Gift of space becomes a partnership for education at St. Alban’s, Kingstree
KINGSTREE – As the school year nears its end, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church is preparing to have a farewell cookout for a group of teachers who have been keeping the parish hall busy every Wednesday afternoon this semester with the sound of children laughing, reading, counting, asking questions, and getting their homework done.
It’s a relationship that started as a gesture of kindness, but has grown into a way for the church and the teachers to serve local children. And it also serves as an example of how faith communities can be part of the effort to improve public education in South Carolina.
Last fall, members of St. Alban’s decided they wanted to find a way to support the dozens of Teach For America corps members who work in the Williamsburg County School District. Teach for America is the national corps of top college graduates and professionals who commit to teach for two years in low income urban and rural public school areas. Williamsburg County has about 4,400 students in 12 public schools, and an average poverty index of 97.57 percent.
The Reverend Jeffrey Richardson,Vicar of St. Alban’s, said the church had noticed the number of Teach for America corps members growing over the last few years. Working with Senior Warden Kathy McCullough and the vicar’s wife, Patty Richardson, the church invited the teachers to dinner.
The idea was to thank the teachers, but also to ask them how St. Alban’s could help them feel more at home and connected in the community. “These teachers are really with it, very mature, ambitious, and outgoing. But they are fresh out of college and new to the area,” Mrs. Richardson says. Many of them come from urban areas, with no experience living in the rural South. The aim at St. Alban’s was to offer them some Christian kindness, a way to connect with people in the community for anything they might need. “We have people who have lived here their whole lives,” Fr. Richardson says.
The church also offered use of the parish hall, a repurposed Air Force barracks building that was moved to Kingstree and now serves as offices and gathering space. Fr. Richardson says he imagined the teachers might want a place just to hang out, or perhaps socialize with their colleagues. But then, something surprising happened.
“Within 20 minutes, two of the young women were asking if they could tutor here,” he says. “We wanted to give them something, and they turned that around and wanted to use it to do something for someone else.” Mrs. McCullough agreed: “We wanted to help them, and they want to help others.”
The sessions started in January. “We started literally with one girl and four of us teachers,” said teacher Chelsea Marone, who grew up just outside New York City. “We just kind of stared at her.” But the next week, that girl brought her brothers, ages 4 and 8. The following week, more came. Word of mouth did the rest, and by spring there might be as many as 20 or 25 children on a given Wednesday, filling the hall and sometimes spilling out onto the lawn in sunny weather. St. Alban’s provides the space, and provides snacks, fruit and juice. The teachers handle everything else, even cleaning up and putting away the tables.
At that first dinner last fall, one of the guests was the Right Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg, Bishop of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Since then, the Bishop has watched the program at St. Alban’s flourish, and points to it as an example of how churches can become more involved in improving public education. Bishop vonRosenberg and Fr. Richardson are part of the statewide LARCUM initiative, in which Lutheran, Anglican (Episcopal), Roman Catholic and United Methodist leaders are banding together to seek positive change in South Carolina’s public schools.
“I am delighted that St. Alban’s Episcopal Church has embraced this opportunity for community service,” Bishop vonRosenberg says. “And I am especially glad that they are supporting the ministry of public education in Williamsburg County. I look forward to exciting things in the future for this cooperative ministry among teachers, students, and the church community.”
The tutoring program will have its last session on May 13, but the teachers have been handing out fliers promising that the weekly sessions will pick up again in September. St. Alban’s will have a cookout May 19 to thank the teachers and say farewell to the ones who are leaving after school is out, including Maria Scala.
Miss Scala recalls her first year in Kingstree, arriving from Philadelphia: “It was a culture shock. “ But over time, she says she has grown to care more and more for the community and the children she works with. “I never thought I would be sad to leave, but I am,” she said.
Miss Marone is staying in Kingstree for another year, and says she will help keep the tutoring program going. Both teachers said the afternoons at St. Alban’s are a way for them all to connect with each other and have something fun to do during the week. And they hope that having a program already in place next September will ease the transition for the next group of teachers who arrive.
“The first year of Teach For America is very overwhelming,” Miss Marone says. Now, thanks to the teachers’ partnership with St. Alban’s, next year’s new Teach For America corps members will have a welcoming place to begin that journey.
- Holly Behre, Director of Communications, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina