When you drive through Orangeburg County, Bamberg County, and Allendale County, it’s no surprise to find no Catholic schools along the way. There are some very nice homes, some expansive farms, cotton fields, lumber trucks loaded with pines, and also some dilapidated trailers.
Around the state there are quite a few places that fit this description: They are a mix of quaint old towns and some downright depressed areas. These counties and, to tell the truth, every county in the state contribute to the 49th and 50th place ranking of the performance of South Carolina’s students in nationwide testing.
The Fellowship of South Carolina Bishops and quite a few Catholics are determined to do something to address what has been labeled “the corridor of shame.”
Part of the strategy to address the failure of a number of our public school districts is to build Catholic schools. In our diocese (that is, the whole state), we have opened two new elementary schools, two new secondary schools, and have extended a parish school from pre-K through 8 to, now, pre-K through grade 12 in the past 13 years. We have diocesan accreditation, and our schools are showing impressive results in faith development, academics, and extra-curricular activities. We have alumni who have been professional successes and great citizens.
So, of course, we advocate for things like Exceptional SC, which provides tax credits to donors who lend support to Catholic schools’ programs for students with diagnosed learning disabilities. We continue to hope for a similar program to assist students who live below the poverty line.
Meanwhile, the bishops of Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, AME, and CME churches, along with our Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, are also hosting listening sessions and promoting legislative action to strengthen public education. Not everyone gets why we would do both: seek financial benefits for Catholic schools and also lobby for public schools. But anyone who might have tuned in to a recent meeting in Allendale would get it.
Parents, grandparents, civic officials, bus drivers, teachers, and a handful of students all testified to a variety of needs for their stressed schools. They spoke of the desire to upgrade technology, bolster teacher salaries, provide incentives to retain good teachers, and strengthen security in school buildings and on buses. They wanted schools, local governments, and churches to form partnerships which would encourage volunteers to serve as lunch and playground monitors, tutor, mentor, and assist with after school programs.
They also talked about the need for parenting classes. People know that values and success are rooted in the home, but one participant noted that it is hard for parents to get to PTA when they board buses for jobs in Hilton Head at 5 a.m. and then get home around 7:30 or 8 p.m. It is also tough for people to be attentive role models for their children when they also are exhausted.
So, representatives of our diocese are actively engaged in both thinking and action. We beg and vote for legislators who will provide more than paltry assistance to our 32 parish and diocesan Catholic schools. We also lobby for legislative action to raise the quality of our public schools. That is, after all, where our religious education students and the residents of so many counties in the interior of our state go to school.
As the Book of Daniel reminds us: “Those who are learned will be as radiant as the sky in all its beauty; those who instruct the people in goodness will shine like the stars for all eternity.”
Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, is the Secretary for Education and Faith Formation at the Diocese of Charleston. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo provided: A student at St. Joseph School in Anderson demonstrates how his science project works. Advocating for education is a priority for diocesan representatives.