Editorial: Thornwell Learning Center expansion
Early childhood education is blooming at the Thornwell Learning Center just as the daffodils are emerging at Presbyterian College across the street. If this were an industry, we would have an official announcement by the South Carolina Department of Commerce. Twenty people are going to be employed when the Learning Center this summer opens its new Early Head Start program, in affiliation with South Carolina First Steps. If a private-pay component attracts sufficient interest, the number of teachers to be hired expands to 36 positions. “This is thrilling for us,” Learning Center Director Norman Dover told our Editor Vic MacDonald last week. The Thornwell Home for Children campus never has been “un-alive” but this announcement seems to bring it even more to life, as spring springs forth in Clinton. Dover said when Thornwell High School closed in 2007, “people thought Thornwell closed, too, but that is not the case.” One of the most well-respected private schools in South Carolina, Thornwell High School could not be sustained, its leaders decided, and now only its buildings, playing fields and alumni remain. The orphanage remains operational, and its cottages are brimming with young people learning to set goals for themselves through the Teaching Families Model. The 4K program’s success - one class in 2012, four classes now in 2016 - is heralded by SC First Steps and is a factor, Dover believes, in two recent visits to the campus, one by U.S. Sen. Tim Scott’s chief of staff and another by the senator himself. Just the campus itself is a gem. “The Thornwell Factor is huge for us,” Dover said, concerning why this institution, at this time in its life, is attracting so much positive attention. A building that had been shuttered is going to be renovated to house Early Head Start, a new program that will allow the Thornwell Learning Center to have children in its care from infant to three-year-old kindergarten. These “Thornwell babies” can transition seamlessly into 4K, on the same campus. Finishing that program, they can transition into public or private school Kindergarten programs. All along the way, they will learn respect, teamwork and goal-setting, also through the Teaching Families Model. And, they will have fun. On the Thornwell campus, these children can walk to the farm. “It’s amazing in a city how many people think food comes only from the grocery store,” Dover said. They will have access to an on-campus pool. They can play in the gym on rainy days. It’s complete with a young kids-appropriate climbing wall - it doesn’t climb up, it climbs sideways. “You don’t want a four year old up there 20 feet in the air,” Dover said. The Laurens County Community Theater performs in the Gillam Center, in a partnership with Thornwell and the City of Clinton. The Thornwell children can perform, too, and certainly can join Districts 55 and 56 students in experiencing live theater through LCCT’s youth program. Plus, just look at Thornwell, it is beautiful. When the roses bloom in the beds beside the gym, there is no prettier place anywhere. It looks like a college. It has Presbyterian College across the street. Children who get their start through the Thornwell Learning Center won’t have to wonder “is college right for me?” They already know what college looks like, feels like. They already have explored. When they reach that time in their lives, along with their families, they can make those important decisions about college. Through its affiliation with SC First Steps, Thornwell Learning Center and its 4K program already have sent teachers to testify in front of committees of the SC General Assembly about the importance of early childhood education. Set them on the right path early, and children will blossom in high school, their message says, and by the time they leave college, they are ready to be the future leaders of South Carolina. And far beyond.