Clemson, Jasper County receive $250,000 for underserved school district
RIDGELAND — The South Carolina Education Oversight Committee has awarded the largest grant amount possible to Clemson University and Jasper County to drive positive change by focusing on the teachers and families of 200 children enrolled in four-year-old kindergarten programs.
Dolores Stegelin, professor of early childhood development at Clemson University, is a collaborative partner with Jasper County. Stegelin said that although the state is expanding funding for 4K programs, counties such as Jasper still have to make a good case for why 4K programs are crucial to their student success.
“Programs such as these are expanding on a national level because research is supporting the need for programs before kindergarten,” Stegelin said. “This is especially important in impoverished areas.”
Stegelin worked with officials from the Jasper County School District to apply for the grant and develop programs. Stegelin and colleagues from Clemson’s College of Education, along with other early childhood professionals in the state, will provide a series of interventions in Jasper County.
The first intervention, a preschool academy for Jasper County’s 4K teachers, took place in early August. This weeklong academy addressed priority issues for teachers before the start of the school year. Clemson faculty members including Stegelin, Faiza Jamil and Jennifer Schumpert conducted the academy with the help of doctoral students Andrea Emerson and Koti Hubbard.
Other interventions will take the form of an environmental needs assessment for teachers, mentoring and professional development support, and monthly workshops that cover curriculum topics and educate teachers on how to engage parents in their children’s education. Classroom assessments will be completed at the beginning and the end of the academic year, while workshops, teacher mentoring and family engagement activities will take place throughout the school year.
“We want to create a learning community for teachers,” Stegelin said. “Teaching in underserved schools is highly stressful, so that learning community will go far in aiding the students and giving teachers a support system that will keep them invested in their jobs.”
Jasper County is the southernmost county in South Carolina and has historically been one of the poorest counties in the state. According to Stegelin, the county currently sits at a poverty index of 97 percent, and the two elementary schools in the county serve approximately 200 children in 4K programs. Jasper County is part of the federally designated Promise Zone in South Carolina and is eligible for various types of funding to strengthen education, health and economic development in that region of the state.
According to Stegelin, providing a play-based environment in 4K introduces children to an educational setting and the “give-and-take” of the classroom. This experience increases school readiness and the likelihood of success in the classroom.
“Going from a non-stimulating environment straight into 5K can be challenging,” Stegelin said. “A 4K program eases children through that transition and puts them on a level playing field for those crucially important first years in school.”