LOCKHART — It may be difficult to believe but Lockhart, South Carolina was once a thriving community with activities and excitement thought to be reserved for larger towns. The town was populated by people moving into the area from the North Carolina mountains who were seeking jobs as the industrial revolution came to the region. The people brought with them a real sense of community, a work ethic unparalleled anywhere and a spirit of neighbor helping neighbor. It was a culture so ingrained that it would be there for generations to come.
While the community had its own grocery and drug store, as well as other businesses of convenience, the people had two anchors that held them close. The church and the school. The spiritual commitment still remains strong which may be a statement of the fortitude there. Perhaps the area where one might expect significant change is the school and that has happened but not in a way one might assume. As the market for American made textiles gave way to foreign imports the mill suffered. The declining market gave way to its closing … a devastating blow to the town. The Milliken Plant, by far, was the majority source of employment and with its closing came a dwindling population. The people were forced to look outside their community for work but not all left. A core group found something in Lockhart that would hold them there. Some had to travel to other locations for work but their heads rested on pillows at home … in Lockhart. At night they no longer could listen to the hypnotic hum of the plant but they still could hear the lulling sound of the Broad River as the water rushed over the rocks.
So one might ask, “What is it that keeps people there? What is the element of security that serves as a source of comfort?” The answer would be the same thing that attracted their ancestor a hundred years earlier. Back then a center for the community was the school. A place where children were educated and were taught valuable life lessons, not only by the teachers but people in the community. The school was a place of pride. Not much has changed in this respect.
Lockhart School principal Betsey Trakas points first to the community when she speaks of their successes. “We have some very special people who contribute of their time here.” One such volunteer group is called “Watch Dogs”…. Dogs meaning “Dads of Great Students.” This program calls for dads, and in some cases granddads or even an uncle, to give one day a year to the school. Mrs. Trakas says “the participants embrace the opportunity to give to the students. They may be on lunch duty or bus duty or a multitude of other things. We have one granddaddy who comes one day a week.” The obvious benefit is it relieves teachers of having to perform some of these task, freeing time for more academic preparation. Among other benefits Trakas says, “There seems to be an extra sense of security.”
The students love having the “town folks” around and a lot of bonding takes place. They learn from them and in many cases the lessons learned are not found in any academic study guide. Among things learned is a work ethic and that does not come from a lecture but rather by example.
Among the activities that promote the community involvement is what is called family night. Students, parents and people of the village are invited to come and fellowship with each other. At one event there maybe a talent night and another, an art night. The participants, students and adults are encouraged to showoff their abilities in a number of ways. There are four family night scheduled each school year.
Schools across the nation participate in Red Ribbon Week … a week set aside to bring about an awareness of the danger of using drugs. A fairly common activity is to have a poster contest, but at the Lockhart School there is a twist. The students and parents are encouraged to work on these posters together. More important than who may win the contest is the fact that parents and students working on the project together gives an opportunity for open discussion on the subject and hopefully making an impression on the child that may help him not to yield to temptation and even peer pressure often associated with the beginning of drug abuse.
Guidance Counselor Jennifer Seeman pointed out that the school and especially the students give back to the community. They have participated in a project call Pennies for Patients, Relay for Life and helped with a food drive for the Jacob’s Well Project. Jacob’s Well is a local project that is converting the former Hope Hospital into a community centered facility that among other things, will house mission groups that may visit the area. Yes, at one time Lockhart had its own hospital.
Other areas of participation in the community by the students is the chorus. District Choral Director Leigha Pace regularly travels from Union County High School to Lockhart to teach music. Several months ago Lockhart Power Company broke ground for a new office and the Lockhart choral group were the main performers for the event. Miss Pace also spotlighted the group during this past year’s Christmas Concert.
The payoff , according to Mrs. Trakas, is the strong performance of the student in the Standard Test Scores. It has been suggested the strong scores come as a result of the school’s size. Trakas says that is not the case. The school houses grades K through 8 and the student population is a little over 200. When broken down into class size, it is virtually the same as any other school in Union County.
Even though class size is the equivalent of all the other county schools, Trakas admits the small community environment and parental involvement does have a positive effect on the students. The students know the teacher and many of the teachers personally know the parents. Trakas said, “that is very important, especially when a student may be struggling in a given area.” A small school in a small community does not equate to a lesser ability to teach, learn and achieve great things. There is more. The principal points out that students with strong support tend to have better attendance. There are fewer discipline issues. There’s more involvement in extracurricular activities, and perhaps most importantly, a noticeable positive attitude toward school in general.
Principal Trakas says perhaps one of the great achievements here is that, “our kids enjoy school.”
A lot of work has gone into creating this kind of learning environment where the students enjoy learning, but in addition to the work, is an enormous amount of commitment. The success at Lockhart may be summed up in the words of Mrs. Trakas when she said, “We are all proud of our school.”