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OCSD Teachers and staff kick off the new 2020-2021 school year

ORANGEBURG, S.C. – Orangeburg County School District teachers and staff officially kicked off the school year with a live video broadcast, allowing the entire district family to gather under one banner to celebrate and revel in the accomplishments of the past, and to be encouraged and motivated by the prospects of the future. 

Typically, all district employees meet in person in a large venue for an annual convocation, with inspiring messages, fun activities, and a few surprises in between, but due to social distancing recommendations, 

this type of gathering was discouraged. 

“We thought that it was extremely important for each member of the OCSD staff to be connected to the vision of the school district,” Superintendent Dr. Shawn Foster said. “As a newly consolidated entity that spans such a wide footprint, throwing out the annual convocation simply wasn’t an option just because we needed to be socially distant. We had to do something different.” 

Gathering as a district while remaining socially distant meant that the entire event needed to be broadcasted from a single location and made available to every staff member, while still reflecting the inspiring 

and exciting atmosphere that usually fills the room at the in-person convocation event. 

Emceeing the event were OCSD students Micah Jean, Malachi Jean, and Imani Jean, ages 11, 9, and 6. 

“Seeing those kids emcee each transition was incredible,” Orangeburg-Wilkison Principal Rahim El-Amin said. “They were confident, charismatic, and amazingly talented. It was encouraging to know that our efforts as educators are really paying off.” 

“We had a blast emceeing the district opening,” Micah, age 11, said after the event. “Even though we could have used a teleprompter, we didn’t want to use it because we wanted to emcee the program and encourage everyone with our own words.” 

Superintendent Shawn Foster gave an encouraging message from the heart. “When I heard that our student emcees weren’t using the teleprompter,” Foster said, “it was a good indication that I should speak 

from the heart as well.” 

The kickoff event included a wide-ranging video rollcall, featuring more than 100 district schools, departments, and teams from across the county. Representatives from across the district visited a pop-up studio to record their greeting in front of a green screen, technology typically reserved for broadcast news stations. 

“It was great to see so many staff members experience the green screen technology,” Information Technology Director Eric Ham said. 

“Just like you can see a weatherman in front of a computerized background, we were able to change the background for each person recording their greeting to show a classroom, an office, technology rooms, and even artistic landscapes. Everyone was included, from the custodial and school support staff all the way to the superintendent.” 

Elementary, middle, and high school students recorded greetings on behalf of their respective classes, with many of them earning the “one-take wonder” badge of honor, flawlessly executing their recording in one take. 

Representing the middle school class was Judah Patrick, who prepared his own speech to record for the presentation. 

With excitement and poise, Judah recited, “Hello teachers and administrators, my name is Judah Patrick, a seventh grader at William J. Clark Middle School… we are ready, and we are one!” The “We Are One!” 

theme was carried throughout the entire event. 

Also included in the broadcast was a pre-recorded virtual choir, featuring The Smith Sisters (DaBetta and Deloris Smith, and Denise Simpson), along with LaKeisha Lawrence, Faye Thompson, and Hayward Jean, all members of the OCSD family. 

“We wanted to perform a song that would encourage and inspire the whole district, so we chose “I Smile” by Kirk Franklin, a song that we hoped to be as encouraging to the OCSD family as it is to us,” choir member DaBetta Smith said. 

“We love singing together, but it just wasn’t possible during the pandemic, so we each recorded ourselves singing on our phones.” The video was edited together, and each of the choir members’ faces were on the screen, with the audio synchronized. 

“It was our first time doing something like this, and it turned out better than we thought it would— the positive feedback was so encouraging.” 

Gathering as a district while remaining socially distant meant that the entire event needed to be broadcasted from a single location and made available to every staff member. 

“We were proud to serve our OCSD family by making sure that everyone could see the event, whether they were on their desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone,” Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Andress Carter-Sims said. 

“With a large county that stretches 90 miles wide, we were able to 

reach every individual no matter which part of the county they were in.” 

This was possible in part because of the recently upgraded Internet infrastructure that the school district has installed. 

“We worked really hard to make sure that every school in the district has access to enterprise-grade Internet speeds,” Information Technology Coordinator Taphnie Sanders said. “It was an expansive project that touched every building, and ultimately every child in the district. 

“Because of the upgraded speeds, we had the ability to broadcast the Back to School event to more than 1,000 employees at once— something that we simply weren’t able to do before. With these advanced connections, all of us were able to gather together for a virtual district-wide event, allowing us to be together to proclaim “We Are One.”