Rozita Wylder - Military Magnet
For Rozita Wylder, the road to becoming an educator was a winding one. The North Charleston native and R.B. Stall High School graduate had dreams of becoming a broadcast journalist. She graduated from the University of South Carolina (USC) in broadcast journalism and was given strong advice not to return to Charleston to launch her career. Back then, the market was quite smaller.
But as we often do, Wylder followed her heart, returned home, and married. With very little broadcast experience to break into the journalism world, she took a job in retail working at the women’s clothier, Affordables. For seven years she dressed women from all across the Lowcountry, many of them educators.
Wylder established relationships with her customers and listened to the teachers tell stories about their students and being in the classroom. By this time she had two children of her own and realized that schedule of a teacher would fit perfectly into her own life.
“They shared with me information about the Master of Arts in Teaching program,” said Wylder. “I realized that within two years, I could have a degree to teach. That really awakened a seed planted in me as a child. My father always called me his little school teacher. When playing with my friends, I always wanted to have a classroom and be the school teacher.”
Wylder enrolled in The Citadel in 1994 and graduated in 1996. During that time, she was working as a substitute teacher in Constituent District 4.
“When Garrett Academy of Technology opened, I applied for the Study Hall Proctor position,” said Wylder. “The principal, Dr. Baldaia, advised that if I finished my degree within two years, he would promise me a teaching position, as they were increasing freshmen enrollment over the next two years,” said Wylder. “He left shortly after the school’s opening, but Principal, Patricia Edwards made good on the promise, and I never left.”
Wylder taught at Garrett for 24 years and spent a total of 26 years there.
“Our compassion for the students always prevailed, and I really believe that’s the reason we continued to produce successful students,” said Wylder. “The staff at Garrett became an extended family to our students. Feeling cared for motivated many to do well, and staff and students were produced until the end.”
Garrett Academy opened with at least 19 technologies, preparing students to be successful in their chosen educational or career paths.
“S.C. Representative and attorney Marvin Pendarvis was one of our model students and continue to make us proud in his servanthood role,” said Wylder. “Many others serve in various medical, and educational professions, and the military. Many are cosmetology, HVAC, auto body, and small business owners. Garrett Academy of Technology served a community of scholars that needed exactly what was being offered.”
Dale Metzger was the most recent principal at Garrett before it closed this summer. He calls Wylder an exceptional educator.
“She has a heart for the students and her community,” said Metzger. “She maintains high expectations for her students while striving to serve their social and emotional needs. Her work with the National Honor Society and Students in Action (SIA) club taught our students the importance of service to the community while providing for those less fortunate. Ms. Wylder has been an inspiration for students and staff alike.”
Connecting early is key
“I am so convinced that we have to inspire our students and show them that we care about them,” said Wylder. “Once they feel that connection, we’ve accomplished the first step in leading them.”
Wylder begins each school year engaging in “Getting to Know You” type activities. She includes herself in the sharing so that everyone is learning things about each other while building a learning community of mutual respect.
“My children have different learning styles, and I’ve always kept this in mind in my classroom,” said Wylder. “It’s important to tap into each child’s modality of learning. Because of this, all of my students feel valued and are afforded opportunities to be successful. Their strengths are magnified, though never sacrificing meaningful instruction.”
Equally important to academic excellence is preparing her students to be productive citizens. Wylder’s favorite standard is characterization and its influence on the plot of a literary work.
“We analyze the effects of the character’s internal and external forces and how they motivate his or her actions,” Wylder explained. “In making learning relevant, I impress upon students the importance of thinking things through, and carefully considering the impact of their decisions.”
Wylder’s students love discussing how they were being affected by current events and the future impact on the world at large. This, she said, is a part of teaching to the heart of a student.
“I wanted them to know the difference they could make in society and learn the proper way to respond to the actions of others,” said Wylder. “It is the heart of the person that determines that outcome.”
Wylder also seeks to ignite within her students the desire to be the change they want to see. Leadership and service in the National Honor Society and SIA aided in developing the “whole person.” while involved in these programs, students were required to research school/community needs and offer solutions. They engaged their entire school in service projects several times yearly and volunteered at various sites.
“One of our favorites this year was adopting the Jenkins Orphanage as our February Love Project,” said Wylder. “The girls were brought to the school and our Cosmetology Tech students provided hair services. SIA presented each girl with gift bags of items from their Wish List and a gift.”
Wylder explained that participation in service projects moved these students from feelings of entitlement to being world changers. Their final project was partnering with the neighborhood church, Faith In Action’s nonprofit, “The Hood” at Work. Students helped stock the food pantry. At the close of the school year, her students donated their Falcon Blessing Box in hopes of its continual service to the community.
No man is an island
One of the things that forged a deeper connection with her students was her divorce which left Wylder faced with rearing two sons (11 and 2 at the time) and a daughter (6) alone.
Wylder’s eldest son (now 31) graduated from Vision Christian Academy; he’s a longshoreman. Her daughter (24) graduated from Garrett Academy; her focus was Health Science. She received a BA in Public Health from the University of South Carolina (USC), and a BSN from the Medical University of South Carolina. She’s a Registered Nurse at Life Care Center of Jacksonville. Wylder’s youngest son (20) graduated from the Charleston County School of the Arts, where he studied Vocals. After a year at USC, he moved to New York in February with dreams of one day performing on Broadway.
“I grew up in the security of a traditional household,” said Wylder. “Once I became a single parent, I was able to understand even more the plight of the single-parent children. That moved me to another level of compassion for my students. Many of them had incarcerated fathers and were living with their moms, aunts, or grandparents. They worked to help pay bills.”
A child helping to pay bills was mind-boggling to Wylder. So she took on a second job, as an adjunct professor at Strayer University, determined that her children would experience a quality childhood and as much as possible, and a life of normalcy.
“When needed, my strong support system helped my children with homework, attended sporting events, and after school performances,” said Wylder. “My children would make a point of sharing their discontent if I missed an event, though family representation would always be there. Understanding that being present is important to children, I made it a point to attend my students’ sporting events when I could and yell loud enough that they heard me calling their names. This brought them so much joy.”
Garrett Academy closed at the end of the 2019-2020 school year and was replaced by the Cooper River Center for Advanced Studies in North Charleston. Wylder will begin the new school year as an English teacher at Military Magnet Academy (MMA).
Wylder is looking forward to the next chapter in her teaching career but does have some anxiety about what’s next.
“The whole aspect of having to deal with COVID-19 and adapting to new teaching methods coupled with going into a new setting after 26 years has me a bit anxious,” said Wylder.
That same collaboration and sense of community will be an important attribute for Wylder to share with her new colleagues at Military Magnet.
Wylder said when she was considering where to teach in this upcoming school year, she briefly considered Stall. She also considered MMA because of the smaller student body and that is where she felt the strongest pull.
MMA principal Robert Perrineau’s vision for the school is that all students deserve the chance to achieve academic excellence, a foundation that leads to success, a safe and positive learning environment, challenging academic and leadership opportunities, and the support of parents, peers, educators, and the community.
“I wasn’t really looking for my next position,” said Wylder. “I was determined to ride it out at Garrett until the very end. It had been my prayer and belief that God would place me where I needed to be, and I was confident in that.”
Wylder said she wouldn’t change her Garrett experience for anything.
“We all have a story and as we share, I think we’ll find that our stories are not only what defines us, but what unites us, as well,” concluded Wylder.