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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Clarendon panel puts educational onus on parents

SUMMERTON Educators, community leaders, members of the faith community and parents agreed Monday that getting parents involved in their child's education at an early age is critical to improving education in Clarendon School District 1.

Sponsored by the South Carolina Commission for Minority Affairs, the third of 13 town meetings was held at Scott's Branch High School to address the educational needs of children.

"By reaching out to these communities, we are hoping to build a grassroots network that will support the work of the commission as we complete our study on education and community outreach programs, promote the Education and Economic Development Act of 2005, advocate for increased parental involvement in education and support legislation that improves education for all," Aisha Staggers, the commission's program coordinator for African-American Affairs, said in a prepared statement. "Ultimately, this network will be the driving force for change in South Carolina."

Staggers acted as facilitator of the two-hour roundtable discussion with panelists Dr. Rose Wilder, superintendent of Clarendon 1 schools, Santee-Lynches Regional Council of Governments Executive Director Jim Darby, Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis, Clarendon 1 Board Chairman John D. Bonaparte, the Rev. Dr. William T. Johnson, pastor of Taw Caw Missionary Baptist Church and Ben Boozer with Clemson University Extension Service.

"How well are we preparing our children to compete in the global economy and in South Carolina's work force?" staggers asked the panelists. "Are we investing our resources early enough to ensure that all children excel in their educational experience? And provided that all things are truly equal at school, is that enough to save our children from poverty and deprivation?"

The consensus was that poverty is not the lone reason the educational needs of the children in the district are not being met.

Wilder said parents need to begin preparing children for pre-K before they reach the age of 1.

"From zero to 3 years of age is vital," Wilder said. "The brain is like a sponge and we're not doing what we should between the ages of zero and 3."

"The community needs to grab the bull by the horns and come to grips with education," Boozer said. "The community needs to do more."

Bonaparte said the district needs to use test data to set the strategies in motion for improving education.

Dennis was blunt when he called for holding parents accountable for their children's education.

"Parents now are much younger," he said. "They aren't as responsible as their older counterparts. They are not being held accountable. We need to identify programs, identify parents and then hold them accountable."

Johnson said he believes the lack of education in the younger parents might be at the crux of the problem.

"Many of the children's parents maybe didn't graduate," Johnson said. "Maybe they don't understand what they need to do or how to go about getting the job done."

Wilder said "parents only come to school when they want to come."

"Parents need to meet (the district) halfway," she said. "We give our all every day. I can't ask any more of my teachers. We need to stop making excuses for certain groups."

Staggers said data from all the meetings will be compiled and the information will serve "to aid districts and communities" in their efforts to address the educational needs of their particular communities.

(This group is scheduled to be in Rock Hill on Oct. 1)

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