03: In the Sticks
In 1862, three years before the Civil War ended, and before the Emancipation Proclamation had even been signed, the Freedmen’s town of Mitchellville, S.C. became the first self-governed town of formerly enslaved people in America.
Education was key to the community from its very beginning: Historians say its compulsory education law for children between 6 and 15 was likely the first such law in the South.
Today, Mitchellville is more historic site
than true town, a wetlands park with self-guided tours and occasional events and exhibitions. However, its Gullah/Geechee population has since spread throughout the South Carolina coast — even if the exact number of students from that cohort isn’t always clear, Marlowe says.
“The way the district counts multilingual students, those kids aren’t counted,” the USC-Beaufort education psychology professor says.
That definitional problem is just one of many challenges Marlowe faces in fulfilling the federal TQP grant, which seeks to add 100 new county teachers, particularly in critically short areas such as early childhood education, STEM classes, special education, and early childhood education.
Reaching that goal will require traversing distances both culturally and geographically vast.
USC-Beaufort is using the grant to work with Mitchellville to provide professional development (through graduate coursework and summer institutes) for teachers serving the Gullah-Geechee community, as well as adding coursework on the Gullah/Geechee experience.
It also plans to create peer and community affinity networks to support teacher candidates embedded in the 21 at-need schools across the nearly 600 square miles that make up Beaufort County — a challenge that would stretch the limits of USC-Beaufort’s six-person faculty
without support from other mentors.
“You can’t supervise more than four student teachers realistically per semester, since you’re going to need to visit each of them 4 or 5 times,”
Retention can be a struggle: The education department at USC-Beaufort starts with 60 to 70 teaching candidates in a cohort, but typically ends up graduating 30 to 40 of them.
However, those who do graduate are much more likely to stay in the Lowcountry, making them a key educator pipeline for the entire region.
While USC-Beaufort may be small, its community ties often allow it to attract more local students already familiar with the culture, a strength many regional colleges are working to harness in their attempts to help drive more teachers of color into the profession.
“The idea is to support high school students on their way to becoming teachers and, perhaps more importantly, support them once they are in-service teachers through this cultural diversity lens,” Marlowe says.
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