Inside SC's Schools: Part One

(Statewide) Aug. 8, 2005 - Students all over the state are going back to very different situations at their schools.

In Blythewood, high schoolers are moving into a $50 million state of the art building. Meanwhile hundreds of miles away, in Jasper County, school administrators are literally struggling to keep a roof over kids heads.

Daisy Mitcell is a teacher at Ridgeland Elementary, "Here's all this filth, and the children have to walk around in it. And it's not only when it rains, it happens at times when it doesn't rain. You smell the stinch. You see the raw material. It gives you a very dirty feeling."

For Daisy Mitchell, it's been like this much of the 27 years she's taught.

And at the middle school, more problems. In an age where science and technology rule, a science lab where the gas and water hasn't worked for years. That means no hands-on learning.

One filmmaker has produced a documentary, "Corridor of Shame," that looks at poor, rural schools along I-95 from Jasper to Dillon County.  Filmmaker Bud Ferillo says the problem is both troubling and complex.

In Jasper County, they are building. Thanks to a bond referendum, the land will house a new K through 12 school in 2007.

Up I-95, in Dillon County, there are plans for improvements too. Ray Rogers met with architects when he became superintendent in 1991. The blueprints are still in his office, "Fifteen years ago, I was bright-eyed and thought we could change everything. Then after a while, after you get beat down and you feel like everything you do, every dollar goes to maintain. You get discouraged."

A major source of discouragement, is one school house built in 1896. One hundred nine years later, children at JV Martin Middle School still have classes there.

Sixth and seventh graders still learning how to add and subtract in a building constructed about three decades after the Civil War. There are some parts of JV Martin that can't be used anymore, like the auditorium built in 1912.

Once a popular spot for concerts and plays, now with a crumbling roof, broken windows, and holes in the floor, now it's a popular spot for rats.

Larry Monahan was the principal at JV Martin for six years, "Every year, you'd have a parent come in and complain about facilities and want to know why this was allowed to exist. Why don't you do something about this?"

He says, "I'd always refer them to district administration and tell them we're doing what we can with what we got."

One thing they've got a lot of in counties like Dillon and most others along the I-95 corridor, poverty.

Another thing that's common, poor school report cards. It seems the two go hand in hand.

In Williamsburg County, at CE Murray, they're below average and they're poverty rate is 93 percent. At Johnakin Middle, in Marion County, below average. Poverty rate, 82 percent.

Back at Ridgeland in Jasper County, 92 percent of the students live in poverty. The school's performance rating, unsatisfactory.

But Ridgeland's principal doesn't believe poverty has to mean failure, "Certainly I think all students can overcome poverty. There is a cycle that can be broken and should be broken through determination on the part of the students and their families."

How did the whole cycle begin? How did so many schools along I-95, so many schools in rural South Carolina, end up like this?

In Ferillo's opinion, "Those schools are suffering because those businesses and industry have moved out."

So in many districts,there's not enough money to repair the old schools much less build new ones. Some complain it's because of unfair school funding around the state, and 36 districts are suing the state for equal treatment.

Reported by Craig Melvin

Posted 11:10pm by Chantelle Janelle