“Lake Marion does not prepare you for college!”
I heard this at my high school College Homecoming, an annual event where recent graduates share their college experience.
This failure does not fall solely on my alma mater, Lake Marion High.
The state of South Carolina perpetuates what’s called the “Corridor of Shame,” a string of rural school districts where students receive inferior educational opportunities.
As a rising sophomore at Duke University, I now see what the phrase means. I was educated in one of those districts from Head Start to 12th grade. I know firsthand the issues these students face.
The “Corridor of Shame” consists of 36 school districts along Interstate 95. Overall, South Carolina’s population is 48 percent minority, but students in the corridor are 88 percent minority, mostly African American. There, schools receive resources that fall below state averages.
I noticed deficiencies in many ways. My kindergarten teacher complained that she could not “do this anymore” and quit.
Other teachers lacked training and asked to be moved to non-teaching positions. It’s hard to blame them when most teachers in the corridor are paid $3,000 to $12,000 less than those in nearby districts.
High school was where I really noticed the disparities.
We didn’t have enough math teachers and barely enough working calculators. When the school added the International Baccalaureate program, the first class of students completed the program, but none were awarded the diploma. I enrolled the second year the program was offered, and our math teacher was still undergoing training. When he announced he would not be returning, training had to start again for another teacher.
Two AP classes were announced my senior year, but were scheduled at the same time. We were considered a technology center, but our computers were always down. Many of my peers ended up dropping out or flunking out of college.
And my school is considered one of the best in the region.
As a freshman at Duke University, I feel the effects of the “Corridor of Shame” every day.
Sometimes, it is hard for me to understand material my peers clearly find familiar. Often, I feel inferior. I never agree with other students who say, “Everything we are going over now we basically learned in high school.”
What hurts worse is that most students like me will never attend a school as prestigious as Duke. Some may not get accepted, but others may not even apply, including those who lack confidence because they know they’ve missed out on opportunities and resources.
What can be done to change this shameful situation? It must start with equitable funding across all schools in the state, regardless of income of local districts. Equitable funding would provide more resources, including increased teacher support, early reading and pre-K programs and equipment like functioning calculators and computers.
Efforts are underway to bring about such change: The corridor’s school districts successfully sued the state of South Carolina seeking equitable funding.
Despite victories in court, though, change has been slow to reach the schools themselves.
Businesses also need to invest in schools, since these kids will be the future workers they need. Students who graduate also need support in college. In addition, South Carolina’s public universities should consider waiving tuition for students who succeed in graduating from these schools.
I love my state. Until there is no longer a “Corridor of Shame,” though, I will never be able to think about it without remembering my peers’ lost potential. We don’t need to have those who follow me face the same obstacles I faced on the path to higher education.