Teacher Swap: Trading classes

(Statewide) February 6, 2006 - A judge recently ordered South Carolina to reach its youngest sooner.

Many lawmakers are considering a four year old full-day kindergarten program. Many teachers say the biggest problem is lots of five year olds show up for the first day of kindergarten unprepared.

All week, WIS is looking at the things that affect a five year old's readiness to learn and we'll do it through the eyes of two women on the front line. We swap two kindergarten teachers, one from a suburban school, the other from rural Lee County.

Tamala Stuckey is one of our swappers, "I grew up in the West Lee area, the Spring Hill community. And then later I went to Bishopville. I graduated from Bishopville High School in 1995."

For years, Tamala Stuckey knew what she wanted to be when she grew up, "My first grade teacher inspired me to want to teach - Mrs. Davis."

She's made Mrs. Davis proud, graduating from Winthrop in Rock Hill, then teaching for three years in Charlotte, "I came back because home is where the heart is."

"I really want to be here in Lee County because I really want to show the world that the students here in Lee County can do the same as all of the students all over."

On her second day at Lower Lee, Stuckey knew teaching in her hometown would be different, "I said, 'Can you come and show me where the teacher supply room is and the teacher resource room? I need to get some things.' They said, 'There is no teacher supply room and there is no resource room.'"

She'd have to do without more than supplies and resources, "My current salary that I'm making now is what I started out with in Charlotte, so it's like a $7,000 cut."

And Stuckey's adorable five-year olds were different too, "They're behind.

"Some of them came in and they did not even know how to recognize their name.

"And so when the child comes in and they don't know how to do that, we're ready to go on to letters and number recognition, and we have to go back and say okay, this is your name."

It's not just some of the kindergarteners surrounded by cottonfields who are behind. Some surrounded by suburbia are just as behind, according to our second swapper, Jan Westmoreland-Sipes, "Some children come in and have never seen a book, never seen a book. We had a child several years ago that said he did not have a single book in his home."

Westmoreland-Sipes has been teaching kindergarten in the same room since Harbison West was built 25 years ago.

There have been a lot of changes in a quarter century. Nearby Columbiana Mall sits where woods once were.

But it's not just the landscape, a third of the students at Harbison West come from the government-subsidized apartment complex next door to the school. Westmoreland-Sipes says, "The demographics have changed. Free and reduced lunch have gone, you know I'm not sure what it is. I think it's around 60, 65 percent now. So, we've seen some changes, and we've seen parent volunteers decline."

Poverty and parents are two of the reasons Stuckey and Westmoreland-Sipes think some of their students are so far ahead of others. They say factors in the classroom also make a difference, like class size, technology, and a well-paid teacher.

We'll look at how the classroom, parental involvement, and poverty all affect a five year old's readiness to learn.

Reported by Craig Melvin

Posted 5:53pm by Chantelle Janelle