WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — She considers all of them her children. All 720 of them.
“They’re my babies: every single one of them,” Dr. Thyais Maxwell told me. “I love them because I see something in them. And I’m going to take care of them as if they were my own.”
Her “babies” are all students at Carver High School, a school that sits in east Winston-Salem, what has been traditionally one of the city’s poorest areas.
90% of the student body is either black or brown. 47% of the students speak English as a second language.
It’s also a school whose enrollment dropped after the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System turned other schools in the area into magnets or special academies that gave parents in the community more specialized schools to which they could choose to send their children.
And in terms of academics, Carver has for a long time been among North Carolina’s lowest-performing schools.
Since January of 2022, Dr. Maxwell has been Carver’s principal. A few weeks ago, she learned Carver is no longer on the state’s list of low performing schools. Enrollment is also up.
“It shows that we have value,” she told me during my recent visit on campus. “(It shows) that we’re working here, that my kids mean something and that the work our teachers are doing is important.”
But it’s also reflective of what Dr. Maxwell calls a “cultivation of a positive climate.”
Call it an culture change, a reimagining, a revitalization, a changing of the narrative or an attempt to “revive the hive” which was a theme of the school’s recent homecoming celebration and a nod to Carver’s nickname, the Yellowjackets.”
“I think the biggest need (for the school) is for people to see the hope and possibility to believe in us,” Dr. Maxwell said. “I think that because we’re in east Winston and because of the history, it should say we have lots of value.”
Pushing that message has been among Dr. Maxwell’s priorities.
It includes advocating for these students who wouldn’t get that assistance otherwise.
For instance, unlike schools in more affluent areas, Carver hasn’t had an athletic booster club to—among other things—raise money for equipment and uniforms.
So Dr. Maxwell and others have worked to boost alumni involvement, and it’s paying off.
A few months ago, Carver alums joined forces to form a nonprofit organization called “Team Sting” (again, a nod to the Yellowjackets) to support various events, programs and initiatives on campus.
“Team Sting” was very involved in boosting the school’s homecoming celebration in early October.
“So we have different alumni who say, ‘what do you need?’ And we’ll say, ‘well, the cheerleaders need uniforms or jogging suits for homecoming.’ And they’ll say ‘no problem. How much does it cost? I’ll write a check. We are finding individuals who are willing to do whatever,” Dr Maxwell told me.
Carver has also opened several specialized academies to address the exodus of students the outside magnet schools were attracting. They include Business Management and Administration, Hospitality and Tourism, Information Technology as well as Transportation and Logistics which includes drone technology.
There’s been an emphasis on after-school tutoring, especially during and after COVID.
Dr. Maxwell even started providing “college road trips” for the students, many of whom couldn’t afford otherwise.
“So we’ve taken them on an HBCU (Historically Black College and University) tour across the state. We’ve taken them to Washington DC. They’ve gone to leadership camp with the YMCA,” she said.
But despite all these efforts, Dr. Maxwell feels it all comes back to a basic concept: providing a safe and nurturing environment.
In terns of safety, Carver—like many schools—has metal detectors, a school resource officer and Dr. Maxwell says her students do tend to “fuss, fight and argue.” But she says the biggest discipline issue is skipping class followed by cellphone use.
“I don’t think you can learn if you don’t have a space that conducive, if you don’t feel heard, welcome, wanted and supported.”
And it appears all 720 of her children or “babies”—are!