Amy Dungan

Hear Us Roar


January 2023 Issue
Photography by T.R. Love, T.R. Media World

Amy Dungan
Hometown: Nahant, MA
Lives in: Hilton Head Island
Career: Education
Family: Adult Children, Rosemary, and Ross,
plus one crazy German Shorthaired Pointer, Birdie

You’ve been an educator for a long time. Tell us a little about your teaching journey. Education is a second career for me, and it came about quite accidentally. My undergraduate degree is in Marketing. In my 20s I worked in advertising when I lived in Chicago. Then I moved south to Hilton Head 28 years ago. I was mom to a toddler, had another child on the way and a sick parent, so I took some time away from my career to devote to family. When my oldest went to kindergarten, I wanted to find out first-hand what was happening in the schools, so I volunteered to be Room Mom. I was schooled by the PTA moms, not realizing that post was a coveted position in their world, so when I wasn’t appointed, I looked for another way to volunteer at school.

At the time there was a program called VIPS (Volunteers in Public Schools), and I volunteered with that group, sitting with first graders in the hallway right outside their classrooms, listening to them while they learned to read. One morning a little guy struggled sounding out the words tough and through, think about those two words. The ‘ou’ combinations sound completely different, as do the ‘gh’, one sounds like an ‘f’, the other is silent. How do you explain that to a child? Somehow, we made it around that roadblock and the next time he encountered one of those words, a little light bulb went off in his brain as he recognized the letter combination and spit out the word. He was so pleased with himself, and I was fascinated by the learning experience. I was ready to get back to work full time, and there weren’t any big 10 advertising agencies on Hilton Head, so I retooled and got to work on a Master of Arts in Teaching.

Beaufort County School District (BCSD) has a cooperative relationship with the University of South Carolina, and I was able to complete my student teaching right on Hilton Head. Getting to know folks in the local schools was great, but more importantly, providing them with a hard look at my skill set, earned me an offer to teach first grade. I stayed in that grade level for a while because the challenge to teach children to read, write and make sense of numbers comes on hard at that grade level. The progress students can make in that one year is astounding. After a few years I earned another master’s degree (at night and during the summers), this one in Educational Administration. I figured it would be fun to combine my business background with education, and I was right.

BCSD kept me on my toes for 15 years as I moved through positions teaching in early childhood and elementary education. Staying on the upside of the learning curve pleases me professionally, so like a rolling stone, I switched grade levels often. In my tenure with the District, I taught Pre-K, Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 5th grades. The International Baccalaureate program had my heart for a while, and I concurrently worked with that organization as a consultant, school authorizer and trainer. At the middle school level, I was a Literacy Coach and at the High School level, an Assistant Cross Country coach. Since leaving the district, I was the Director at the First Presbyterian Day School and recently opened a new preschool in Jasper county. My favorite post was running the Daufuskie School for a few years. People who work on Daufuskie who live on the “other side” either ‘have to’ or ‘get to’ commute on the ferry. I was definitely a ‘get to’ gal who enjoyed many spectacular sun rises and sun sets on Calibogue Sound.

The best part of the journey is making friends along the way, educators, parents, and community members. I count my blessings living on such a beautiful Island surrounded by good people. And I thank those PTA moms from back in the day, who are still my best friends, for inadvertently opening the door to a new career.

Everyone loves a happy story.
Tell us your favorite story of when students triumphed.
Well, that happens many times a day, it’s the baby steps that lead to the big accomplishments. But I will share one story: When I was a literacy coach in middle school one of the brightest 8th grade teachers, who taught classes for high school credits, was handed a small class of all boys who were reading and writing well below grade level. It was a daily struggle for these young men to get through the state standards and for their teacher to engage them. After collaborating, the teacher and I agreed that engagement in the content matter was the key to reaching these fellows. As most of them were about ready to get driver’s permits, I went to the DMV and came back with a case of S.C. Driver’s Manuals. The teacher was able to weave the grade level standards in with the driver’s manual as the anchor text. These gentlemen were driven to learn (pun intended) knowing they had to understand what was in that manual in order to get a license. Fast forward to a few years ago when I was at the Bluffton Christmas parade and the convoy of tow trucks decorated for the parade drove by. When I looked up at the driver of the BIGGEST tow truck, you know the one that tows the semi-tractors, beaming down from the driver’s seat and honking his horn at me was one of the students from that class! I saw him again this year and he was walking with the convoy instead of driving, so I got a great big hug for a Christmas present.

You have recently embarked on a particularly important endeavor.
Tell us more about your new venture.
I recently opened the Jubilee Co-operative Preschool in Jasper County. We have highly qualified staff who are providing a top-notch foundation for the youngsters in that area. Rather than stay home with “Grandma” or “Tia,” these children are getting prepared to enter school. The data from the latest SC Education Oversight Committee reports less than or equal to 10% of Jasper County students demonstrate readiness on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. We’re here to change that statistic by leveling the playing field and offering equal opportunity to those who are losing ground in a widening prosperity gap. We’re philanthropically funded and offer families an extremely affordable tuition based on a sliding income scale.

We hear a charter school is on the horizon.
Can you give us some details?
The charter school is approved by the State and will open with Kindergarten and First Grade classes in the fall of 2023. A partnership with Meeting Street Schools out of Charleston will bring a successful model of learning to Lowcountry students.

You can always hear me roaring about…
Early Childhood Education! It is critical for future school success. The preschool years set the foundation and instill a love of lifelong learning. I’m thankful for the teachers dedicated to this level of learning and want the world to know they are professionals, not daycare workers or babysitters.