Sen. Robert Ford brags about Charleston County schools' career and technology jewel, Garrett Academy, but a visit to a construction class left him stunned.
The school's construction program receives a paltry $700 per year to buy equipment and supplies. The school can apply for federal and state money for specific equipment needs, but the $700 must take care of any wood, nails, hammers or goggles its classes use all year.
"I didn't know that before I got there," Ford, D-Charleston, said.
Ford wrote a $1,000 check to the school Friday and promised to round up others who would match his contribution. He wrote letters to area businesses, and as a result, Southern Lumber and Millwork Corp. promised to help provide supplies and materials.
Ford emphasized the need for more programs such as those at Garrett because not all students go to college. But few Lowcountry high schools offer construction programs. Charleston County students can take construction classes at Garrett Academy and Lincoln High, Dorchester County students can go to the county's Career and Technology Center, and Berkeley County students can go to Berkeley, Cross or Stratford high schools.
For years downtown residents have asked for more classes that can teach students who aren't headed to college the skills they need for work. Newly elected House member Wendell Gilliard said he planned to make the issue a priority in Columbia, and that he'd like career and technology courses to begin at the middle school level.
Charleston school Superintendent Nancy McGinley agreed that she'd like more career and technology education classes in vocational areas because they feed the industry's need and help students find jobs after high school. The catch, she said, is that it takes start-up money and building space to create those programs.
The school district could create more spaces with Garrett-like programs after it makes decisions about closing and restructuring schools, she said.
David Shurrum, Garrett's carpentry teacher, said the extra money would help him do more projects with students, such as building a shed they can sell. Money is tight, and he spent $300 recently on just wood, nails and saw blades, he said.
Senior Alonna Hodges, who majored in construction at Garrett, plans to attend Winthrop University and major in business administration so she can open a construction company. She didn't know what she wanted to do as a career until she started taking construction classes, but she realized she enjoyed the hands-on work and wanted to pursue it long term. With more money, she said, her class could build more dog and bird houses to sell and raise money for the program.