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NEA's Back to School Tour Day 3 Starts in South Carolina

In the early morning hours, before the sun had even risen, President Lily Eskelsen García’s day began with a discussion with educators, parents, and community members at Bluffton High School. Joined by South Carolina Education Association President Bernadette Hampton, local President Lisa Lucas and Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka, President García addressed a group of students dreaming to become educators.

“I don’t want you to take this wrong—we have fewer and fewer people going into education,” President Garcia told the students. “Polls show the answer is ‘yes, but I am worried about compensation, professional development, support, etc.  But ultimately, that’s not why we do it, is it? For me, I had much higher motivations than being a millionaire. I was going to change the world.”

From Bluffton, President García visited Penn School, one of the state’s first schools for free African Americans and met Robert Milsen, a graduate of the Penn School, who told President García about the school’s history of education and social justice.

From Penn School, President García visited Whale Branch Early College High School, a school that was hard won by the community it serves. She met with community members who advocated tirelessly for decades to get the school built in their community. From the 1950’s until recently, the community did not have a high school and the mostly black students were bussed out to integrated schools many miles away. Opponents of the school had said, “if this school is built, it will be destroyed in 3 years.” And even after the referendum passed, the school took another decade to be completed.

“The kids carry that pride around,” said one community member to President Garcia, “Because they know that someone fought for them.”

And it was a remarkable school, offering college-level biology and graduating students with enough credits to complete community college. One student was graduating with two associate level degrees before she even had her high school diploma. And in the ROTC club, another milestone, all four of the student leaders are women.

Next, President García toured the Avery Center, the first black high school in Charleston and the current cultural center and historic site, founded in 1865. The school was featured in the Call Me Mister program from former educator and state representative Floyd Breeland. “When I was in school at St. Georges, we didn’t have a library,” recalled Breeland. “We had a stove and that was it. The two professions that got respect—a teacher or a preacher. That’s when I decided to become a teacher. “ Rep. Breeland later fought to create the Call Me Mister program in the South Carolina General Assembly.

Finally, President Garcia ended her day with a Town Hall at the College of Charleston, on closing opportunity gaps and ending institutional racism. Joined by future teachers, fellow educators, including SCEA leadership, and community members and local leaders, President García explained that we’ve lost the focus on closing opportunity gaps during NCLB.

“I now have student members at the NEA who say, “I’m not sure I’ll be allowed to be a good teacher. That’s why we have to continue the fight for every child to have time to learn and for educators to be able to have a say in their education.

The town hall featured a robust discussion of how to engage parents in the community especially when the educators don’t live in the communities they serve and student members talked about innovative initiatives in their program that featured service in local communities and enabled future educators to work with parents and students in their effort to truly understand the challenges faced by their future pupils.

The program also featured an exciting program sponsored by NEA: Education Summer. The program trains members how to build one-on-one relationships with parents and community members and gives them the opportunity to talk to them one-on-one to build stronger public schools. The program was well received by communities, school boards, and parents and town hall participants discussed how to replicate the effort in even more states. The evening drew to a close on this positive example of collaboration and innovation and the tour closed its third day with strong and positive discussions.

See more NEA Back to School Tour 2015 Highlights

NEA 2015 Back to School Tour: South Carolina

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