SOCIETY HILL, S.C. – Unique within the Darlington County School District, Rosenwald Elementary/Middle School is a rural, K-8 school serving a small student body with a high poverty rate and a top-down determination to succeed.
Those circumstances, according to Principal Kim Mason, require continuous dedication to innovative concepts and an impressively passionate group of educators in order to provide equal educational opportunities for students.
And it is those qualities that are drawing the interest of a nontraditional teacher recruitment and placement organization, Teach For America (TFA). The nonprofit group works to advance educational opportunities for all students in areas of poverty. In the past year, TFA South Carolina’s relationship with Rosenwald blossomed, highlighted recently through Nicola Wynn, a science teacher at Rosenwald. Wynn is in her second year with TFA and earned the distinction of Darlington County School District’s 2014-15 Outstanding First Year Teacher.
Currently there are nine TFA teachers in the district, including Wynn, working in elementary, middle and high schools. But with Rosenwald in particular, TFA is finding a prime environment for advancing its mission.
At the request of TFA, Rosenwald recently hosted a forum featuring faculty, staff, students, community members and TFA representatives to discuss specific needs for the school and in the district. The goal of the forum was to generate guiding information for TFA to use in developing a new five-year plan.
Tawnee Waldron, a senior managing director with TFA’s South Carolina partnership who works with teacher leadership development, led the forum. TFA considers direct input from Rosenwald to be important in crafting future plans, Waldron said.
Those attending the forum discussed the types of programs students would like to have available, how Rosenwald fosters bonds with its community, and experiences with current and past TFA teachers at the school and in the district.
The forum was one of the first in a new push from TFA to build upon local networking and community relationships in order to keep recruited talent in the region.
In a related display of cohesiveness, TFA brought 62 first-year teacher recruits to Rosenwald in May for an induction ceremony. The visit marked the first time TFA brought first-year recruits into a school in such a manner, Waldron said.
Mason described how the recruits sat in on classes at Rosenwald for observation purposes. The recruits also had the opportunity to lead their own lessons under the watchful eyes of Rosenwald teachers before heading off to Atlanta for first-year training.
The school and the district’s dedication to innovative methods and success, Waldron said, coupled with the challenges rural Society Hill faces in affording the same education opportunities as larger cities, provided a tremendous experience for the recruits.
The relationship between Rosenwald, DCSD and TFA is a cherished one, according to DCSD Superintendent Dr. Eddie Ingram.
“I think Teach For America is willing to come to this district because we are so open to them coming,” Ingram said. “They certainly have choice. We’re really glad they’ve chosen to have their teachers join our schools. I appreciate them using Rosenwald as a training resource and a community for their focus group.”
The teacher pipeline TFA proives, as with the case of Wynn’s success, brings undeniable talent to DCSD classrooms, Ingram said.
“The teachers that come out of the TFA school are very idealistic, and they want to make a difference,” Ingram said. “They have a mission to make the lives of the kids better, and they’re eager to be able to help in places that are hard to staff. Even though we don’t always keep them very long, I think we can use their inspiration to help others take on a similar mindset.”
For Mason and the rest of her faculty and staff, Rosenwald plans to continue strengthening the bond with TFA in an effort to afford more opportunities for students to succeed in the classroom.
Teach For America partnered with South Carolina education in 2011, according to its website. In the five years since, the original corps of 30 members has grown to more than 160 serving 13,000 students in Pee Dee and Lowcountry communities. In particular, TFA works to recruit teachers for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. For more information, visit www.teachforamerica.org and www.darlington.k12.sc.us.
Darlington County School District serves more than 10,400 students in 23 schools throughout the county. For more information, visit www.darlington.k12.sc.us.