On Tuesday, viewers in South Carolina and around the nation will have an opportunity to take a journey that spans an entire school year. It’s a journey that spotlights two elementary schools in Darlington County and explores one town’s efforts to raise the bar of education for all its children.
“180 Days: Hartsville” is a two-hour PBS documentary that tells the story of public education from a perspective rarely seen. No reporter to filter the commentary. No narrator. Primarily the words of a dedicated group of educators and a community committed to preparing its students for the global workforce.
We are proud this effort is a co-production of South Carolina ETV and the National Black Programming Consortium. It is part of the consortium’s “American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen,” a nationwide public media education initiative.
The talented executive producers, independent filmmaker Jacquie Jones and Amy Shumaker of ETV, are both Peabody Award winners, and they both understand effective storytelling and skillful editing. Hartsville is known as the little town with a big heart. It’s a community with some of the highest achieving schools in the state, and it has one of the highest graduation rates in South Carolina. But it’s also a community with high rates of poverty.
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The work of educators in this region is difficult. A rural area doesn’t have access to basic services and arts and culture that most larger cities enjoy. Students from homes of poverty face daily challenges of basic living: hunger, lack of adequate sleep and housing.
Harris DeLoach, the executive chairman of Sonoco, the diversified global packaging company based in Hartsville, says in the film that “education is not a sprint, it is absolutely a journey.” Mr. DeLoach led Sonoco to commit $5 million to the region to reform its schools and by extension transform a generation of young people.
The strategic thinking of addressing the “whole child” is the goal this community has laid out for the long-term.
What are the lessons for other schools and other communities in South Carolina and beyond? What can we do as citizens to support schools and truly make a difference in a child’s life?
Many public stations from around the nation will be discussing the findings of the film, and what they mean for their own regions.
These groups will be looking at themes such as raising student aspirations or expectations; building community knowledge about what makes a good student, teacher, leader and school; making high school and college graduation more attainable; and prompting more parent activity.
In Jacksonville, public station WJCT, in conjunction with its community partner, will invite attendees of a screening event to take concrete actions such as:
• Reading to a pre-kindergarten child for one hour a week. Research shows that early literacy skills are one of the main predictors for academic performance.
• Mentoring for one year. Research shows that adults’ support to children facing adversity can be highly effective in helping them with academic life.
“180 Days: Hartsville” represents television at its finest. Not just a broadcast, an interesting story or a beautifully shot video. It is all that, but it is also a catalyst for action.
Early in the school year, West Hartsville Principal Tara King challenges students to achieve their best and asks how many believe that they’re going to be on the all-A honor roll? The children raise their hands until all hands are reaching high in anticipation of this goal. It’s a powerful image for these young and eager minds. The film shows how this imagery can become reality.
“180 Days: Hartsville” is a journey of a school year. But our collective journey goes on. What are the steps we can take individually to help our children, and in turn help ourselves and our communities? It’s a long road, but the destination is well worth the journey.