School Swap: Day One

(Richland) Nov. 8, 2005 - South Carolina has a poor record of education, especially in rural areas. Many blame unequal funding in different school districts.

Is it really all about money? You've heard from politicians and educators, now for the first time, you'll hear from the students.

One student from Richland Northeast High School and one from Estill High School in Hampton County switched schools for three days.

They switched to experience the gamut of what's available inside South Carolina's schools.

On Aimee Schmidt's first day at Estill, she has math, chemistry, and agriscience. Aimee reflects in her video diary on her first day, "Well, today was my first day at Estill High School and it was very, very different from what I was imagining."

It was also different for Janae White at Richland Northeast, "Her school is so big and mine so small. It was kind of a big adjustment. I love the classes."

Classes like economics, where she says, "They have the tv set up so that where the students at Blythewood and the students here, they are learning the same things in economics."

Distance learning is just the tip of the technological iceberg at Richland Northeast. Everywhere you turn, a kid is on a computer. They have multiple computer labs for each department.

In one class, every student has a laptop. When class ends, they take them home.

In a history class at the school, a Revolution is brought to life by what's called a smart board. Using their finger, students launch Power Point presentations, surf websites, and review homework.

Does it help the children? Teacher Robert Young thinks so, "I think it does because it allows them to be involved with it. They come to the board. They run the system."

Janae's take on the technology, "I think it can help improve your education, like it gives you a different viewpoint of things and like the way you do your work. You can go up to the board or the tv and explain it better."

Aimee had a very different experience at Estill High, "The thing that shocked me the most was the chalkboards and that yellow piece of paper to project the overhead onto because I would've never imagined having to go through that. I had a hard time seeing in the math class, seeing the problem projected on a yellow sheet of paper."

Archie Franchini is Estill's principal. He'd love the projectors, smart boards, and computer labs. Franchini says they don't have them because they can't afford them. Why not? The state and federal government kicks in about the same amount per student in both schools.

About the same amount is spent per student at Estill and Richland Northeast, $7,566 per student at Estill, which is actually over $100 more than per-student spending at Richland Northeast, which totals $7,420.

But most of the money for technology and other extras comes from local property taxes. So the more expensive houses there are in a school district, the more money for schools.

For instance, in 2000, in just one of the zip codes zoned for Northeast, the number of homes worth $200,000 or more was 1,900 homes. In Estill, there were 12.

Businesses also help foot the bill. Northeast Richland County is one of the fastest growing areas in the state. That means lots of business which means lots of tax revenue.

There are very few businesses in Estill, so few in fact, half the people who live in town, have to work somewhere else.

Teachers at Estill say there's another problem. Teacher Jacqueline Hatford says the toughest part is, "I think it's basically the level in which they come to me. I have a lot of low level readers, low math levels."

At Richland Northeast, there's an all-day tutoring center. If a kid's struggling, they visit Lee Muthig before, during, or after school, "I had one come and show me the other day her math test, or English test, I don't remember. All I remember is that it had 100 on it and she was very proud."

But property tax money helps Northeast reach far beyond remedial help. It also foots the bill for things like a state-of-the art convergence media lab for budding journalists, a music lab for future Beethovens, and an art class where students learn how to carve linoleum.

Franchini speaks about not having all the extras at Estill to WIS' Craig Melvin, "I watched when you did the morning show and you went to high schools in the Columbia area and they would have programs that I would just say why can't I have that at my school? Why can't our students have those same opportunities? And it's dollars and cents."

Janae seems to love the new opportunities, the technology, the programs. But at Estill, Aimee's not sure money is the only problem, "Students referred to the teacher as dog."

"Students just don't listen and the teachers didn't do a whole lot about it."

"The whole learning environment that I'm seeing is completely different from Northeast."

Reported by Craig Melvin

Posted 6:55pm by Chantelle Janelle