Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy told a Mayor’s Roundtable group a few years ago that if she could have any another job, she said she’d want to be a teacher.
Now that she is juggling mayoral duties while helping her granddaughter Kennedy with her HCS Virtual schooling, she’s getting a small taste of what that life might have been like.
“Let me tell you, I’ve re-thought that,” Blain-Bellamy joked with a smile. “One of the best things about virtual home learning … that has to do with her having a wonderful [virtual] teacher at school.”
Blain-Bellamy said she has the pleasure of helping to teach five-year-old Kennedy throughout the week while Kennedy’s parents work, and she shares some of the teaching duties with Kennedy’s mom and other grandmother.
She said she’s able to plan her weeks accordingly, to account for meetings and other tasks at City Hall, and said while her coworkers understand, she makes sure to be concerned for their schedules, too.
“When city staff and people from outside are coming in [for meetings, etc.], they have schedules they have to adhere to and I have to honor that. It’s the very least I can do,” Blain-Bellamy said.
She’s able to work it out to allow stretches of time in her days to help Kennedy, whose attention span – like any kindergartener’s – is relatively short.
“I can get some more time with that attention by saying, ‘I think it’s time for a break’. We pack stuff up and put our shoes on … we go outside, play hopscotch and we might literally physically run around the house, weather permitting,” Blain-Bellamy said. “That’s what recess is all about – get rid of some of that energy, regroup, and when you come back in you can pay attention.”
Kennedy said that learning with her “Mimi” is fun. Her favorite subject is science, and said she’d also been learning about helping other people.
“I have spent most of my schooling time with her on math, science, and social studies. Those are the things she does the best in, she’s just a whiz,” Blain-Bellamy said.
The technology aspect of virtual learning, though, can cause a few bumps in the road.
“Technology for people who come from a time like mine, is a bit of a challenge. All those basic things I do on a regular basis I’ve got down pat, but give me a brand-new system that is a bit complex … I’ve had some difficulty,” Blain-Bellamy said, saying she was glad that she worked out a system with Kennedy’s mother to have “Mimi” doing the lessons, and her mother takes care of the actual activities to be turned in electronically during their time together.
This time last year, Blain-Bellamy said she never would have seen this situation coming.
“When school ended in March of this year, I was worried she’d miss an opportunity to learn and grow. I’m very pleased that Horry County Schools has done such a good job in establishing the means with which to have virtual school. I can’t imagine the effort put in … with thousands of students with different learning styles. They’ve inserted something for all of those students,” Blain-Bellamy said. “I have a Masters in Education, a lot of good that does me. I don’t have a clue about teaching somebody in kindergarten.”
She said she actually inquired at a local university once about what it would take to get certified to teach, and was told it would take four full semesters of work.
“I considered my age and physical health and thought, ‘four semesters from now I’m not sure I can get on the floor with them [students]’, so I found others ways to get involved,” Blain-Bellamy laughed.
She works regularly with the Project LEAD program with Conway Elementary’s fifth-graders, teaching them about making good choices in life.
Blain-Bellamy said that juggling her schedule with teaching has given her a whole new admiration for those in more difficult situations.
“There are households where both parents must work full-time. My heart goes out to the families who don’t have extended family nearby, who maybe can’t afford a tutor to do these things, who are doing it alone at the end of their day. They’re tired. They have meals to prepare and bathwater to do and all those things,” she said. “I have an absolutely new appreciation for not only what teachers do all day every day but what families are trying to squeeze into what was already a chaotic and heavy set of responsibilities.”
Part of what drew her to exploring education was about seeing the fascination in the childrens’ heads, being able to “tap into that little sponge inside working to absorb everything”, and “endearing yourself to children and being part of their growth and movement.”
She said that while Kennedy’s method of schooling is ultimately up to her parents, she is happy that her granddaughter is in a virtual setting for the moment.
“We all value what you get with that time with your teacher, a real [in-person] teacher, but at the same time we take the COVID-19 virus very seriously,” Blain-Bellamy said. “To put her in harm’s way is something I’m happy her parents aren’t willing to do.”
Being able to have this time with Kennedy, Blain-Bellamy said, is the best part of it all.
“That’s one of the greatest things about all of this, the time we spend together. It’s productive time. I hope what she gets out of this is that for this family, learning is what we do every day, learning is what we do about every subject you can imagine, and learning doesn’t just stop when you walk out of the school building,” Blain-Bellamy said. “There’s a richness in our interaction because we’re learning together – that’s one piece of it I wouldn’t trade for anything.”