Laurens County School District 55 Mid-year Welcome Back and Professional Development Day 

January 12, 2023

The teachers and staff members of Laurens County School District 55 (LCSD 55) gathered at the Laurens District 55 High School (LDHS) Gym on Wednesday, January 4, 2023. Attendees were greeted at the door by colleagues, district staff members, LDHS Principal Lewis Compton, and Superintendent Dr. Ameca C. Thomas.

In Dr. Thomas’s official welcome, she thanked everyone for coming and reminded them of the district’s theme, “World-Class Champions…every child, every chance, every day!” Dr. Thomas was passionate about motivating everyone to start the new year off strong.

Actor, model, and youth advocate Cyrus Birch III was the special guest speaker at the mid-year welcome back event. Birch uses his platform to speak to today’s generation concerning finding their purpose and pursuing their passion. His personal story hit hard on the topic, “Why what you do is important.”

Birch is a native of Charleston, South Carolina. He shared his struggles as a child growing up. He did not envision a bright future for himself, but his school’s basketball coach gave him hope and inspiration. He felt genuine care from his coach who believed he could be anything he wanted to be and become a very successful adult.

Birch vowed to make his basketball coach proud and he has accomplished that goal. He is now a South Carolina Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselor and holds several degrees. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of North Carolina. He has a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling and a Master’s in Management and Leadership from Webster University. He has aspirations of pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Service Leadership. Cyrus is part of the cast of Marvel Studios’ The Black Panther as a stunt performer and is seen in the movie as an African warrior of the Jabari tribe led by M’baku.

Many attendees agreed that the event was much needed. Teresa McGrath, a teacher at Laurens Elementary School, could relate her “why” to the speaker’s experience. “I have been part of the life of a young lady who has invited me to her high school graduation this year! I can say that I feel proud of myself for the impression, impact, or part I played in her life to turn her around from a world of destruction,” said McGrath.

Waterloo Elementary School Instructional Coach Dr. Kristi Tucker added, “As he [Birch] shared his story, I thought of so many of my students over the years that touched my heart. I remembered the times that parents came to me, after teaching their children, thanking me for what I did in the classroom. Teachers need to hear that because most of what sticks in our minds is negative. Teachers are their own toughest critics.”

Laurens Elementary School Instructional Coach Merica Dyar said, “I was very moved by Mr. Birch’s story. I see him in so many of the kids we serve here in Laurens 55. It was encouraging to hear how positively a teacher and coach impacted his life. That coach changed the trajectory of that child’s life! That’s huge. I think the teachers in the gym needed that reminder. I think this time of year, teachers are tired and burnt out. They are feeling stressed over the testing that is just a few months away. It’s easy to get grumpy, get short, lose your joy, and forget your why. Mr. Birch was a perfect motivational speaker for us.”

The day was also filled with other professional development opportunities throughout the district to sharpen skills, learn new information, and receive a refresher on other topics.

Superintendent Thomas said, “I am so encouraged with all the learning, growth, and educational experiences that are in store this semester. We have amazing Laurens 55 team members who are champions for all students. I want all of our staff to know the huge responsibility and opportunity they have to make a difference for the students we serve.”

Photo: LCSD 55 Superintendent Dr. Ameca C. Thomas with guest speaker Cyrus Birch III