevent summer learning loss. Nearly a dozen community organizations set up booths to share ideas for summer activities.

Sharman Poplava, executive director of the TEACH Foundation, was delighted with the turnout. “This is a busy time of year and it was wonderful to see so many parents and children take the time to see what resources Hartsville has for children during the summer months.”

Justin Dunham, Comer facilitator for the Darlington County School District (DCSD) welcomed the crowd by quoting an African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” He then introduced each of the villages that help raise children in Hartsville—ranging from the family and school to the participants of the resource fair that set up table top exhibits featuring the services they offer to stem the loss of learning over the summer months.

“Our village is here tonight,” Dunham explained to the crowd. “We start with the Comer program. It's a national program that's about changing processes in our schools and reorganizing them to educate the whole child. Our village is here tonight."

Some highlights of activities for children included:

  • The Hartsville Museum offers many art and cultural exhibits, as well as numerous historical displays, at no cost

  • The Hartsville Memorial Library provides free cards for books, DVDs/CDs, reference materials and more

  • Girl Scouts of America is featuring a special program in Hartsville this summer

  • The Boys and Girls Club of the Pee Dee provides a variety of sports, fitness and recreation, as well as character development and leadership skills

For details on all the vendors at the resource fair, use this link.

The Spring Fling also featured five breakout sessions and a variety of activities for children in the gym. The sessions included:

  • Understanding Child Development with Dr. Camille Cooper from Yale University Child Study Center and the Comer School Development Program;

  • Literacy Matters: How Can Parents Help? with Mrs. Kathryn White, literacy specialist

  • Family Games/Learning Applications with Mrs. Brandy Benjamin, Grade 3 teacher, Thornwell School for the Arts

  • Helping Children Cope with Change with Mrs. Aimee Knight, MS, LPCI, Solid Rock Family Counseling Services, LLC

  • Classroom Dojo Application: Positive Classroom Management with Mr. Spencer Gaither, Exceptional Education, Thornwell School for the Arts

By helping families understand that learning loss does not need to happen, the breakout sessions offered concrete ways to encourage and participate in summer learning opportunities.

The evening's activities also included a boxed dinner, family games, face painting and two performances; one by the percussion ensemble at West Hartsville, let by Mr. Marlin Ketter, and the second, Thornwell School for the Arts ensemble performed three songs, led by Diane Pauley, music teacher for TSA's magnet school.

Spring Fling offers tips to prevent summer learning loss

Comer school families invited to participate

In an order to prevent learning loss over the summer months, PULSE is sponsoring an evening of activities for families at the four Comer schools. The Spring Fling will be held Wednesday, May 20, from 5:30-7:45p.m. at the Hartsville Middle School, and will feature fun for the entire family. Additionally, parents will discover numerous ways to emphasize reading, use free apps to encourage learning and participate in a resource fair. All events are designed to help students continue learning throughout the summer.

The National Summer Learning Institute supports the notion that in order to succeed in school and life, children and young adults need ongoing developmental experiences to learn and practice essential skills. This ties in with the Comer School Development (SDP) model, in place at four Hartsville Elementary schools.

Using more than a century of collected data, the Institute reports that most students lose the equivalent of two months of grade equivalency in mathematics, and low-income students tend to experience an equal loss in reading achievement. The Institute also documents lower scores on standardized tests following summer vacation than at the beginning of summer.

Justin Dunham, Darlington County School District Comer facilitator, and coordinator of the Spring Fling said, “The Comer schools are always looking for ways to involve families. We hope by the time they leave, our parents and caregivers will be equipped with all the necessary resources to combat summer learning losses.

In addition to the learning opportunities, the Spring Fling will feature musical performances, learning sessions, games for children and refreshments. Prizes will also be given away, including a family pass to the Piratesville Splash Pad.

Dunham said he hopes the event will help parents and students continue developing nurturing relationships with other community groups in Hartsville.

The Spring Fling is for families and caregivers of students attending Washington Street Elementary, Southside Early Childhood Center, Thornwell School for the Arts and West Hartsville Elementary.

For more information on the Spring Fling, contact Justin Dunham, Darlington County School District Comer facilitator, 843-857-3276.

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

2014 mentor banquet filled with smiles and fun

The 2013-14 mentor program concluded the year with a dinner and awards celebration at St. Luke United Methodist Church on Thurs., May 22 at 5pm.  The event was attended by mentors, mentees, mentor coordinators and family members.

Pastor Stuart Pritchett, Gum Branch Baptist Church, Hartsville was the featured speaker. He encouraged both mentors and mentees to mine their potential. He also suggested to seek the best and look for the good in one another. As a mentor in the program, the preacher says he will be returning next year.

The 2013-14 mentor program included 48 mentors and 54 mentees. Mentors were recognized and presented logo t-shirts embroidered with PULSE logo. Mentees were recognized and received back-packs filled with school items-books, pencils, games and toys.  


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. 

Classroom jobs promote student development and community

Part 2

By Cynthia R. Savo and Catherine Romaine Henderson

(Editors' note: Before the start of the 2012-13 school year, the Comer Core teams in Hartsville participated in Comer 102 professional development workshops that asked educators to examine the activities that take place during the course of a school day and how to make them more developmentally supportive. In the February 2014 issue of the Hartsville Comer Connection, part 1 of this two-part series focused on Nancy Williamson and Lana Faile's 5K classroom at Southside Early Childhood Center. The focus of part 2 is on classroom and school jobs for fourth and fifth grade students at Thornwell School for the Arts.)

At the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, fourth grade teacher Michelle Brand assigned jobs to all of the students in her homeroom. This was a change from what she had done the year before when only some students had classroom jobs. "I realized that the students without jobs felt left out. I thought that if I gave all of them jobs every student would feel equally important," she explains. "I think that when the children have more responsibilities, they take better care of our classroom, and it makes them more responsible for their chores/jobs in the real world."

In the morning Brand's students work together to get the classroom ready for the school day. Preparing for breakfast is job one. Some students go down to the cafeteria to pick up the food and drinks, others take down the chairs down and wipe off the tables. Others turn on the lamps around the room and sharpen pencils. When the food arrives, they are ready to eat breakfast together then clean up afterwards.

Brand sees the "jobs for all" strategy as a win-win for her students and herself. "Having jobs makes students feel important and gives them ownership of their learning environment," she says. They don't argue or fuss over who is doing what. Because they receive incentives for doing a good job instills a sense of pride and responsibility."

And, Brand adds, because the jobs rotate throughout the year, everyone has an opportunity to contribute to a positive and collaborative learning environment.

As for herself, Brand says that having students perform simple tasks in the classroom gives her more time to focus on other things that only she can do.

Student Jobs in a Developmentally Supportive School

It takes a coordinated effort to start off each school day smoothly. Principal Julie Mahn says, "We are a working machine in the morning" due in large part to the effort of a group of fifth grade students. "They help first and second grade teachers by cleaning the tables and setting up for breakfast, preparing the room, and assisting children with the computers. They are excellent."

Students also get ice for the health room, some are assigned to empty the recycling bins, others raise the flag. "I have several principal's helpers," says Mahn. "I leave work on the table and a to do list, and they get it done. The workers wear tags and complete time sheets. They get paid $2 every two weeks. I enjoy watching them learn how to be responsible and they know we depend on them."

"Developmentally fourth and fifth grad boys and girls work well together and like to perform adult tasks," says Dr. Camille Cooper. "Socially they worry about who's 'in' and who's 'out,' so providing everyone with an opportunity to contribute to their classroom learning environment and the school is developmentally supportive. It is important for all the adults in their lives to effectively channel the restless, high energy of this developmental period into constructive community service that gives them a role and earns them the adult recognition they seek."