(Columbia) Aug. 11, 2005 - In one South Carolina school, students are learning and achieving despite the fact that three in four live in poverty.
Steve Wilson makes sure his students know what's expected. He says that's one of the reasons his high school has been able to turn it around, "I wouldn't want to disillusion anybody, but we've changed the culture here and I think right now we're at least headed in the right direction. We aren't there yet by any stretch of the imagination."
Wilson acknowledges for a long time, Keenan High School was not known for achievement, "The culture here was not conducive to learning."
When Wilson got to Keenan, drop out rates were higher than the state average, and SAT scores, considerably lower. Now, "Our SAT scores have increased significantly since we've been here."
That's one of the reasons earlier this year, the school was named Palmetto's Finest. Also, after years of unsatisfactory and below average performances, on their 2004 school report card, a good absolute rating and an excellent improvement rating.
And they've done it despite the fact 73 percent of their students live in poverty, "I've seen those studies that would indicate that there's a correlation between poverty and ability. So I think we would doom kids to failure if we make them believe they can't learn simply because they're in poverty."
Wilson says there are two reasons for the turnaround, dedicated teachers who rarely leave for other schools, and, "We have a program called Project Goal where we provide after school tutoring for students, and the way we do it, we require every teacher here to give one hour of tutoring by department every week."
Keenan also provides buses, so the students who stay can get home. Regina Abongo runs the program and says there's another component that's just as important, "We do what we call team mentoring now where we actually match high school students, seniors primarily, with community folks and college students. They serve on a team to mentor a group of students because we're trying to get our students to understand you don't wait until senior year to start thinking about what you're going to do."
Tutoring and mentoring are helping students at Keenan achieve, but Doctor Wilson says there is one crucial component to success that he's still missing, "My biggest frustration is that I see so many kids who would do much better if we had more parental support."
Wilson is enjoying his success. He was named principal of the year last year and is looking forward to another successful year at Keenan, but he's not oblivious to the plight of many of the state's poor rural schools, "I've heard people say money is not the answer, well there ain't no holistic bucket of money out there that people all just throw money at the school. Certainly I believe that. But from the things I saw in your report where you've got leaky roofs, buildings form the Civil War era, bad floors, and things like that with rats eating through the floor and that kind of foolishness. How do you solve that problem without money?"
Reported by Craig Melvin