A pair of Horry County Public Schools educators painted a relatively positive picture of race relations in the county’s schools, but also laid the effort for continued growth at the feet of parents and the community.
Denise Armor-Brown, a 14-year teacher at PeeDee Elementary School in Conway, and John Williams, a middle school principal, told about 40 people in the farmhouse at Freewoods Farm that race relations among students were relatively positive, but that didn’t mean that opportunities for improvement did not exist.
“The students get along, they really do get along,” Armor-Brown said. “Most kids cling together because of their interests, their family ties.”
“I haven’t seen a big problem; they date each other, they get along,” said Williams, a 16-year veteran of middle school administration.
At the same time, Armor-Brown pointed out, students had a need to learn their history.
Black history is not being taught in the schools, she said, certainly not in second grade and very little in third grade.
“In the fifth grade, students learn about the Harlem Renaissance era; that’s the only time that they are exposed to the history of African-Americans,” she said. “And is it on the assessments? Do they have to learn it and know it? No.
“And as far as Black History Month, if there isn’t a faculty member, an African-American faculty member, that steps up to the plate and says, ‘We need to do something for Black History Month,’ it’s not going to happen. That’s sad,” Armor-Brown said.
She took it upon herself about seven years ago to help educate the students about Black History Month.
“I’ve been teaching for 14 years, and since then we’ve had a really good black history program., but we aren’t allowed to call it black history,” she said.
She explained that because PeeDee Elementary is a Title I school – it receives additional federal funding because more than 70 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches – it is prohibited from singling out specific ethnic groups. So the school has scheduled multicultural events, she said.
Both educators stressed a need for more parental and community involvement in the schools.
“Parent involvement is our No. 1 need,” Williams said.
At the elementary school, it seems more parents are involved, but that involvement dwindles by the time the students get to middle school, and for him, that can be a problem.
“In elementary school, children are adult pleasers,” he said. “At middle school, it shifts to peer pleasers. Parents and community involvement is needed more at middle school because that is when students are trying to figure out who they are. And they need parents, grandparents, everyone.”
Armor-Brown said that it’s important for students at elementary school to see more black faces in the school.
“It makes a difference, even if it’s just to eat lunch or to read to children,” she said. “Sometimes in school children don’t see another black face – except for teachers and administrators – until they get to middle school or even high school,” she said. “And that’s not good for our kids.”
The educators also warned the parents to be more involved with their children’s education. While parents can’t be impelled to come to school unless there’s a discipline problem, they need to be aware of what’s happening in the schools.
“On parents day, you’d be surprised by the number of parents who don’t show up,” Armor-Brown said.
“Know your rights, too,” Williams said. “You can help your student by knowing that if there’s a problem, you have appeal rights.
“When a kid commits an infraction or is accused of committing one, you have the right to appeal to the principal, you have the right to appeal to the office of student affairs, you can appeal to the school board,” he explained.