Erwin High students feeling the pinch

Erwin High senior Jennifer Oswald says she’s seen teachers struggle to come up with basic supplies. photo by Autumn Kersten

Recent budget cuts have left North Carolina’s public schools short on cash. According to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, 2,418 public-school educators were laid off this year due to the tight state budget. Buncombe County has been hit especially hard: It ranked eighth in the state for total educator jobs lost last school year, and more positions have since been lost. But the budget cuts aren’t just impacting teachers: They’re also affecting students and their overall education. That includes those enrolled at Clyde A. Erwin High School in Leicester.

Seen from the outside, things at Erwin High would seem to be looking up. The dropout rate has decreased significantly, while the football team's winning streak just seems to continue every year. Erwin cheerleaders have won the state championship 10 times and are hoping for trophy No. 11 this spring. But walk through the doors, tour the classrooms and talk to their inhabitants and you’ll get a much clearer picture of how the state’s shrinking education budget is affecting students.

Senior Jennifer Oswald says she’s watched her teachers "scramble to get something as simple as dry-erase markers and paper." Often there aren’t enough textbooks to assign to an entire class. Some advanced-placement students, who are attempting to earn college credits while still in high school, have even had to buy their own textbooks. "I also have to buy many books for AP classes — textbooks and novels," classmate Jeremy Buckner reports. The past two years, the entire AP European history class has been required to purchase their own textbooks simply in order to take the class.

Erwin's science department appears even harder hit than the rest of the school. "We’re unable to have many labs in science classes, because there’s not enough money for materials," reports Tori Zhuravlev, the school’s highest-ranked senior. As a result, teachers retool their lesson plans to include fewer labs and more book work. But science is a hands-on subject, and these changes result in a noticeably less effective way to teach the material. "Teachers [have] to rethink their lesson plans and force me to do other assignments that may not be as beneficial," Tori Stanton notes. For example, last year's anatomy class would not have been able to perform dissections of pigs if not for a generous donor.

"Budget cuts definitely inhibit my learning," says Erwin student Abby Hooker, and she’s not alone. For many students, education is the most important thing in their life, and they’d like to see the government give it equal attention.

"Education should be much more of a priority," senior Jacob Lindsey maintains, adding, "The education of today affects the prosperity of tomorrow." Classmate Dana Speight agrees, asking, "How are future generations going to adopt this growing nation when they’re not educated enough to do so?"

But even as that question lingers, Erwin students are trying to make the best of the education they’re getting. Junior Priscilla Boyer even manages to find the silver lining in a tough situation. "Many copies of textbook pages are made, and PowerPoints are presented for tedious note taking,” she points out. And while that may not be ideal in some ways, adds Boyer, “Students learn more when they have to write down a new concept. Repetition helps the mind retain information."

— Autumn Kersten is a senior at Clyde A. Erwin High School.

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