Jim Frye tutors a Mary Ford student in social studies.
By Tracie Miller and Matt Tomsic
Jim Frye sits at a wooden table in the library at Mary Ford Elementary with his back to the shelves he stocked 13 years ago during his first volunteer day at the school.
Frye, a retired executive of a Charleston steel mill, said he came back a week later to volunteer again and the principal jokingly said, “We didn’t really expect you to come back!”
Since his first day, Frye has built a community of support for Mary Ford children and faculty. Frye has personally mentored and tutored students, started book drives and parent engagement programs, and helped create the Mary Ford Foundation, among many other projects.
A resident living two miles from the school, he said he had “no idea that problems like this existed,” recalling one child sleeping on the floor at night because the child was scared of a bullet coming through his bedroom window. “Conditions like these determine whether or not a kid can learn and survive,” Frye said.
Frye’s interactions with students keep him coming back to Mary Ford each year, especially the kindergartners. He was overjoyed that Principal Mary Reynolds sent him back to kindergarten this year.
“It’s just so much fun,” Frye said. “We’ve made so much progress.”
Much of that progress has come from the commitment by Mary Ford faculty, administrators and Principal Reynolds. Mary Ford is a Title I school, and Frye said teachers and administrators work hard to educate their students so they can break the cycle of poverty affecting nearby neighborhoods. Charleston Promise Neighborhood aligns and partners with the educational goals of Mary Ford and other neighborhood elementary schools, because accelerating academic achievement for our youth is central to the development of successful citizens, bright futures for our children, and the transformation of our neighborhood.
Frye also believes, “It all comes back to the school.” As he mentioned parents need more opportunities and jobs available to them, but first, residents need an education in order to fill higher paying jobs.
Mary Ford has seen improvements since 2009, when the school received an “At Risk” rating from the state of South Carolina. In 2010, the school’s rating was “Below Average;” by 2012, the school had risen to “Average,” and Frye praised the school’s principal and faculty for boosting its performance during the last several years. He also said he’s hopeful that Mary Ford and schools like it will continue to improve as community, business and political leaders learn more about the challenges faced by students.
“You’re never going to solve problems until you learn they exist,” Frye said.
He also credited Charleston Promise Neighborhood and other nonprofit organizations that help give schools the tools needed to continue improving.
“If we can keep that effort up and utilize these organizations properly to help the schools, then I think we have a chance,” Frye said. “It all goes back to education, and I think now people are starting to realize it.”
Source for Mary Ford ratings: https://ed.sc.gov/data/report-cards/2013/elem/c/e1001040.pdf