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Arnold Hillman is co-founder of the South Carolina Organization for Rural Schools, with his wife Carol. They retired as educators in Pennsylvania and moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina. But instead of relaxing, taking long walks, and fishing, they found themselves drawn to a new mission: helping the state’s underfunded rural schools. This is a good “retirement.” Some locals were amazed, seeing this couple throw themselves into helping local children and schools as volunteers.
They did not not fit the stereotype of retired Yankees,as a local wrote:
“Here’s the popular stereotype: they move here but for a long time still drive around with car tags from Ohio, Pennsylvania and such. They don’t change their cell phone numbers from 614, 309 or 315 to 843, 803 or 864. They walk around with sweatshirts from Ohio State and Michigan, not Clemson or USC…
“Well, I’d like to tell you about two Yankees I recently met and what they are doing here in South Carolina. In 2015, Carol and Arnold Hillman moved from Pennsylvania and re-located to the Sun City Retirement Community at Hilton Head. But unlike the stereotypes of newcomers who spend all their time playing golf and complaining with their fellow transplants about the locals, the Hillmans began to travel around the Lowcountry.
“One day they found themselves in Jasper County where they struck up a conversation with some folks about the schools – they had both been in education in Pennsylvania. One thing led to another and after some conversations with Dr. Vashti Washington, former Superintendent of Schools, they began volunteering at Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School mentoring students.
“One can imagine the culture shock that followed. The nearly 100% African American students couldn’t understand why these old white folks from some place they had never heard of were hanging around asking questions. And the Hillman’s couldn’t understand the ‘cultural folk ways’ of teenagers in rural Jasper county – you get the picture.
“But the Hillmans were committed, “We didn’t care if the kids were good students or even if they were well behaved; all we wanted was to work with students.”
“Carol was soon meeting with a group of 10 girls. They talked about everything from the difference between credit and debit cards to how to choose a good college and the benefits of going into the military. They met right after the students ate lunch and Carol provided snacks. “Sometimes we weren’t sure if they came for the milk and cookies or to learn something, but we figured, ‘whatever works,” Hillman laughed.
“Carol’s story about one girl is truly inspiring. “Lauren (not her real name) explained that she was 16, had a baby with cerebral palsy and was living with her grandmother who had raised her. Grandma had cancer and Lauren was trying to take care of her, care for her baby and go to school. By now she was crying. It seems her greatest desire was to graduate with her class in June 2017, but she had missed so many days in the past year that she was failing too many classes.”
“All summer long Lauren and Carol stayed in touch by email as Lauren did not have a cell phone. “When she was down, I would remind her that she was smart and capable and that we would both be ecstatic when she graduated on time. When she was happy, I’d celebrate with her and remind her of how proud I was of her. She passed both of her summer school classes! Here it is, October of her senior year and so far, she is coming to school on a regular basis. I’m delighted to report that Lauren is on track to reach her goal of graduating on time.”
“Meanwhile, Arnold set up a program called Jasper Gentleman, 10 senior young men who could use some mentoring and who in turn helped younger students in fourth and fifth grade. Arnold explains, “Each of the young men were enthusiastic about doing the mentoring. They were also very interested in what was happening in the world and how they might achieve their goals. We spent months talking about colleges, the military, job possibilities, community happenings and how they might improve the high school. We took a trip to the branch campus of the University of South Carolina in Bluffton, arranged for an etiquette lunch (which turned out to be lunch without etiquette) and concentrated on the next steps in their lives.”
“Carol and I attended 11 basketball games, both home and away. A number of the Gents were on the team, but it was the community that encouraged us to go to the games and later on to community events. You see, rural people have been taken advantage of so many times across our country and are naturally suspicious of outsiders. Sometimes, Carol and I were the only snowflakes in the gymnasium. We became fixtures and the folks seemed to welcome us. Sometimes, at away games, they even saved seats for us. They are wonderful people, as are their children.”
“The Hillmans met with State Superintendent Molly Spearman about how their work in Jasper could be spread to other rural districts around the state. Spearman was encouraging to the Hillmans and they have since established the South Carolina Organization of Rural Schools to help others learn from their experiences. Go to their website http://www.scorsweb.org and see how you can get involved.”
Are the Hillmans amazing or what?
As I read the story above out loud, I started crying. Why? I was moved by their goodness. Just two educators helping kids.
Arnold writes here about the misguided national narrative of teacher-bashing and public school-bashing.
He emphasizes the crucial role that public schools play in the lives of the state’s poorest children.
“Public schools are for everyone. They do not have the capacity, as to private schools and now even some “public”charter schools, to throw children out for whatever reason. They must deal with whoever walks through those school doors. Their job goes on even in the face of governmental obstruction, mass shootings, or the reduction of funding.
“Public schools still turn out the overwhelming number of American Nobel Prize winners. While other countries select their most talented to take international tests, we include everyone, and suffer for it. While media make fun of public schools by having characters say, “You’ll have to excuse me, I went to public school,” public schools still turn out the best and brightest.
“Public schools have taken generations of immigrants to this country and have taught them to be contributing citizens. When you hear a critic say, “Why didn’t the schools teach these kids . . .,” you might step back and ask, how many more things do you want the public schools to teach?
“Having traveled around South Carolina to visit our rural schools over the past 2 years, we have seen how educators are coping with the burdens put on them. There is not a moment in their day that they don’t put forth massive effort to help their students reach their potential. If you have not seen that effort, then you have not been in one of our rural schools.
“For all of their Herculean efforts, they do not complain. Once in a great while, you might see them stand up, as they did in the Abbeville case, or pleading with the legislature to provide them with the proper resources for their students. However, their primary goal is to teach the children and they do that so well.”
These two good people are definitely on the blog honor roll.