Where We Are Now
Roy Ann Jolley
Steve Welch’s classroom at Greenwood Elementary School is full of pennants, from Clemson University to the US Naval Academy. They are more than just decoration though: each one represents a student. Welch has been a teacher in the REACH program in Florence 1 Schools since 1997 and can tell you the story of each student represented by a pennant.
Welch is a graduate of Florence 1, having attended Delmae Elementary, Moore Middle, and both West Florence and Wilson, the latter being where his mother worked.
“My mom was a teacher and she told me that if I didn’t straighten up, she was going to take me to Wilson so she could keep an eye on little rebellious me,” Welch said laughing. “Well, I bucked her and lost.”
During his two years at Wilson, Welch played soccer, something he enjoyed playing all the way through young adulthood. He said that he even keeps in touch with a few of his Wilson teammates. Two years ago, he began coaching soccer at Southside.
“For some people, it's baseball or football, but for me the passion really is soccer; I love it,” Welch said. “At Southside, I really feel like I’m supposed to be there. There are guys I’m coaching now who were with me last year and it is neat to see the improvement from one year to another. I don’t take the credit myself, but it is neat to see the outcome of what hard work does.”
Welch began teaching REACH when it was housed at North Vista and moved to Greenwood when it became a multiple-site program. He said looking back on his more than 20 years teaching REACH, it has been amazing.
“I have all kinds of stories about the kids and the things they’ve taught me,” Welch said. “ I remember one student, Robert Wells, coming in one of my first days. He said that he had learned something and he wanted to teach it to the class. Robert basically stood up in front of the fourth-grade class and, using a dry-erase board, taught them the quadratic equation. He had their attention and he was making it look easy. It just blows your mind what these kids can do. It humbles me that I am able to be just a small part of their journey. It is just awesome.”
According to Welch, becoming an educator was not in his plans when he enrolled at Francis Marion after high school, but he’s happy that it is where he ended up.
“People ask me how I got into education and I say I have no idea except that I liked working with kids,” Welch said. “I say that it was a divine calling and that this is exactly what God wanted me to do. I didn’t realize it, and I didn’t seek it out, but I guess it kind of sought me out.”
Lindsey Bibler knew from the time she was young that she wanted to be a teacher. She remembers, as a senior, flipping back through old school projects and finding a picture she drew of what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“I found a book that I made in first grade all about me,” Bibler said. “We had to draw a picture of our future selves and our career and there was a picture of me with an apple on a desk. I think I always kind of knew that I wanted to be a teacher, I just went back and forth about what subject I wanted to teach.”
Bibler points to a current West Florence Knight as her inspiration for teaching math.
“I have had a lot of inspirational teachers, but one that really sticks out to me is Sherry Young,” Bibler said. “Sherry, who is now an Assistant Principal at West Florence, was my AP Calculus teacher. I would watch her teach and she was just a spitfire. I loved her so much. I have had a lot of teachers who were inspirational for one reason or another, but the way Sherry taught math, and really had a passion for it, made me want to teach that subject.”
After college, Bibler got her first teaching job at South Florence, the high school she graduated from, and she’s been there ever since.
“A lot of times people will say that you need to get more experience or you need to branch out,” Bibler said. “For me, I found that I got so much support because the people here knew me and I was comfortable going to them when I needed help or didn’t understand something. I think that made those first few years better for me as a new teacher.”
Bibler also found a new supporter that first year: her now-husband Joel, who had moved from Montana and was starting his own teaching career at South Florence. Bibler said she has loved teaching at her alma mater and raising her own family in the community she grew up in.
“I know a lot of people might say this, but South Florence really has a family feel to it,” Bibler said. “There have been a few times I’ve been like, oh, there is a position somewhere else, but I can’t see myself leaving; I just love working with these people.”
After nearly fifty years as an educator in Florence 1, Roy Ann Jolley has many stories to tell and a lot of wisdom to share. A graduate of the Wilson High School Class of 1971, Jolley has been principal at Delmae Heights Elementary School for the last 25 years. She said that she’s never even considered working in another district.
“Florence is home,” Jolley said. “To be able to work at home and make a difference at home is special.”
Jolley attended elementary school at Holmes Elementary School. During those elementary years, schools were still segregated. It wasn’t until her senior year of high school that they were fully integrated. Though she was zoned for McClenaghan High School by then, she was allowed to remain at Wilson because she was a senior which suited her just fine because “I bleed purple blood,” Jolley said. “I’m one of those Tigers.”
Jolley has many memories of former teachers but when asked to name someone who inspired her, one name came immediately to mind: John Douglas, an economics teacher at Wilson.
“He was the one who showed me that learning could be fun. It could be different from the norm. I remember his grading system so well. You could earn so much money during the course of a grading period based on your assignments, your work, and your participation in class. At the end of the quarter, based on the money that you earned, you could ‘buy’ yourself an A, a B, a C, but it wasn’t really buying the grade because you had worked hard. People always think social studies and history are boring but he made it innovative and fun.”
Along the way, she has had the pleasure of seeing former students become educators themselves, including Wilson’s principal Dr. Eric Robinson, who she taught when he was in first grade.
Jolley’s philosophy is “If you love the kids, we can fix the rest of it” because, she says, loving students is always the most important starting point when solving a problem. And though she did not intend to become an educator, “I look at it now that I had one plan and God had another.”