Class of 2016. Ashley Ridge High School.
3 whole years of my life that made me the resilient, dedicated, hard-working individual that I am today. But it wasn’t the education this state provided me, it was the teachers who were there along the way.
But the teachers had to get me there, because they were working in a system designed against us all. South Carolina is holding us all back.
If I walk back down memory lane, the educational aspect of my high-school was a flop. I transferred from one of the top school districts in Illinois to Dorchester District Two in South Carolina.
My freshmen year before moving was incredibly memorable. I started each day off in a rigorous World History class taught by a college level professor named Ms. Rose. She challenged every process of teaching and learning and was focused on making the room full of 15 year olds slightly overwhelmed. This was all to prepare us for what would come next: AP European History. Everything I learned about taking notes and going back and studying – something I had to do an awful lot in that class – came from her. This course was one of two high-school courses in which I would receive a B.
The other class I received a B in would be my Honors English class. Ms. Kastner – now Mrs. Kastner – challenged every portion of my writing ability and comprehension. She pushed us to dig deeper into novels and challenged our basic written drafts. Even on the best of papers, she wasn’t going to simply hand out an A. There was always room for revision and change to make it even better.
The expectations in Illinois were vastly different. I remember being pulled away from actual courses on only one occasion that was separate from a pep rally: a career planning day of sorts. For an entire day every freshmen was required to sit down and work through a packet of information that would determine how they would take courses throughout the rest of high school and what courses they would take to best prepare them for the career they would attend a big name university for. We had to dive into our interests, identify our strengths based on ACT and SAT scores from 8th grade, and communicate with leaders in fields to ask questions and understand the paths we were choosing. Ironically, my packet laid the groundwork for me to study Journalism at Brown University.
And then, I moved across the country.
I remember sitting with the guidance counselor planning out my courses for Sophomore Year. I expressed how much I’d struggled in English and felt as if I should take a step back from Honors. This managed to translate into placing me in the special help English. My guidance counselor became the same person who told me I wasn’t qualified for the schools I applied to – even though they’d already accepted me.
I went in to get my student ID a week before classes started and met my AP World Geography teacher – Ms. Rose had truly scared me away from wanting to take AP European History, so this class was my compromise. My new teacher began asking me how my progress was coming on the summer reading and assignments, and this was the first I’d heard of them. So over the next 5 days I learned the location and capital of every country. I read and wrote reports on over 20 topics. All with the assumption they’d be collected on the first day as this teacher had said. After a week in the class, they weren’t collected, I couldn’t receive the proper textbook, and I decided I wasn’t going to sit in a class demanding effort that wasn’t ever going to be given a second glance.
I spent my Sophomore Year in a mix of honors and regular courses.
In my photography class, I was scolded for finishing my work too soon. I was given extra work because other students didn’t know how to pace themselves to meet initial due dates. And teachers weren’t allowed to follow the scheduled pace of the class if the majority of the class wasn’t able to follow it.
In my HTML course I had the opportunity to nap often, but also spent a good portion helping other students and troubleshooting where errors may have occurred.
In my English class, we read a book on the Holocaust I’d read in middle school. When I went to meet with my teacher about my essay draft, she accepted it as my final draft because she was so impressed with the work and had no criticism. I happen to like criticism and still to this day question why the last teacher or professor to give a true critique on my writing was Ms. Kastner. My two English teachers, Mrs. Staines and Mrs. Kestner, in this “special help” styled course were incredible, but their focus wasn’t on me. There were almost 30 other students in the room that actually needed attention. Although they weren’t focused on my personal education, they both worked to encourage me and helped me get on a path to more advanced course including a special leadership course that they thought would be fitting.
My Spanish teacher didn’t teach and handed out detentions left and right. I learned very quickly that I could most certainly be just as successful in his class if I sat in La Jalapeno in the next town over. He never noticed I was gone and I got an A on the final using the bare minimum information I learned on the one or two days a week I was there. He thanked me at the end of the year for being such a great student. My school had a different Spanish teacher every year because they couldn’t find anyone qualified.
My Geography teacher left us to watch CNN Student News and spent more time engaging with the football players and sharing lessons about life.
Sophomore year ended about two months before classes ended. In South Carolina, there begins this period of testing that doesn’t seem to end. If you aren’t in the grade level that is testing, you remain in your homeroom and your attendance is mandatory.
It was my grade that had to do some sort of benchmark testing that would report back to the state for some purpose or another. I don’t believe I ever even received test results for that week long endeavor.
And then the Juniors sat for their benchmarks. I’m sure Freshmen sat for theirs too. I don’t believe they were even on the same day. There weren’t enough test proctors and military enforcement to monitor the quality of the exam rooms.
Once this testing commenced, ACT’s began. Then Senior Exams were taken a month prior to school being done. Most classes were a mix of students so the classes were finished a whole month early. New content wasn’t taught after Spring Break. And somewhere in there, AP tests were administered.
Junior year rolled around and the only thing on my mind was picking which colleges to send my ACT scores to and writing college essays. I knew Junior Year was going to be the most important year of my life.
I recognized that in this new school system, what mattered was if I completed my work and that I filled the extra time I had. And so, I developed incredible connections with my teachers. I had tried to be apart of Key Club as a Sophomore but they only ever talked about doing things, never actually did. So I helped form Engineering Club with Mr. Oonk, and joined the Math Honor Society. I dedicated an entire class period to being a teacher’s assistant to Mrs. Edwards – the coding and business teacher. I took part in the leadership class. I took a few Senior classes and spent a good portion of the year helping out in the math lab.
By Senior Year, I didn’t have an entire day’s worth of classes that I was required to take. I had the Honors Government and Economics, AP Calculus, AP Lang, and an Engineering course. But most importantly, I had the school store, which I was then manager of. I’d worked with Mrs. Edwards to create a completely functional school store equipped with different lunches each day, candy, school spirit items, and clothing. I became president of both Engineering Club and the Math Honor Society, joined the Technical Honor Society and partook in multiple volunteer efforts to help other students.
Senior Year was truly just the fun year of high school. Most of the time I wasn’t in my classes, especially when material ran out or we had “study” time. I had the school store and had made it into a part time position that always needed something to be done which gave me a complete pass to leave the classes that weren’t doing anything.
I’m a product of the environment in which I received my education – but my education didn’t come from books – because we often didn’t have books and if we did, they didn’t always have covers, sometimes they were covered in mold, often they were incredibly outdated.
I learned valuable life skills.
Mrs. Loehrke taught me compassion and looking at a news topic in depth and understanding the root of said topic.
Mrs. Edwards taught me accounting, how to run a business, how to take an idea and implement it, and most importantly to value the strength and endurance of women.
Mr. Staines taught me that it wasn’t about actually learning the material we were “supposed to learn” but that we needed to learn life and understand how things really worked. It wasn’t ever about a grade on a paper, it was what we took away from the class and how we grew as individuals.
Mrs. Staines taught me that there was always space for postivity and light.
Mrs. Kestner taught me that I could take on any challenge I put my mind to.
Mr. Oonk taught me to push myself to create and solve problems in ways others hadn’t thought of.
Mrs. Oonk (Ms. White) taught me that my dreams mattered and helped me recognize what I was passionate about, and showed me that I was able to achieve anything as long as I knew how to be a good leader.
Mrs. Allers taught me that accountability and having true standards were what mattered when it came to having a successful organization.
My principal, Mrs. Radcliffe, showed me how important it was to push through and to make my voice heard. She embraced ideas and truly wanted to help be the positive change students were begging for.
But you see, I was taught through the way I observed these incredible individuals.
There was no space to truly learn at Ashley Ridge High School.
My teachers were tired. A few of them were roommates. Some nights, they were my servers at restaurants downtown. There were hours spent before and after school dedicating their time to clubs and honor societies. Weekends dedicated to papers and grading assignments.
Class sizes were around 35 students. No wonder my Spanish teacher who had me in his very last class of the day never realized I was gone. No wonder my other teachers didn’t bat an eye when I disappeared to the school store to be productive there. No wonder I didn’t get feedback on my papers. Classroom size limits haven’t been enforced since 2010.
Discipline was a problem.
When a student committed suicide my senior year, we didn’t have mental health counselors.
When we had a shooting threat, we weren’t even informed. I arrived to school late because I’d been on a campus visit and walked into a school that was on lock down. I was able to walk into a school that was on lock down.
Did you know almost every student in my class graduated? Students who failed every test they ever took who got a 10 on the ACT, walked across the stage with distinguishing chords. You can no longer fail students anymore. I was close to the top of my class and got there with a minimal amount of AP classes, which separated me from the students surrounding me who were all AP High Achievers. But what did it matter if every student received a diploma?
The money that came into our high school went to two things: sports and agriculture. We were a true southern school in that sense, and now we have a bustling farm on the schools property.
The focus of my high school now no longer looks towards the college track. It looks towards careers. Maybe 1/3 of students participate in off campus tech classes to receive certificates while still in high school. Other students focus on the horticulture program and learn how to tend to animals and crops and manage different areas of the industry.
So why do we need to pay attention?
A 10 year old girl died in a fight in Colleton County. This district is underfunded and under-served.
In March, multiple students at Summerville High School attempted to take their lives and the one who succeeded was a girl who had led the students in trying to bring awareness to sexual assault and violence towards victims at the school.
We need mental health counselors. We need trained psychologists. We need SROs present in EVERY school. We need nurses. We need less standardized testing. We need the funds to stop being funneled into private schools and charters who already have an overwhelming support from PTA and boosters. We need less unnecessary paperwork passed down for teachers to handle. We need to allow teachers to use the restroom when they need. We need teachers to have the lunch they are legally entitled to. We need teachers to be allowed to speak without fear of losing their jobs.
These statistics speak for themselves:
- 621 teaching positions were vacant at the start of last school year
- 5300 SC Teachers left their jobs last year and no longer work for public schools in SC
- 35% who left had under 5 years of experience
- 25% of first year teachers hired in 2017-2018 left during or at the end of the school year and no longer teach in the SC public school system
Yes, another issue is pay. The average teacher salary in 1989 was $52,013. Today it is $48,598. The Great Recession played a huge role in stagnating the growth, and pay has failed to match inflation, regardless of the huge amount of tasks that are being put on teachers each year.
But this isn’t truly about pay.
This is about us. This about you. This about your children. This is about the entire next generation of individuals.
This is about holding the state of South Carolina accountable. We should not be ranked #49 in education.
The government hasn’t met the funding for Base Student Cost since 1977. Last year they were short $497 million.
South Carolina doesn’t follow the law it enacted to keep teachers salaries up to par with our regions cost of living.
So I ask you to Walk Out with me on May 1st.
If you are in South Carolina, join the fight in Columbia, South Carolina. At 9:00 AM on May 1st, meet at the SC Dept. of Education to march to the State House at 9:30 AM for a rally and demonstration.
If you cannot attend, wear RED on May 1st. If you are home, offer to take in children and teenagers as many school districts across South Carolina will be closing as a vast majority of teachers are walking out. Help spread the word. Contact your legislators and express your support for teachers and their demands. Communities. Families. Parents. Teachers. We must all be #AllOutMay1st
My teachers made me who I am today, but the future of education lies in all of our hands.