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Notes from a Fellow: Community Building

Notes from a Fellow: This is the second post from Jostin Grimes, a summer fellow with ICS through the Southern Education Leadership Initiative. Throughout the summer, Jostin will share reflections on his experience at ICS, thoughts on the field, and updates on projects. You can follow the posts here.

To say that my first week at i(cs) was insightful, overwhelming, and inspiring would be an understatement. I was introduced to the function of a think-tank and i(cs)’s personal contribution towards child success in the 21st century. At the beginning of week two, I joined Keller Anne Ruble at a conference in Spartanburg, SC regarding the “Way to Wellville”; an initiative to advance health and economic vitality for communities nationwide. Spartanburg is one of just five U.S. communities selected for this initiative. Spartanburg’s initiative is driven by the Mary Black Foundation, an independent grant-making organization that strives to improve health and wellness for the citizens of Spartanburg County, and an important partner in i(cs)’s work.   wellville logo

Initially I felt out of place, because I had no experience in community or health organizing, but Keller Anne insisted that I have an active voice in the discussions. As the conference progressed we were split into three groups: Early childhood, Health equity, and Neighborhood transformation. Each group went on site visits throughout Spartanburg that catered towards the group’s focus. While in these groups we engaged in site visits around Spartanburg that catered solely towards the group’s concentration. I was assigned to the Early Childhood group along with representatives from the chosen communities and two of Wellville’s executive officers—founder Esther Dyson and COO Marvin Avilez.

My previous visits to charter schools and specialized academies left me feeling as if I had entered into a prison environment. There was a uniform style of discipline,  students were confined to their desk, and teachers lectured for 50 minutes without incorporating  creativity into the lesson. So, I was prepared for another “scripted” school visit. However, before going on the site visits, I made sure to have an unbiased mindset while immersed in this amazing experience. 

First, we visited Meeting Street Academy, a school striving to strengthen student achievement for underrepresented students grades 3K-5. Meeting Street has operated since its founding in Spartanburg as a private school; however, it is transitioning  into a Spartanburg District 7 school under a public-private partnership, the first of its kind in Spartanburg County. A select group of three year old’s from one of the largest impoverished neighborhoods in Spartanburg County will serve as the inaugural public school class at MSA in an approach to increase early childhood development and success. As this model is new to Spartanburg and to the state of South Carolina, it will be interesting to watch the progression of private funders contribution towards ECE.

Spartanburg District 7 Superintendent Russell Booker and the administrative team at MSA gave us a brief overview of the school’s district transition, history, standards, and student expectations. Principal Raine Hackler, took great pride in making sure that the students, parents, and faculty at MSA were provided with an abundance of resources to soar to greater heights. [Fun Fact: Principal Hackler was the first principal of Main Street Academy, a mirrored chartered school in College Park, GA.] During this visit I envisioned how uniform discipline, S.T.E.A.M. curriculum, and strong parent-teacher relationship can result in a liberating educational experience for scholars nationwide.

Following Meeting Street, we met with Barbara Manoski, program manager, for Spartanburg Quality Counts, an early childhood Quality Rating and Improvement System under the offices of Spartanburg County First Steps. I admired Mrs. Manoski candid responses concerning the state of child care programs in South Carolina, but I was curious as to how faith based institutions interacted with governmental policies as it relates to early childhood education. Spartanburg Quality Counts gave me the opportunity to learn about various approaches to child care ratings and evaluations, and particular qualifications required to run an efficient and productive child care program. 

Initially I was expecting the conference to be consumed with esteemed, monotone experts in academia, but I was relieved to see the participants actively committed to holistic community improvement. Often times we overlook the crucial planning that goes into creating a well balanced community and the various components that go into making sure everyone feels comfortable. The platform that the city of Spartanburg is setting allows for other developing communities to have a model to work towards. Not only are the citizens of Spartanburg challenging the status quo but they are socially conscious, and pushing towards a more progressive agenda to exceed community standards.  

“To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.”- bell hooks


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  1. It sounds as if your experience was very enlightening, I have worked some as a consultant with the Mary Black Foundation and Russell Booker. They are good people doing good and important work. Sylvia Echols

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