When young children at five Richland 1 schools return to school Monday, they will have more support from trained community volunteers as they learn the all-important fundamentals of reading.
A faith-based literary initiative is sending out reading tutors to the schools in January to assist first- and second-graders who are reading below grade level. The reading tutors have undergone training by the district’s reading specialists.
The effort crosses denominational and racial lines, said the Rev. Colie L. Lorick, pastor of Rehoboth United Church of Jesus Christ (Pentecostal Apostolic) on Beltline Boulevard and director of youth and community services in the S.C. Attorney General’s Office.
Lorick said the program, Reading Matters, emerged out of conversations with Bishop Herman Yoos, leader of the S.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and others about the need to assist in the improvement of public education.
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“With us having laws on the books that were essentially unfunded mandates, going back to the ‘Corridor of Shame,’ we talked about how we pass laws that we don’t put any money behind,” Lorick said. “The real victims are the children.”
As people of faith, “our primary resources are manpower,” he said. About 85 tutors have been trained for the pilot program.
Yoos, who is part of a network of South Carolina church leaders under the LARCUM umbrella, said LARCUM congregations are involved in the effort. Those include Lutherans, Anglicans, Roman Catholics and United Methodists.
The Rev. Susan Heath, coordinator of LARCUM’s Faith Based Initiative on Public Education, said training for the pilot program has ended. But she and Lorick say they welcome inquiries from those who may be willing to participate if the program is extended.
“It’s growing,” said Lorick, who noted that the Columbia Community Relations Council also has endorsed the project. “People sometimes have to see something in action before they sign on.”
He said the volunteers, who have committed to the program through the end of this school term, also had to get up to speed on new reading methods. “It is not just free-style reading. What we discovered is that it is not just phonics-based.”
The faith leaders and congregations are those that share boundaries with the Richland 1 school district. The elementary schools include Arden, Burton Pack, Hyatt Park, Logan and Taylor.
Tutors will be supported by veteran teachers or tutors. The initiative will launch the third week of January when the third nine-week grading period begins.
Much of the impetus for a host of community faith-based initiatives has its roots in the 20-year school equity lawsuit that was finally decided in November.
The S.C. Supreme Court ruled that the legislature must come up with a fairer formula so that poor, rural school districts – characterized in a 2005 documentary as the “Corridor of Shame” – will have an equal shot at a good education.
The court said that the state has failed to provide the constitutionally-mandated “miminally adequate” education and indicated it would maintain oversight of the financing plan. Without recommending specific policies, the court also ordered lawmakers and the school districts to devise a plan for addressing problems the court identified.
But earlier this week, attorneys representing Gov. Nikki Haley and state lawmakers asked justices to rehear the case in a petition that says, among other things, that the Supreme Court’s majority “overlooked recent education initiatives put in place by (Haley’s administration) and the General Assembly that will directly affect rural school districts in South Carolina.”
No timetable for a decision on the rehearing has been set.