The Midlands Literacy Initiative coordinates adult literacy services in four counties: Newberry, Fairfield, Lexington, and Richland. The counties vary considerably. Newberry and Fairfield are very rural; Lexington has a mixture of small cities and rural areas; and Richland contains Columbia, the state capital. The University of South Carolina is located in Columbia, as are a number of large manufacturers such as Louis Rich/ Kraft Foods and Honeywell International. Richland County itself is diverse, with many small rural communities surrounding the large industrial capital.
These variations in the type and size of communities in the four-county area require equally varied adult education and training services. For example, manufacturers in Columbia might need services focused on workplace skills, while the rural areas might want adult basic education courses. Successful partnerships enable the MLI to sponsor a continuum of adult education services that meets different needs throughout the four counties.
A recent study found that approximately 50 percent of adults in South Carolina have low levels of literacy.1 The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Columbia Chamber report that the high-school dropout rate is 48 percent.2 In response to these disturbing statistics, the state has focused intensively on adult education. In South Carolina, adult education is chiefly administered by local K-12 school districts, which extend their programs by forming partnerships with community and faith-based organizations. Many districts donate old school buildings, curriculum materials, tests, and, in some cases, teachers to adult education programs, which offer a wide range of courses at various locations in the area, such as churches and community centers.
Through the districts, adults can participate in courses in GED preparation, computer technology, English literacy (EL), adult literacy, and workplace skills. One adult education site, for example, operated by the Richland County School District One (called “Richland One”), provides courses in substitute-teacher training, medical business certification, adult basic education, GED preparation, customized workplace literacy, and other subjects.
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The programs offered through Richland One and other school districts are made possible through an extensive network of partnerships. Project BEST (Better Education Skills for Tomorrow), run by Richland One, is a collaboration among the maintenance department, student nutrition services, and adult education departments within the district. The district saw a need for literacy training for district employees, some of whom read at a third-grade level. For those working with chemicals or food, the inability to read and understand written directions potentially could lead to dangerous situations. Project BEST offers basic literacy courses for one-and-a-half hours two days a week. Participants are paid for their attendance and see much improvement in their skills over the ten-week period.
1The National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) reported 25 percent of adults living in South Carolina are at the lowest literacy level, and 27 percent are at the second lowest level. Source: www.schc.org/NALS/Narrative.htm. (back to text)
2Reported in Facing Facts: A Study of Issues That Shape Our Region (2003), a collaborative report compiled by the Central Carolina Community Foundation, Central Midlands Council of Governments, Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina, and the United Way of the Midlands. (back to text)