At 8 p.m. on Tuesday, SCETV will air “180 Days: Hartsville,” a PBS documentary about the state of education in rural S.C. schools. The filming took place in Hartsville and follows the actions of two elementary school principals and a fifth grader through the 2013-14 academic year.
As with most documentaries, “180 Days: Hartsville” delivers on situational drama and high emotions, as a single mother and her support system struggle to keep her son on track while she works two minimum-wage jobs. What you won't see in the documentary is the background of why the National Black Programming Consortium came to Hartsville to tell this story.
The actual story begins in February 2011, when Sonoco, the Darlington County School District, Coker College, the S.C. Governor’s School for Science and Math and Yale University’s Child Study Center Comer School Development Program announced the establishment of the PULSE program in Hartsville schools. PULSE is the Partnership for Unparalleled Local Scholastic Education and is a first of its kind public-private education partnership. It is designed to deliver comprehensive scholastic excellence in Hartsville public schools by expanding curriculum opportunities and further improving student achievement through collaborative academic and social development initiatives. It is a two-pronged approach.
The first component of PULSE, not featured in the documentary, is the Accelerated Learning Opportunities program. This involves expanding learning opportunities for eligible Hartsville students through collaborative teaching programs from the governor’s school and Coker College. Since its inception in 2011, governor’s school instructors have provided qualified students with enhanced science, math and language classes, such as organic chemistry, pre-engineering and advanced physics. Coker College provides college credit courses to eligible high school students in such programs as Mandarin Chinese, art, design, music, theater and dance. Student successes have been numerous, from higher AP test scores and scholarships to national recognition for students working with professors to publish academic papers.
The second component of PULSE is the Yale University’s School Development Program, developed by world-renowned educator James P. Comer, Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry and associate dean of the Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Comer has spent decades successfully integrating his program into school systems worldwide. While not mentioned by name, this program is the foundational basis of all activity in the two schools featured in the documentary. At its core, the focus at these schools is a holistic approach to student development and improving academic achievement. This is done through classroom learning, schoolwide participation and supportive parental involvement.
A strong component of the School Development Program includes community support. Fortunately, Hartsville has an abundance of committed citizens who support our children every day, whether they volunteer at the schools, mentor our students, share their expertise in the community garden or act as den leaders for ScoutReach troops.
The effect of the School Development Program in Hartsville is cascading: It doesn’t just help the students in the four pilot schools. The parents of many of our students have gone on to continue their own education and increase their own personal and academic success. We have one parent volunteer who went back to college and is now teaching at a School Development Program school.
While I may be biased, I believe that the story in Hartsville is unique, and I applaud the National Black Programming Consortium for wanting to tell the story of how our community is pulling together to make a difference in the lives of our children and the future of our great town.
They are telling one story. We have thousands of great stories that began with a single vision. That vision is to provide students with incomparable educational opportunities designed to help them excel. All of the partners serve as catalysts for educational endeavors necessary to impart academic excellence on our students as they become the workforce of the future.