James Campbell, Spanish teacher at Carolina High School, was instrumental in piloting the model and has served as the lead facilitator from its inception. He helps select students through a competitive process and literally “goes the extra mile” by driving the school bus to transport students to and from Furman University where the seminars take place.
“At our school, we have a high Hispanic population, and just starting to hear their stories, and seeing their performance in class…they were doing everything we asked of them. Their attendance was good, and they started graduating at the top of their class,” said James. “Then I started seeing where they were going to school after high school, and some of them weren’t going to school, and some of them were leaving the state to go to school.”
Students who participate in SDA range in circumstance from undocumented immigrants to U.S.-born citizens. Regardless of their circumstances, the students are passionate about equal access to higher education and professional opportunities.
“To me, it’s a little different. Because while I am Latino, I’m Puerto Rican and mixed, so I don’t have any immigrants in my family whatsoever,” said Pedro Castillo, a junior at Berea High School. “But when my friends told me about this, I was very interested in it because everyone deserves the chance to go to college and just to work.”
SDA provides students a safe space for introspective dialogue, self-discovery, and examination of societal questions. They are empowered and encouraged to use their voices and tell their stories.
After hearing from the SDA, Republican State Representative Neal Collins became an ally in the fight to overturn the legislation creating barriers for DREAMers. He has introduced bills that would change the law twice. In the process of advocating for the SC H3404 bill, the students were able to raise awareness of the issue and garner more support than expected.
“Every time I’ve seen the students talk to decision-makers, I’ve seen someone change,” said James.