April 2, 2012
Nora is a high school Senior from Pennsylvania who will attend Carleton College in fall 2012. She hopes to study political science, history, and literature. She participated in the 2011 Rustic Pathways summer program in South Carolina as a student volunteer and mentor with Save the Children’s U.S. Programs. This year, Save the Children and Rustic Pathways will host summer programs in South Carolina, Kentucky and the Dominican Republic.
When, recently, a friend asked me what the greatest thing I ever learned was, I replied easily with the answer of learning to read and write. This is such a basic gift, such a seemingly simple idea, that we often forget that in South Carolina, for example, 15 percent of adults are functionally illiterate. The downward spiral begins in elementary schools and, with this in mind, Save the Children created an enriched summer program at Foster Park Elementary School to help bring struggling students up to speed with their peers.
Unemployment abounds Union, a former mill town where thirty percent of children live in poverty. Most recent Census numbers suggest this alarming statistic will only continue to grow as these kids face the risk of being trapped in a cycle of teen pregnancy, gang violence, drug abuse and the lack opportunity. Save the Children brought 16 high school students to this program to teach and to provide good role models for kids who will eventually end up in a high school with a county graduation rate of only 55 percent.
The kids I had the privilege of knowing came from different backgrounds and had different abilities, but they were never limited in their curiosity or ability to love. Every day, I was moved by their resilience as they dealt with challenges at home, their success in reading more and more difficult books, and their desire to learn about the world outside of Union. I am so blessed to have been able to know these kids, who constantly surprised me with new questions and new ideas. I am so blessed to have been able to know their teachers, who work for six weeks every summer for very little pay simply because they care. I am so blessed to have been able to meet 15 other high school kids who truly believe in the value of education.
While I received my own, very different education, I constantly thought about whether or not I made the slightest bit of difference in the lives of the kids I mentored for those two weeks. The greatest issue that I face is knowing that those kids may never think about getting a post-secondary education and may never leave Union, South Carolina. But, as I reflect, I realize that there is a glimmer of hope. If my presence in their lives can make just one of these bright kids crack open an SAT book or dream about going off to college or want to travel beyond the Palmetto State, I have done something marvelous. As I move into a future that these kids may never know, I am comforted by the fact that one child may, someday, remember Miss Nora who taught some math lessons and who desperately wanted to help her global community. And, maybe, just maybe, that child will desperately want to do the same thing.