This week, my school visits included a visit to a middle school – Heyward Gibbes Middle School this time. I took a different turn at the front office, headed to the cafeteria and decided to have pizza with a table of eighth-grade students. You can tell a lot about school climate and culture in and out of the classroom.
Of course, the pizza was recommended and there were other conversations as well. Some of the lunch topics covered the usual areas – who’s hanging out with whom, who’s been good and who will do better moving forward. The students also talked about some of the social media discussions that were going on as well. Sound familiar as a middle grades conversation? I also had an interesting conversation about a student’s family trip to Guatemala through their church. The student and I had a discussion about conversational Spanish and tried our hand at it over lunch.
The students also shared that they are enjoying the use of the laptops and the associated technology that are part of our Digital Learning Environment (DLE) initiative, and they invited me to see their classroom door which had been decorated in conjunction with this week’s Red Ribbon Week activities. Walking to the classroom, I discovered that was a Student of the Month at our lunch table as well.
It was a great lunch. We must always keep in mind that our students bring with them their experiences, personalities, dreams and aspirations. We must continue to nurture these things as a part of the teaching and learning process.
We have shared information about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) integration in Richland One. Those efforts include two high schools – W.J. Keenan and Lower Richland – that were among the first in the country to be awarded national STEM certification from the AdvancED Accreditation Commission.
In order to have the most robust programming at the high school level, we have to ensure that similar activities are going on in our middle and elementary schools as well. Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Hopkins Middle School, one of the feeder schools for Lower Richland High School. During my visit, seventh-graders were utilizing the Greenwood Genetics Center’s mobile lab to extend their science studies. Donned in lab coats and safety glasses, students engaged in real-work observation and experimentation in this authentic setting.
This is just one of the many partnerships and enriching activities and experiences that we offer our students to help prepare them for a bright future.
The unprecedented flooding that impacted the Columbia area left in its wake the loss of lives and cherished possessions, a lack of running tap water and the inability to travel down roads and over bridges that normally provide easy access to various parts of the city and the county.
While it was a tragic and catastrophic event in many respects, we also experienced triumphs in amazing rescue and recovery efforts and an overwhelming outpouring of support from those near and far. It is in times like these that we are reminded that we are indeed connected and that we have more in common than not.
Again, I want to thank the members of the Richland One family who opened and monitored schools and supported those who were displaced; those who prepared meals for students in need; and those who may have suffered personal losses but still found it within themselves to help someone else. Thanks as well to those who went to neighborhoods to check on students and families during this time. I also want to thank the Columbia community which continues to support those that have been impacted. These actions speak to the core of what it is to be a community.
Now that the cleanup and rebuilding process has begun, water service is returning to normal and roads and bridges that have been closed are reopening, we are regaining a sense of normalcy. We resumed classes Wednesday, and it warmed my heart to see our students back in school and to hear the sounds of laughter and learning again.
To enable our students to return to school, our Student Transportation Services team (which is responsible for carrying 13,000 of our 24,000 students to and from school every day) worked tirelessly to adjust over half of the 675 daily bus trips made by our 194 buses, so our bus drivers could navigate around areas with closed roads and/or bridges. Our school district covers nearly 500 square miles and includes urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods, most of which were impacted by the flood, some to a greater extent than others. I know that our teachers, parents and students greatly appreciate the efforts of our Student Transportation staff as well.
Finally, as we bring this week to a close, let us continue to keep those who have been impacted in our thoughts and prayers. For them, it will be a different normal in the days, months and years to come.
The School Improvement Council, or SIC, is an integral part of working with our schools and school stakeholders in the improvement process. This is valued work on behalf of the individuals who serve on these councils, and their time and participation are greatly appreciated. Ultimately, all of this work should be of benefit to our students.
I have the opportunity to meet with the SIC chairpersons and their respective school administrators throughout the school year. In these meetings, we share information about various activities and initiatives in the district, and we get feedback about what we are doing in Richland One to increase opportunities for student success. Ongoing two-way communication, between the district and its stakeholders, is critical.
This dialogue has shown that our parents are very engaged and supportive of their respective schools and that they value their school community. As such, all of our students, regardless of the schools they attend, are important to all of us in Richland One. Our achievement is reflected in their growth and progress.
Thank you again to our parents and community stakeholders for your contributions!