(Richland) Nov. 10, 2005 - In Craig Melvin's School Swap series, two girls from two entirely different backgrounds swap schools and lives for three days. The girls saw how opportunities, or lack thereof, affect student achievement.
Living in the town of Estill and walking the halls of the local high school for three days makes Aimee Schmidt realize something, "The whole experience has really made me grateful for the thing I have at Northeast, the opportunities I have at Northeast."
Aimee's ready to get back to Richland Northeast. But Janae White's in no hurry to get back to Estill, "I want to stay a little longer. I like it here. I wouldn't mind staying a little bit longer."
"The food is better because you can choose from Pizza Hut, Chic-Fil-A. And they sell like wings and things inside the cafeteria."
There are opportunities in the cafeteria and opportunities in the classrooms at Richland Northeast. The school has four magnet programs, numerous honors and talented and gifted courses taught by 26 nationally board certified teachers and four Ph.D.'s. And they have 22 AP courses, where students get college credit if they past an exam at the end.
At RNE, nearly 55 percent of the students go to college. For those who decide they don't want to go, student Antoine says there are other paths, "This school has different options because not everybody wants to do the same thing. The more variety the better,so everybody can get a feel for what they want to do."
The school offers a chance to practice auto body work, as well as a makeshift full service salon. By the time students finish the salon program, they're licensed to practice in South Carolina.
Janae was suprised, "The cosmetology class. I didn't know it was going to be like the size it was. It has like, it's just like a beauty shop. It has like the hair blow dryers, like all the different chemical products and stuff like they actually use."
But kids in Estill who decide they don't want to go to college have limited options, according to Janae, "They'll go into a branch of the Army probably."
One-third of the entire school is in Junior ROTC at Estill. Several, like James Moultrie, have already enlisted. He's in the Air National Guard, "I joined the military for benefits, plus college funding."
Moultrie's going to college, but many there don't. Half the students who start at Estill never finish.
Those that do, have a tough time going to college. The SAT average is 726. That's the lowest in the entire state.
Those that get admitted have a tough time paying for it. Only two percent of the students are eligible for Life scholarships, partly because SAT scores are so low. Estill High's Archie Franchini says, "We have them come back and they'll tell us or they'll call us and say, man I wish I had known more or had more opportunities, but some of them don't because this is their world."
When WIS' Craig Melvin sat down with everyone involved with our school swap, Earle and Ella White admitted Janae's world is smaller, "Yeah, we miss out on a lot. We just do the normal routine, you know as a child, we didn't have a lot of opportunities."
Earle's work experience extends to a hog farm, "Every afternoon I had to make sure these hogs were fed. I'm talking 265 pigs on a farm, planting corn soybeans, stuff like that, tractors"
Earl White left that farm. But he regrets never leaving Estill, "I mean if I could go back for 20 years, I'd do it. I would do it. But I was afraid of it. If I got laid off work or something happened, that I didn't have anything to fall back on, you know my community, I was afraid of it."
But Earle and his wife expect Janae to leave Estill. They expect her to go to college and get a good, paying job, and she's already a good student, so she shouldn't have trouble.
Ralph and Jeanne Schmidt have expectations too. Ralph says, "She knows that we have high expectations. It's never been whether she's going to college, it's a matter of which college."
Aimee's already started applying. She's always been a good student. It's tough not to be when your dad's the principal.
But the Schmidt's acknowledge something else has had a hand in Amy's academic success, exposure, "We have been very fortunate to be in Columbia and we've tried to expose our kids to the zoo, museums, and things like that."
When WIS met Nicholas Brooks earlier in the week at Estill, he told us exposure would lead to opportunity, "That's another thing about Estill, they haven't been exposed to anything. They think in a box. You've got to get outside the box."
"They don't know what's out there. All they know is go to Helping Hand and get a job. All they want to do is catch the Island bus at 5 o'clock in the morning and make 7.50, 8.00, 9.00 an hour. They come back home and they think they're doing it. Got to let them know there's something better out there."
The opportunities are out there. And at both schools, students dream of getting out there to take advantage of them.
But, how do we make sure all of them have a chance? Ella believes it's parents, "She pushes back. We push harder."
For Earle, "better teachers, up-to-date computers, stuff like that. Technology."
For Estill's principal, "There's a lot of programs and courses I'd like to offer our students."
Some aren't sure. Teacher Jacqueline Hatfield, "I don't know if it's the money thing or students making the commitment saying I have to do this, I need to learn. Education is important."
Janae and Aimee are two teenagers who know that, now more than they did before they agreed to swap schools.
Janae sums it up, "I think it was a worthwhile and I would like to do it again."
She says she would even transfer for a year if the opportunity was presented to her.
But Aimee says no, "Probably not. I feel like I have more opportunities here than I do down there."
Reported by Craig Melvin