Closing the Distance in Learning During the Pandemic
Written by Limus Woods. Interview with Kenyatta Oliver, Founder of Infinite Hope Behavioral Health & Community Outreach Center of Kingstree, South Carolina.
When I spoke with Ms. Kenyatta Oliver, Founder and Owner of Infinite Hope Behavioral Health & Community Outreach Center in Kingstree, SC, it was the first time that I’d interviewed a teacher since doing the research for my eBook How To Get Along With Your Students’ Parents.
I’d heard about her new center (one that she’d started earlier in 2020) on Live 5 News a couple of days before our interview. Ms. Oliver feels that learning (while social distancing) in a group setting is important to the entire educational process, and that peers learning from peers, in-person discussions and engagement shouldn’t be sacrificed completely, solely because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The Complications with Non-Traditional Learning
Kingstree, SC is my hometown where I graduated high school in 2000, and Ms. Oliver got her diploma from Kingstree Senior High a few years later as well. “I was born and raised right here in Kingstree,” she said, “and after high school I graduated from Benedict College and South University. I obtained my Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from Benedict, and my Masters of Arts and Professional Counseling from South University.”
Both of those schools are located not far from Kingstree in the Capital of South Carolina, the City of Columbia.
I wanted to know what the reaction was from the community after the Channel 5 News report, because being from Kingstree I knew from personal experience how fast news travels in a small town. “A lot of community members have been reaching out to me since then,” she said. “They all wanted to know more about the program that I’m offering, and how they could be a part of it.”
“You used to be a teacher right?” I asked.
“Actually, I used to be an Instructional Assistant,” she responded. “However, I taught as if I was a teacher. I taught 4th, 5th and 6th grade Math, Health, and Science. See, Williamsburg County School District was always lacking certain kinds of teachers. So, I wasn’t technically certified. But I was the highest credentialed person there. So, that allowed me to be a permanent Instructional Assistant.”
“At the time,” she continued, “there were like ten lead teachers who would guide me through the content of the curriculum, and show me how to deliver the instruction. I just didn’t have the actual certification. I did attempt to get certified once in Special Education, and I didn’t pass it. I think I missed it by like 13 points or something like that. I just never went back after that. I’d just come out of grad school, so that was like 2013 or 2014, around that time.”
Ms. Oliver had been employed by the Department of Mental Health since 2014 when she left the school district. “I worked in a program called Family Preservation, one where I was directly involved with the community from school to home, helping the child and the family simultaneously. Whatever needs that weren’t met, we tried to help them through therapy, and teach them skills that would increase their level of function. So, that’s sort of what I did as a Case Manager and Counselor at the Department of Mental Health.”
Then, all of sudden, the Coronavirus came out of nowhere early in 2020, right when Ms. Oliver was just switching gears to start her new venture with Infinite Hope Behavioral Health & Community Outreach Center LLC, which is located in Kingstree, SC at 121 N. Longstreet in Suite B. “I had tutored kids here and there,” she said, “but I didn’t actually start this business until February of 2020, right around the time when the Coronavirus had just hit the United States. I was offering the service, and the pandemic wasn’t as impactful at the time. So people were, you know, just trying to feel their way through.”
At the when time Ms. Oliver opened her new center, no one really knew how bad COVID-19 was really going to get. So, she decided that she’d move forward, even thought she was just as uncertain about the upcoming pandemic as the rest of the business owners across the U.S.
“The first thing on my agenda was to start an after school tutoring and summer camp program, and to do some mentoring,’ she told me. “I was still working with the Department of Mental Health simultaneously, and I was very busy. But that was my initial game plan. So, when I wasn’t at work, we did surveys out in the community, and one of the biggest issues with parents was them telling me that they didn’t really know how to teach their child with virtual schooling. Understand that this is not the traditional process of learning, and lots of parents simply weren’t all that good with computers.”
Ms. Oliver’s Own Parental Teaching Experience During the Pandemic
I remembered how it was such a huge issue across the nation trying to figure out whether kids should go back to school or stay home when the Coronavirus was spreading during the Spring of 2020. “I felt that, no, they shouldn’t go back to school depending on their situation, but that the children and the parents still needed some type of support,” Ms. Oliver said. “You know, just not doing anything to monitor what they (the kids) are doing online, at least to some extent, isn’t good.”
Ms. Oliver knew this all too well, because she had a daughter of her own who was in elementary school at the time. “My daughter was going to the seventh grade,” she said, “and I had to create a night school up in my house!” she laughed. “I had to do her online schooling at night, because like I said, in addition to getting the outreach center going I was also working during the day at the mental health center.”
“I actually didn’t resign from my job until a few days before the Live 5 News interview that you saw me on,” she continued. “Her teacher got mad, but that was the only time that I could actually structure to dedicate to it. It was a struggle for me, and I used to teach in a school setting. So, I knew that if I was struggling as a parent with it, and I was an experienced teacher, then I could just imagine what some of the parents in the community were going through with their kids.”
Ms. Oliver pointed out that there were lots of nontraditional families out there, such as older grandparents who may be raising children who aren’t that good with using computers, or many of the other devices that are used to access the internet, such as tablets or smartphones. She also mentioned how there are so many challenges that people face in her immediate community, namely low-income and poverty issues.
“There are also those parents out there who can’t read or write,” she said. “That’s why I feel that my service is valuable to the community, especially right now during the pandemic. I’m ready, so when the schools open I will too. I’m gonna be able to provide that educational, structural support that they need. I can only have five people in there at time, so I’ll have a set schedule, and of course practice all routines of social distancing, sanitizing between sessions, etc. There will be three sessions a day, 9 a.m. until noon, then noon to 3 p.m., and then a final one from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.”
Ms. Kenyatta Oliver, Founder & Owner of Infinite Hope Behavioral Health & Community Outreach Center LLC, can be easily reached on Facebook at the Center’s Home Page.