School Swap: Culture shock

(Estill) Nov. 9, 2005 - Janae and Aimee swapped schools for three days and spoke to WIS about the switch. Both girls found the culture at the other's school unfamiliar.

"We get to Estill and it's completely different from Columbia." Aimee Schmidt's not just talking about the town she's living in for the school swap. "I feel like I got very little accomplished today in class half of the class was spent arguing with the teacher, half the class was spent the teacher just sitting there waiting until students finished their conversations."

By her second night, "I'm pretty ready to go back now."

Estill senior Nicholas Brooks is ready for a change too, "I can't wait to leave Estill. I'm not Estill-bound forever.... I'm ready to get out of here and meet new people."

Brooks says if he could change Estill High, "I would change the students attitude toward learning."

When WIS was at Estill, we saw what Brooks was talking about. Students turned instructional time into nap time. In one class, three students slept, and the teacher didn't do anything.

WIS found one student, Nicholas Green, sitting in the hallway, "I work better alone."

We found his teacher, Jacqueline Hatfield, in the cafeteria. She says, "We're learning brand new material. By me having to constantly call him down, I wasn't focusing on what was necessary."

Archie Franchini is Estill's principal, "Unfortunately, it's probably all too common with some of our students.They don't accept the fact that many of them can achieve and do well."

Franchini says that's because what many of them see around them. Thirty-eight percent of the people in Hampton County don't have a high school diploma or GED. Twelve percent never finished the ninth grade. Average household income in the county is less than $20,000 a year.

Janae White's parents want her to do better. That's why they're pushing her toward college.

Ella White is Janae's mom, "Education is very important. I didn't go. I made that mistake."

"I wanted to go. It was my dream, but after I had my child, I just didn't go"

White had her first of five children as a teenager. At Estill, WIS found a senior preparing to have her first. She says she doesn't regret it because, "I know I always wanted to have kids someday, but I never thought it would be this soon."

Lots of girls are having children too soon in Hampton County. The teen pregnancy rate there is nearly double what it is in Richland County. To deal with that reality, there's a class at Estill designed to help expectant mothers and those already with children.

To prevent that reality, Aimee found out some parents will try anything. "This girl said that she would get a new car. Her parents made her a deal that is she, if she didn't get pregnant or have any kids while in high school, she would get a new car for graduation."

The Whites and Franchini believe so many girls get pregnant in Estill for the same reason so many students don't achieve there. Franchini says, "Mom or dad or the guardian is not there to make sure the children, many times, get to school, get up and get ready for school"

Ella White has had to leave Janae more than she would like, "We've got to travel so far in order to work, the girls are left alone a lot."

For 24 years, Janae's mom has left before her two girls get up for school. White drives an hour and half to work on Hilton Head Island because there's very little work in Estill.

Franchini says these factors make a difference, "All those kinds of things have an impact on student achievement, student attendance, student behavior."

Like most families who live in Estill, the White's can't afford to send Janae to the nearby private school and moving is not easy. So Ella and Earle White do the only thing they can, "We just have to stay on her to make sure she gets the best education she can get."

But after a few days a hundred miles away at Richland Northeast, Janae's not sure she's getting that at Estill. She says a major part of education is exposure, not just to new ideas or new technology, but new people, "They have like Jewish people here and I met a girl who was born in Egypt. She came down here. Like in Estill, it's not too many people that come from different cultures."

Before swapping schools, Janae told WIS she thought diversity was one of the things she was missing out on living in a town where 97 percent of the people look just like her.

Being at Northeast for two days reaffirms what she'd already decided about her future, "getting away from this small community area, going somewhere else, just living another life."

"Because it's not a lot of job opportunities around here. Not too much comes this way."

Janae's not the only kid in Estill craving more.

Brooks agrees, "There's not a lot of diversity of people around here. I haven't been exposed to different cultures like I need to, so I can really understand people."

And for the senior preparing to welcome her child, at 17 or 18 she thought she'd be, "Having fun, preparing myself to go to college, and preparing myself to move out of Estill, South Carolina. "

Reported by Craig Melvin

Posted 6:15pm Chantelle Janelle