Beaufort News

School advice for the ages, from Pre-K to senior year

Curtis Wright at Whale Branch Early College High School commencement on Tuesday, May 31, 2016.
Curtis Wright at Whale Branch Early College High School commencement on Tuesday, May 31, 2016. File photo

Every school year brings new challenges. Whether the hurdle is mastering a different set of hallways, facing more advanced classes or the thought of graduating from high school, students can always use a helping hand.

Luckily, education is a team sport, with teachers, administrators, counselors and families supporting Beaufort County School District students to be their best selves. Representatives of different areas of the school district took some time before the start of the 2016-2017 year to share their best advice and to talk about what parents and students can expect.

Early Childhood

Adrienne Sutton, principal of Michael C. Riley Early Childhood Center and Elementary School

Beaufort County has six early childhood programs, each one designed to help children not only academically but socially, emotionally and physically.

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Sutton has noticed that many parents are surprised with the level of academic rigor expected of pre-K and kindergarten students. They learn to identify and sound out letters and read simple words that follow patterns, like “cat,” “hat” and “bat.”

Rhyming is especially helpful for children whose first language is Spanish, because the language doesn’t follow the same grammatical rules as English, Sutton said.

At M.C. Riley Early Childhood Center in Bluffton, parents may also join the Latino Family Project, which uses a book-club format to get adults and kids reading together and discussing how they can support their young students.

Sutton says parents can help their students by preparing them well for class.

“Make sure they’ve got a good breakfast every morning, they go to bed early in the evening, take time to share with your child each evening what they’ve learned and participate in the activities the school offers,” she said.

First through Fifth Grades

Celestine LaVan, principal of Joseph S. Shanklin Elementary School

Parents, elementary school is a lot different from when you were a kid.

Students by now are used to using iPads for research, typing games, collaborations and even taking virtual field trips and connecting with kids like them in foreign classrooms, says LaVan.

And students are taking those school-issued devices home at increasingly early ages. For example, at Joseph S. Shanklin Elementary School in Beaufort, third- and fourth-graders will bring their iPads home for the first time this year, LaVan says.

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“One of the life skills that modern children need is how to navigate the digital world,” she said. “So accessing technology at an early age the right way and properly really is an advantage.”

But LaVan urges parents to remember the basics. Her best advice: read to your kids. Digital books are fine, but there’s still something to be said for encouraging kids to hold the real thing in their hands, and especially when it’s just for fun.

“The love of literature, the love of reading — whether it’s five minutes, 10 minutes at home — it’s becoming a lost art,” she said. “Parents can definitely help us out by reading with and to their children.”

Elementary school is also the time it’s most important for kids to get outside and play.

Students generally get about 15 to 20 minutes of recess each day and about one hour of physical education each week, where they learn about and practice different sports. But that’s not nearly enough, and LaVan says it shouldn’t replace getting them out from in front of the TV and setting their devices down to enjoy Beaufort County’s beautiful weather and nature.

Finally, parents, reassure your kids that it’s OK to make mistakes.

“That’s what teachers are for,” LaVan says. “To teach them what they don’t know, and it’s OK to not know everything.”

“Send them off every day with positivity, just hope, and let them know they can do it.”

Sixth through Eighth Grades

Pat Freda, principal of Bluffton Middle School

Freda’s favorite part of the school year is welcoming the new sixth-graders.

The majority of these students are transitioning from having one or two teachers to having several, which can be a big adjustment. The main focus at the beginning of the year is making sure the younger students are acclimating well and getting situated in their new environment, Freda said.

Middle school is the time to begin exploring students’ potential career paths with parents, teachers and counselors. Students can begin to test the waters to see what sort of industry would fit them best — what they’re good at and what they like to do.

This is the time for challenges, she said, both academically and socially as students get closer to high school and the world beyond. The important thing to remember is to take as much away from middle school as possible, Freda said.

Ninth to 12th Grades

Mona Lise Dickson, principal of Whale Branch Early College High School

Four years of high school go by fast.

To make the most of them, Dickson tells students to get involved in something outside of the classroom, whether it’s a sports team, club, the arts, volunteering or an organization like ROTC.

“We want them to be themselves, to be confident, to have fun in high school,” Dickson says, adding that taking extracurriculars seriously helps prepare teenagers for the next stage of their lives. “Set smart goals. Be specific, make sure they’re measurable, obtainable and realistic, and have a timeline on them.”

High school can be overwhelming at first, Dickson notes. Freshmen have to adjust to new schedules, which mean longer periods of instruction, fewer courses at a time and new teachers each semester.

As students get older, their parents need to learn how to balance independence with guidance. That’s especially important when it comes to social media, Dickson says, because colleges, employers and organizations often look to online profiles for clues about applicants.

“If you don’t want Mama to see it, then don’t post it,” Dickson says.

She added that parents should also involve themselves in their kids’ instruction.

“A lot of times, parents feel once their children get in high school, it’s hands off, they’re independent,” but that shouldn’t be the case, Dickson says. “It’s a myth that we don’t want to see the parent.”

Career and Tech

Karen Gilbert, director of Career and Technical Education

Director of Career and Technical Education Karen Gilbert said the technical and career-centric focus in Beaufort County schools is only growing. She urges students to take advantage of the career pathways available to them and to use available resources to determine which would be a good fit for them.

“Every one of our high schools has pathways that students can take advantage of,” Gilbert said. These pathways include welding, automotive, culinary, public safety and pre-nursing, with options available at each high school. “These technical careers and pathways are for all students,” she said, whether a student plans to attend college, join the military or enter the work force after high school.

On top of career-based courses, students are encouraged to take part in local internships and job shadowing, to give them a better idea of what can be expected in a given industry or field. Parents can be involved, too, if they’re interested in taking on a shadow.

“We’re only as strong as our community support,” Gilbert said.

The Guidance Office

Geri Henderson, director of Secondary Education and former lead counselor

Henderson said this school year is going to bring some changes for the district that she believes will be positive. Parents and students should keep an eye out for a new grading system, earlier FAFSA applications available and a new SAT format. Throughout all of these changes and more, guidance counselors are available to support students, parents and staff, she said.

“The main thing is for students to come to school ready to learn each and every day,” Henderson said. “Education is a partnership between the students, parents, educators and community.” She encourages students to work hard while they’re in school because there is more competition than ever for jobs.

Henderson said it is “pivotal” for parents to be involved and engaged in their children’s academic lives, no matter the level of schooling.

“Keep the line of communication open,” she said, reminding parents that guidance counselors are available to them, too, to help students plan for the future.

The Cafeteria

Michelle Ferguson, cafeteria manager at Beaufort High School

Ferguson oversees food services as an employee of Sodexo, a company working on a subcontract for the district. She said the focus of each cafeteria is customer service. Ferguson feels it’s important to treat every child coming through the cafeteria line with respect, while asking the same in return.

Every child should be provided with a nutritious meal in a friendly atmosphere, she said, “just in case that’s the only meal they’re going to get today.”

With changing food guidelines, students and parents can expect new menus and new recipes. Salt has been eliminated from cafeteria cooking, sugar has been reduced and dark leafy greens and red and orange vegetables are a must every week, Ferguson said. District cafeterias will be working with some different seasonings and spice rubs to provide new recipes including beef and broccoli and a Philly cheese steak this year.

She encourages students to try things before deciding they don’t like something and she encourages parents to give them the chance. She holds that buying school lunches is cheaper than packing a lunch every day and offers more choices.

Ferguson also reminds parents to fill out the annual application for free or reduced-price meals at school. Only one per household is necessary, but it needs to be submitted every year.

Joan McDonough: 843-706-8125, @IPBG_Joan

Rebecca Lurye: 843-706-8155, @IPBG_Rebecca