SGA hosts Education Symposium

The Student Government Association (SGA) invited SC State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman to speak at their first ever K-12 education symposium at 6:30 p.m. on April 6 at the FMU Performing Arts Center (PAC).

After being introduced by SGA Vice-President Delonte Hough, Spearman informed the audience of South Carolina’s educational journey through the pandemic.

“My, how things have changed and my, how much we’ve learned,” Spearman said. “We have gone through together as people, and together as a public education system.”

Spearman said the public education system make decisions in the best interest of its students, staff and families. She also admitted that she would have done things differently based off of the knowledge she has now.

“Some of those, I might do a little differently now as we’ve learned,” Spearman said. “But everything at the moment was made with the best information and best commitment that we’ve had.”

She told the student leaders they will also make decisions based off the knowledge and commitments in the moment, but these are subject to change.

Spearman discussed some of the disparities the state’s education system faced. Some of the schools were more equipped to transition to e-learning because they already had the technology devices and training, while other schools were not as prepared because they didn’t have enough resources to make the transition.

“Some school districts were handing out devices to students who were already prepared because they had a couple days of e-learning,” Spearman said. “There were others who weren’t quite there. They had some devices, but they had to get them ready and get them out to the kids.”

Spearman said the teachers were also worried because they didn’t know how they would be able to teach in an online class setting. In response to their concerns, the state education system created training modules for teachers.

Spearman said one of the largest obstacles they faced during the pandemic was the struggle with broadband.

“There were those thousands of students who had no access to technology at home,” Spearman said. “Many of those students were right here in the Pee Dee.”

The children who didn’t have access to technology were sent home with supplies, such as copy and paper, until they could get more money to order additional devices. Spearman said they spent 20 million dollars getting hotspots for students and almost 100,000 hot spots are currently being used in households today.

During her speech, Spearman said there were two bills to improve access to broadband being drafted. There was a state bill being drafted in South Carolina’s general assembly and a broadband expansion bill is being drafted and taken before the SC Senate.

Spearman said another one of their struggles was finding a safe way to begin reopening schools. She said they had a hard time figuring out the best way to do things because they were getting conflicting information from schools on the other side of the world.

“We were walking in the blind,” Spearman said. “Most of our information was coming from international sources.”

Spearman created a task force to start coming up with ideas and protocols for reopening schools. The task force came up with several protocols, such as making sure to wash your hands, keep your mask on, having an area cleaned once it was vacated and vaccinating people quickly.

Some of the school districts went back fully to in-person learning, some had hybrid options and others remained virtual.

“If you follow those mitigating strategies, schools can operate very safely,” Spearman said.

After Spearman spoke, Hough shifted the event to a panel discussion about dealing with modern issues in education, such as having to maximize resources in poorer areas.

SGA said they hope to host more events like this in the future.