Rasheem and LaRonda are two students in a rural South Carolina County. A review of county statistics will show that county, all 699 square miles, is the third poorest county in the state. The median household income in 2014 was $37,715, while in its neighboring county, which is wealthy the median was $55,427. Since median means middle, 50% of Rasheem and LaRonda’s county earned less than $37,715, The two student’s families earn quite a bit less than that.
When you travel around the county, you are struck by the endless roads that seem to include only a forested area on both sides and a town or two with some stores and maybe a gas station. You must travel to the county seat to go shopping at the one supermarket, or travel to the other urban center at the bottom of the county.
Choices in any aspect of normal life are limited. There is one dentist in the area. He is a homer, comes from one of the towns. Other medical facilities such as a hospital are close to Route 95 near the bottom of the county. The rural districts that occupy both sides of Route 95 have been dubbed, “The Corridor of Shame.” That was also a documentary film done in 2007 to describe the area and the public schools.
We will have visited most of the 35 rural school districts in the state by the time you are reading this tome. There are many Rasheems and LaRondas in those areas. Having traveled to see away basketball games, we can point out that there are many similarities up and down these counties.
The school district personnel are well aware of the problems of both of these students. Rasheem lives with his grandmother. His parents have had other children and could not handle Rasheem too. So when he turned seven, they transferred responsibility for raising Rasheem to his maternal grandmother, Zelda. She provides all of the necessities of life, as much as she can, to Rasheem. She lives on a pension and social security.
Rasheem’s parents were divorced sometime after Rasheem went to live with his grandmother. They both have new families with new spouses or live-ins. Rasheem, is a senior in high school and like many kids his age, has dreams of getting away from home and making a better life for himself. He wants to go to college or join the air force or maybe become a racecar driver. He works part-time at a local Piggy Wiggly and has a used car he bought from an uncle. His earnings go to cover his car insurance, gas, and the $200 he must pay in South Carolina annual car tax. Anything left over covers his school clothes, which he keeps outgrowing. He plays basketball and hopes to win a scholarship. The coach thinks he’s good enough for a Division I1 school.
Rasheem has a 3.4 GPA (Grade Point Average) and he works hard to keep his grades up so he has become pretty good at time management. The one subject he struggles with is math. It’s not really the math that is so hard; it’s that he can’t always understand his math teacher. Rasheem’s school, like many South Carolina rural schools, is very isolated and very poor. They can’t afford to pay teachers well and there are no places for teachers from outside of the county to live, so when the high school principal tries to fill vacancies with certified teachers, she often needs to recruit teachers from India or South America, people looking for any job they can find in America. These teachers may know their subject matter, but their grasp of American English and even their understanding of American students is often lacking.
Rasheem’s guidance counselor has been trying to talk to him about his future plans since he was a junior, but it wasn’t until he hit his senior year that he paid much attention. The guidance counselor has a big case load and students with many different and sometimes pressing problems so, much as she tries to remind her seniors about college applications and financial aid forms, the burden of staying on top of all this is up to the students. Rasheem does not have anyone in his family who has been to college; in fact, his grandma did not graduate from high school.
Neither Rasheem nor his grandma are familiar with anything to do with college, but among the good choices he has made are his decisions to join the basketball team and ROTC. Colonel Manning and Coach Phillips are both very caring, capable individuals who have Rasheem’s best interest in mind. They have been trying to talk to him about what he needs to do to realize his dreams.
Rasheem is planning to take the ASVAB. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is a test you must take to get into the armed services. You need a score of 31 out of 99 to get into the Army and a 36 for the Air Force. He took the ACTs (American College Testing) last year and scored a 16 out of 36 on the test. He will need to bring that score up to somewhere in the mid 20’s which is not a score that many students get in rural South Carolina. While students from some of the advantaged districts come from families that prepare them for college, most rural parents are not aware of steps to take to help their children. Many of the parents have not gone to college and are not familiar with FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms.
Students from families with college experience have been preparing for the transition from high school to college from the time their children were born. Their children have visited colleges and taken practice tests of both the ACTs and the SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Test). Rasheem has done none of that because he didn’t have a family helping him. This is only one challenge Rasheem is facing.
Other challenges are the fact that his high school does not have a high rating on the South Carolina state tests. They do not have a high graduation rate. Many of Rasheem’s classmates do not see education as a priority and so he competes for his teachers’ attention with disruptive students. Some of his teachers are burnt out from dealing with discipline problems and don’t provide the best possible instruction.
On days when school is in session, Rasheem eats a free breakfast and lunch at school. When he gets home, after ball practice and before work, his Grandma gives him supper. On weekends and over vacation breaks Rasheem doesn’t always get three meals a day. Even working in a grocery store does not entitle him to free food.
His family has been generous enough to help him pay for senior pictures and the prom, but he will not be attending the senior class trip because he can’t afford it.
LaRonda is a junior at another rural school district. This district is in a similar situation to Rasheem’s. LaRonda is smart, quick with a quip and talented in art. Her family situation is that she lives with her mom, younger siblings and grandmother in a rundown motel outside of the biggest town in the county.
LaRonda cannot work outside of school. She is responsible for babysitting for her younger siblings, ages 8 and 9, while mom and grandma work a shift at the local Dollar store and at a local Kangaroo Gas Station and convenience store. Between these two incomes, the family barely pays the necessary bills. Luxuries are never even spoken about. Clothes are obtained from the local Salvation Army Thrift Store. Sometime their church helps them out with food and necessary items.
Transportation is a real problem. LaRonda’s family has one car and it serves mom and grandma and LaRonda (when she has a chance to go somewhere). LaRonda would love to get involved in some extra-curricular activities. She has no way of getting anywhere without a car. She always wanted to be a cheerleader. She is capable of doing that and a number of other things. However, she will not be able to do any of them.
LaRonda has a boyfriend. She sees him in school, but will not allow him to come to her home. She is ashamed of her circumstances. Even though her boyfriend does not come from a wealthy background, she is sure that he would look askance at her surroundings.
When she is alone with her boyfriend at some other place that is private, or in his car, they have unprotected sex. LaRonda knows that she is taking a chance that she will get pregnant or come down with some form of STD. She does not seem to care. She would love to be pregnant and show off to her friends. She has no thoughts that the young man would participate in raising the child.
LaRonda is angry. She resents her mother for having more children that LaRonda needs to care for. Her friends advise her to “have it out” with her mother and say she is going to get an after school job so she can have her own money. LaRonda really wants to do that, but then she thinks, “what will happen to my little sister and brother when no one comes to meet them at the bus after school.” She is caught and she knows it.
When grandma, who loves her grandchildren, is mad at one of her granddaughters she will yell, “Get your ugly face out of here!” An unintended consequence is that LaRonda feels ugly. She is looking forward to being on her own so she can have her own money and do as she pleases. She longs for a time when she can pay for a hair weave. LaRonda is a pretty girl with a tremendous smile, but she thinks if only she had a hair weave she would feel good about herself.
LaRonda has a GPA of 2.5, but that is more because she is quiet in class and doesn’t cause her teacher any trouble than because she does her homework or does well on tests. She has no idea how she will earn the money she needs to be independent or how much it costs to pay for the basics. LaRonda’s definition of success is, “When you have enough to eat, know where you will be sleeping next week and can buy clothes for your children.”