JASPER GENTLEMEN II REDUX

We are now in the second year of working with students at Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School in Jasper County, South Carolina. It has been a wonderful year for both Carol and me. Carol has extended her vision down to the elementary and middle school and I have spent time with the “gents” and with community people.

We feel comfortable in the Jasper County community, as well as with rural communities in other parts of the state. It has taken us a while to understand that rural South Carolina is similar to rural PA, West Va. and N.Y., but there are subtle and not so subtle differences.

The young men that I am working with are a disparate bunch from those of last year. They tend to be much quieter and do not challenge me as much. They are very thoughtful and almost whisper when we are having conversations. These folks were chosen by last year’s group. The first group was chosen by the assistant principal.

There are none among them that are not academically able. That does not mean that they got gaudy grades on their ACTs, but that’s a story for another time. Their nature is to wait awhile before answering a question or formulating a statement. It’s interesting to watch them mull things over. That does not mean that we don’t have some who are instantaneous.

We have four young men who are on the basketball team. Two of them are starters and the best players on the team. I hope they will find a school to go to that will honor their skills. That’s something that I am still wrestling with. These guys can go to lots of schools that are academically challenging. Because of a tradition of going to less than competitive schools and also money, they just continue the trek from RHHS to easy to get into schools.

Maybe I should not raise their expectations. It’s hard for me to keep my tongue when I see a young man going to a school that was in the process of losing its accreditation. That really frosts me. This is not something that I discuss very readily with the Gents. It comes during sessions when I have the big College Guide with me and we look up bunches of schools that the guys are interested in.

I point out retention rates, staff to student ratios, number of PhDs on the faculty staff, number of freshmen, number who were applied, accepted and then enrolled. This tells you whether these schools are first choices or not. The fellas always seem to be interested in that kind of thing. We also go over what majors are available. Sometimes, we even call the schools while we are there. The guys are really shy about calling.

In the final instance, money determines where they go. The financial part of this is complicated and can lead to much misunderstanding. Of the 10 young men, 8 of them are first generation college goers. The other two are looking at the military. We do talk about the military, how it works and how much you get paid as a grunt or an officer (or even a warrant officer).

As I have said, these Gents are not as forthcoming as last year’s group. I get more information about them when I hand out thought cards. They are allowed to ask questions, say anything they want (as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone nor has foul words). Lots of things are revealed. There are no names on these cards and I mix them up. I cannot tell by their writing that they are.

Our plans are to go on two college visits. That will happen very soon. I am thrilled the school district has provided the funds to do this. We can provide money for lunch from donations we got from friends last year. I really hope that we are doing things that will help them. They are a wonderful group.

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