Opinion Extra

Lawmakers threatened to shut it down. Now John de la Howe School has a new mission

After South Carolina’s John de la Howe School lost its accreditation and legislators threatened to shut it down, the school for troubled youth retooled itself and is embarking on a new mission like no other in the nation.
After South Carolina’s John de la Howe School lost its accreditation and legislators threatened to shut it down, the school for troubled youth retooled itself and is embarking on a new mission like no other in the nation.

The historic John de la Howe School is either one of South Carolina’s most unknown institutions or one of its most maligned, depending on the person to whom you’re speaking.

People either know very little about the state agency or believe it’s a place with an unclear mission or a tarnished reputation.

This is changing.

De La Howe has a new mission: to become a statewide, residential school for agriculture for S.C. high school students. Our 1,310 acres, comprising farmland, pastures, forests, residential and administration buildings and a school, provide an ideal location for this exciting endeavor.

The mission is a good fit with the directives of the will left by the school’s benefactor Dr. John de la Howe, who immigrated to Charleston in 1760 and began a medical practice in the growing colony. He acquired land in the Abbeville District, part of which is now McCormick, and established a farm and home in this Upstate wilderness.

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Hugh Bland

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House panel moves to shut down John de la Howe School

Fate of school for troubled teens rests with Legislature

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Dr. de la Howe left his estate to become an “agricultural seminary” that would provide a home for orphan boys and girls and help them acquire skills they could use for a lifetime. His desire was that young people have a sound, practical education.

Over the years, De La Howe educated thousands of children and provided a home for young people whose families could not care for them. Alumni succeeded in many career fields, including agriculture, the military, business and education, and have been productive citizens in the communities and states where they lived.

The school, which became a state agency in 1918, was a beacon of hope — and a home — for many youth.

The school, which became a state agency in 1918, was a beacon of hope — and a home — for many youth.

Beginning in the 1990s, the school’s focus shifted to helping students with behavioral and emotional problems. But enrollment declined as school districts developed alternative schools to serve the needs of many of these students.

This led to years of uncertainty about the school’s future and angst among lawmakers, who understandably were concerned about spending state tax dollars. However, a 2017 feasibility study, conducted for the Legislature, found that De La Howe could become a school for agriculture.

This mission is an important fit with agribusiness, South Carolina’s largest industry.

With the support of Gov. Henry McMaster, the S.C. Department of Agriculture and lawmakers, we are moving ahead to develop an agricultural high school that will educate students for careers in agriculture and forestry and land management. It will be the first statewide high school of its kind in the nation.

This mission is an important fit with agribusiness, South Carolina’s largest industry. The Agriculture Department reports that agribusiness has an $42 billion economic impact on our state each year and represents 200,000 jobs. While the creation of the school seems daunting, it is not impossible.

To accomplish our goal, we are:

▪ Upgrading campus buildings to meet the technological needs of future students.

▪ Renovating the campus’ brick cottages to become modern living-learning environments.

▪ Developing a comprehensive curriculum so students will be college and career ready. Students will have expertise in the area of agriculture that interests them, develop life skills and discover how genomics, technology, robotics and drones are changing today’s farms.

▪ Working to ensure that state tax dollars are spent wisely so we can attract the best teachers and students.

Nestled in the heart of the Sumter National Forest, De La Howe is on the National Register of Historic Places and adjacent to the S.C. Heritage Corridor. Our old-growth forest is a national natural landmark, and more than 160 acres around Dr. de la Howe’s tomb are protected from development.

John de la Howe School was founded on sound educational principles. We are working to ensure that our graduates will have the knowledge necessary to continue South Carolina’s proud agricultural tradition.

Mr. Bland chairs the John De La Howe School’s board of trustees. Contact him at Hugh.Bland@yahoo.com.

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