Pilot Program ready for take off


Modern Language Department students Tari Felder, Allison Rhodes, Samantha Vance and Brooke Holden pose with FSD1 students.

Brooke Holden, Staff Writer

The Pilot Program, a service-learning program of the Francis Marion University (FMU) Modern Languages Department, will meet the students of Briggs Elementary School next week.  This is a new venue for the program, marking a first ever venture to serve Florence School District One.
Associate Professor of Spanish and Spanish Program Coordinator Dr. Wendy Caldwell is the mastermind of the partnership and oversees the eight student teachers.
“I have a deep passion for promoting the education of our children because they are the future,” Dr. Caldwell said.
With more than 15 years of experience as an educator and coordinator, she works within the Florence community to promote service projects.  Works include volunteer time and effort at the Doctors Bruce and Lee Library, which include bilingual story time and Spanish lessons for preschoolers and elementary school-aged children.
The Pilot Program allows student teachers to teach Spanish lessons to elementary school-aged children for eight weeks.  The effort is one that extends over a two-year span, when Dr. Caldwell first met with the Briggs Elementary Principal Martin Schmid in 2011.
Schmid says the number one reason foreign languages are not offered as core requirements in South Carolina public schools are the lack of monetary funds.  Studies that show second language study helps students score higher on standardized tests, benefits academic progress in other subjects, improves chances of college acceptance, achievement and attainment and other benefits that reach beyond academics.
“[The Pilot Program] is one reason we’re piloting the young ones; it’s the K-3rd grade that we’re serving,” Schmid said. “It’s also an opportunity to collaborate with Francis Marion, Dr. Caldwell and the students there.”
Briggs Elementary is a Title I school along with the remainder of schools in the Florence county school district. Schools with a large low-income student population meet the definition and requirements for students to be eligible to receive Title 1 federal funds, such as free or reduced lunch.  Free or reduced lunch is accessible to seventy-five percent or more of the schools’ population.
Florence District One, home to Briggs Elementary, received funding in 2010 to improve existing school facilities and construct new ones.  Currently, Briggs Elementary is one of the five schools that is not in the building phase, thus opening the door to welcome the Pilot Program.
The triumph is backed by persistence, tenacity and a “no excuse” motto that Caldwell lives by.
“What it took for this Pilot Program to become a reality was because educators backed it; you don’t take excuses,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell returned from a conference for South Carolina Foreign Teachers Association last week with new material from other South Carolina schools allotting time for foreign language to be a core requirement, adding fuel to a burning desire for promoting education.
“I’m very determined, in spite of the continuing hurdles that I find myself,” Caldwell said.
Upon completion of the program, student teachers will have a journal reflection of the experience.  Caldwell said of her and of previous students’ experience that self-esteem, empowerment and self-confidence in the second language are common reflections.
“If I had any question or doubt about the benefits, I would not be investing this time…but it’s so worth it,” she said.