An aspiring small business owner, a future teacher, and a dad who is looking to support his family all walk the halls of Birchwood School at the Department of Juvenile Justice’s campus off Broad River Road in Columbia. The interim principal, Floyd Lyles, is changing the culture at Birchwood School because he well knows that education is the key to the future success of the students and inmates he mentors. He knows that just because past mistakes and past behavior requires them to pay off their debt to society now, education will give them the opportunity not to be defined by past mistakes in the coming years.
Recently, The State published the article, “For Juvenile Inmates, Education Inside the Fence is Key to Success on the Outside,” which profiles the work being done at Columbia’s Birchwood School.
“What we do here will probably determine whether these young men or young ladies end up in prison for the rest of their lives or leave and go back a changed person,” said Floyd Lyles, interim principal of DJJ’s Birchwood school. “No. 1, I want you to be a better person. And No. 2, I want you to graduate while you’re here.
Lyles has worked to transform Birchwood from a school that was marked by riots, violence, and a failing student population, to a place where juvenile inmates are improving academically and learning to leave behind what Shikeem, a student at Birchwood, called “childish stuff.” According to the article:
“Students appear to be progressing.
Last year, only 11 percent of students made gains in their math scores in the state’s Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) testing, and only 22 percent made gains in reading, said Marcie Gambrell, the school system’s testing coordinator. Typical schools see at least 50 percent of their students meet testing growth goals, Gambrell said.
This year, however, 100 percent of students showed growth in their math MAP scores, and 43 percent grew in reading.”
The message Birchwood is sending to their students is the same message we want to send here at the Palmetto Promise Institute: education provides one key to changing your station in life. If the opportunity for success is provided to young people in our state, many of them will use that opportunity to accomplish their goals in new careers, in higher centers of learning, or in their community just many of the young people at Birchwood are aspiring to do.