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Op-Ed: Time to Shorten S.C.’s Legislative Session

By Jamie Murguia
April 18, 2014

The South Carolina legislature sits for five months, 21 weeks, or 143 calendar days. It’s one of the longest sessions in the nation, leaving aside the 10 states with professional legislatures.

House lawmakers began a two-week furlough this week (for a total of three weeks of furlough this year), while the Senate began its furlough Thursday. Both chambers will return in a week to complete whatever it is they intend to do before adjourning for the year in June. What a great time, then, to look back on what lawmakers have accomplished in the roughly 13 weeks they’ve been in Columbia, and what they could accomplish when they return for the remaining five weeks of session.

From the restructuring of state government to reforming a process that allowed lawmakers to investigate and punish other lawmakers, this year was supposed to be the year to accomplish large-scale, meaningful reform at the State House. As in years past, unfortunately, the legislature has come up short on “historic reform.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Double amputee shares faith, encouragement through karate

Editor’s Note: Story, photos and audio provided by University of South Carolina journalism students are available to the state’s news publications and websites. Questions about this story to Doug Fisher dfisher@sc.edu or 803-386-1084. This story originally was published on Columbia Voice, a service of the USC School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

By Avery Wilks
USC Journalism School

Ulysses Cornelius greets each child with a hug and a peppermint as they enter the gym. He pulls a composition notebook from the side of his wheelchair so each can sign in.

It’s the third Saturday of the month, so Cornelius, a 59-year-old double amputee, is teaching karate at the Leroy Moss Community Center in North Columbia where he has volunteered for several years.

“It’s a snow day, so I didn’t know how many people were going to show up,” Cornelius says, just loud enough to be heard over the footsteps of the seven students running laps and the gospel music he’s got playing through the gym’s loudspeakers. “I’ve got to be here regardless.”
Read the rest of this entry »

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Nation’s No. 1 women’s basketball recruit chooses USC

Editor’s note: Contact info for this story is Kyle Heck, 843-714-9700, kylerheck@gmail.com 

Stories, photos and videos provided by University of South Carolina journalism students are available to the state’s news publications and websites. We ask that bylines be retained and, when possible, clips be provided for student portfolios. The mailing address is Dr. Deborah Gump, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. 29208.

***

By Kyle Heck
USC School of Journalism

The announcement took less than three seconds.

Years of recruiting and a half-hour announcement show ended with a quick pledge by star guard A’ja Wilson. She’s staying home and going to the University of South Carolina.

The Heathwood Hall Episcopal School senior and Columbia native then donned a neon green shirt that read “there’s no place like home” to field questions from the media.

Wilson picked USC ahead of Tennessee, University of Connecticut and North Carolina. Tennessee and UConn had the national title trophies to dazzle Wilson, and North Carolina was the perennial “basketball” school, a program on the rise.

For A’ja Wilson, a long journey has come to an end. After enduring years of recruiting, she no longer has to take calls from dozen of coaches or travel to visit other schools.

Wilson said she sat down with her family the night before the signing day ceremony and made the final decision.

“My dad was on the couch, and he was like, ‘all right, let’s talk about it,’” Wilson said. “Because we were avoiding the question and acting like April 16 wasn’t the next day. We all came together, and we prayed about it, and South Carolina is where God sent us.”

She’s a Gamecock now, and that’s all that matters for her and her family. She’s already brought one championship to Columbia and will look to do the same at USC.

The Gamecocks received their first No. 1 seed in the women’s NCAA basketball tournament in school history this past season and will return all five starters.

Throw in Wilson, and the future is even brighter for USC head women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley and her program. The prospect of success on the horizon played a big role in Wilson’s decision.

“I’ve watched coach Staley when she first got here, when there was no one in the stands,” Wilson said. “Winning the big stuff is great, but seeing the little things. The little things are what count most to me. Just seeing how she turned a program around, which is not the easiest thing, but she turned it around, and they’re on the rise to something great.”

Wilson joins a recruiting class that is now ranked No. 2 in the nation by ESPN after Wednesday’s events.

Wilson said she called Staley before the announcement and let her know of her decision.

“I’ll be joining you in the fall at the University of South Carolina,” Wilson told Staley. “Then from then on, my ears were just ringing. She screamed, and that’s when I heard the staff scream, and I couldn’t get anything else out. I just heard screaming.”

Said Staley: “Her voice sounded so somber and dejected, I wasn’t really prepared to hear that she was coming. I know our office was louder than Heathwood Hall today. She was holding the phone for five minutes while we screamed at the top of our lungs and just jumped around.”

Even though she was the No. 1 recruit being courted by dozen of coaches and had her own personal ceremony on ESPN to announce her decision, she remains a family girl.

She watches scary movies with her friends and TV shows with her parents after she gets home from school.

She didn’t even like basketball when she first started playing. Her dad, Roscoe Wilson, a former Benedict College and European professional basketball player, was the one who urged A’ja to play.

At the age of 10, Roscoe signed A’ja up to play on an Amateur Athletic Union, or AAU, team, but A’ja was content to ride the bench.

It was after her father scolded her for not trying that A’ja began to take things seriously.

The rest is history, and a star was born.

“It’s what a daddy does,” Roscoe said. “You do it out of love because you want your daughter to excel in anything. But then it got to be a goal, and that was the transition.”

By the age of 12, A’ja told her dad that by the time she graduated high school, she wanted to win a state championship, earn a gold medal and be the No. 1 player in the nation.

Check, check and check.

She joined the Heathwood Hall varsity team in eighth grade and that same year received her first college offer from UNC-Greensboro. Her senior year, the year she brought her school a state title, A’ja averaged 35 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks per game.

A’ja was a member of the 2013 under-19 USA World Championship basketball team, which compiled a 9-0 record and took home a gold medal.

It’s her rare mix of size, speed, shooting ability and finesse that make her a player that will “change women’s basketball,” according to her former AAU coach, Jerome Dickerson.

At 6’5”, A’ja has the ability to post up and shoot over defenders like a center or forward, use her ball-handling skills to drive around defenders to get to the basket like a guard and easily hit a three-pointer.

In other words, she can play all five positions on the court.

There’s even a video on Instagram of her dunking a basketball, a rarity in women’s basketball.

Now that the mystery of where A’ja will go to college is no more, she and her family can relax. Roscoe said that the family has “shared” the stress throughout the whole process.

“I’m feeling a lot better now,” Roscoe said.

Now that she knows where she is going to college, another chapter begins in Aja’s life. But one thing will remain the same: Being the No. 1 recruit coming out of high school, eyes will be on her to she can live up to the huge expectations.

But A’ja has a habit of making lofty goals and meeting them, and that is not changing now that she is going to college. She wants to win a national championship during her time as a Gamecock, and Staley is on board.

“I think the players that are returning and the newcomers are saying one thing – that they want to win a national championship,” Staley said. “We aren’t going to make any promises, but everyone wants to play for a national championship. I don’t see why our goals and dreams can’t be to win a national championship.”

- Isabelle Khurshudyan contributed to this article.

 

A’ja Wilson’s father, Roscoe Wilson, said he was very proud of his daughter and happy with her decision to play basketball at USC. Photo by Manny Correa

A’ja Wilson’s father, Roscoe Wilson, said he was very proud of his daughter and happy with her decision to play basketball at USC. Photo by Manny Correa

Wilson explains to the press why she chose South Carolina over Tennessee, North Carolina or Connecticut. Photo by Manny Correa

Wilson explains to reporters why she chose South Carolina over Tennessee, North Carolina and Connecticut. Photo by Manny Correa

Everyone in the Heathwood Hall Episcopal School gymnasium holds a collective breath as the nation’s No.1 women’s basketball recruit, A’ja Wilson,  prepares to reveal what school she will attend in the fall. Photo by Manny Correa

Everyone in the Heathwood Hall Episcopal School gymnasium holds a collective breath as the nation’s No.1 women’s basketball recruit, A’ja Wilson, prepares to reveal what school she will attend in the fall. Photo by Manny Correa

Moments after A’ja Wilson announced her school of choice, University of South Carolina, the entire Heathwood Hall Episcopal School gymnasium erupted in excitement at her decision. Photo by Manny Correa

Moments after A’ja Wilson announced her school of choice, the University of South Carolina, the Heathwood Hall Episcopal School gymnasium erupted in excitement at her decision. Photo by Manny Correa

The crowd cheers excitedly as A’ja Wilson prepares to announce which school she will attend.

The crowd cheers as A’ja Wilson prepares to announce which school she will attend. Photo by Manny Correa

A'ja_MCscne1

Four no more: USC increases guaranteed graduation tickets per student

Editor’s note: Contact info for this story is Kyle Heck, 843-714-9700, kylerheck@gmail.com 

Stories, photos and videos provided by University of South Carolina journalism students are available to the state’s news publications and websites. We ask that bylines be retained and, when possible, clips be provided for student portfolios. The mailing address is Dr. Deborah Gump, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. 29208.

***

By Kyle Heck
USC School of Journalism

Phone calls and social media chatter paid off for USC students graduating on May 9, as well as for their families.

On Tuesday, the university announced that the number of guaranteed tickets per graduate would be six, not the four that had been announced on Monday.

The original decision of four tickets caused social media to buzz with complaints and confusion, spurring a petition demanding more guaranteed tickets that had almost 1,500 signatures as of late Tuesday evening.

Many students, expecting the general admission policies of recent commencements, had already invited more than four people.

Students say the increase helps a bit but doesn’t fully fix the problems for some.

“It’s a little bit better. I’m glad they’re being proactive about it,” said Candice Johnson, a graduating finance student. “But I’m still going to need two or three more tickets.”

For De’Rio Briggs, a senior from Clio, S.C., the six won’t come close to the amount of tickets he needs.

“I’m a first-generation college student, so a lot of people want to see me,” Briggs said. “I had over 20 people that were supposed to come see me.”

For others, the change is perfect.

“That’s a lot better for me because I had six family members that were planning to come, so now I don’t have to pick which ones I want to come,” said international business student Sydnie Reynolds. “It is nice to see them working at it.”

Wes Hickman, USC’s chief communications officer, said the university received many calls expressing concern that four tickets would not be enough, leading USC president Harris Pastides to request an increase in seating.

By late Tuesday afternoon, Hickman and Colonial Life Arena had made the decision.

They were able to open up a few more sections by rearranging the seating. The guaranteed amount of tickets was also six when then-president George W. Bush gave the commencement speech in 2003. That was the last time a ticketing process had to be used, said Hickman.

“We didn’t know the demand would be this high,” Hickman said.

If students still want more tickets, they can go to the Colonial Life Arena ticket windows on April 28 beginning at 8 a.m., where extra tickets will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Students can pick up their six guaranteed passes at the ticket windows on April 24 and 25 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Students will have to provide a printed list of names for both the guaranteed and on-demand tickets to ensure that only invited guests will be allowed into the ceremony.  Guests, except for minors accompanied by a parent, must present a photo ID with their ticket to enter.

Students graduating that Friday are from the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies, College of Nursing, South Carolina College of Pharmacy, Darla Moore School of Business and the Arnold School of Public Health.

The two remaining graduation ceremonies on Saturday, May 10, will not have ticket limits for students and their families and friends. Boeing President James McNerny will speak at the 9 a.m. ceremony, and NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. is the speaker for the 3 p.m. ceremony.

But those May 9 graduates are dreading the long lines and the potential of missing classes to pick up their tickets.

“It’s going to be ridiculous,” said Candice Johnson, a graduating finance student.

But Hickman said that students shouldn’t worry and that he’s confident the university will be able to accommodate everyone.

“We feel pretty certain there’s going to be enough to accommodate any ticket requests,” Hickman said. “I think there will be a significant amount of tickets left over.”

Hickman added that Biden is not the reason that a ticket system was put in place. He said it has more to do with the amount of seats available and the large number of students, around 1,400, who are graduating.

“This is the largest commencement ceremony that we will have had in the history of the university, which is something that we should be really proud of,” Hickman said.

With the prospect of bigger graduating classes in coming years, Hickman said, it would be a “year-to-year” process when it comes to future ticketing processes.

Hickman did admit that having Biden speak played a role, adding that some people who were on the fence about coming will now want to attend because of the high-profile speaker.

Some students placed a lot of blame on Biden, taking to Twitter to voice their displeasure.

“Hey @UofSC I would rather a different speaker or no speaker than only getting 4 tickets to graduation. It’s our day not Biden’s. Fix this,” read one tweet.

While many students expressed disappointment at the short notice and limited amount of tickets, some found a silver lining.

“I think it’s so cool that we have a vice president at the ceremony during my graduation,” said Reynolds.  “The university did a good job getting Biden to come. But I wish they would have told us they were in discussion, and there may be a limited amount of seating.”

Hickman knows that the ticketing process is different than what many are used to but still encourages family and friends of the graduates to come to Columbia and try to attend the ceremony.

According to Hickman, the university will “possibly” set up a second location somewhere in Columbia where people could watch the graduation on video.

“If you’ve got reservations made, if you’ve got plane tickets booked, I would say still come,” Hickman said. “We feel pretty hopeful that anybody that wants to get in will be able to get in. We think there is going to be plenty of tickets available for folks.”

 

De’Rio Briggs from Clio, S.C. is graduation from USC’s business school in May.  Briggs is the first person in his family to go to college and was hoping to bring over 20 people to his graduation.  Photo by Manny Correa.

De’Rio Briggs from Clio, S.C., is graduating from USC’s business school in May. Briggs is the first person in his family to go to college and was hoping to bring more than 20 people to his graduation. Photo by Manny Correa.

Candice Johnson, who is graduating from the business school in May, said despite the increase in guaranteed tickets, she will still try to reserve more to accommodate her large number of guests. Photo by Manny Correa.

Candice Johnson, who is graduating from the business school in May, said despite the increase in guaranteed tickets, she will still try to reserve more to accommodate her large number of guests. Photo by Manny Correa.

USC's chief communications officer, Wes Hickman, said the university added more seats for guests after students and parents expressed concern about the four ticket limit. Photo by Manny Correa.

USC’s chief communications officer, Wes Hickman, said the university added more seats for guests after students and parents expressed concern about the four-ticket limit. Photo by Manny Correa.

Sydnie Reynolds, who is graduating from the business school is May, said despite any issues regarding the limited tickets, USC did a good job getting Joe Biden to give an address at the May 9 ceremony. Photo by Manny Correa.

Sydnie Reynolds, who is graduating from the business school in May, said despite any issues regarding tickets, USC did a good job getting Joe Biden to speak at the May 9 ceremony. Photo by Manny Correa.

 

Accessibility on college campuses: A guide for new students with disabilities

Editor’s note: Contact info for this story is Jay Michaels, 864-965-8496, jaymich1128@gmail.com.

Stories, photos and videos provided by University of South Carolina journalism students are available to the state’s news publications and websites. We ask that bylines be retained and, when possible, clips be provided for student portfolios. The mailing address is Dr. Deborah Gump, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. 29208.

***

By Jay Michaels
USC School of Journalism

As a student with a disability, you probably have it tougher than other students. While your high school accommodations helped, the college experience is different.

The campus is larger, the student population is bigger and classes are more difficult. You need to prepare as soon as possible.

South Carolina’s numbers suggest that students with disabilities, indeed, have it tough.

Only 40 percent graduated from high school in 2012, according to a survey by the South Carolina Department of Education. Of those, it’s estimated that roughly 26 percent enrolled in higher education.

Although it may be difficult for students with disabilities, many go on to become successful.

Cindy Amick is one.

Amick is a senior retailing student in USC’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management with a concentration in retail management and will receive her bachelor’s degree in May.

Because of a spinal cord injury, she has difficulty walking far and depends on a scooter to get around campus. She also leans forward on her scooter to alleviate her back pain.

Getting to graduation wasn’t easy. When Amick was 7 years old, she lost her mother to a post-abdominal surgery infection that spread throughout her body. She endured, graduating from Columbia High School in 1981 and studying psychology at Erskine College. But she admits to not studying as much as she should and was suspended after one semester for poor grades.

Amick moved back into her father’s house in Columbia and worked odd jobs at a fast-food restaurant and a movie theater until 1984. While she worked part time, Amick regretted her earlier poor college performance.

So in 1984, she decided it was time to try again and enrolled part time in Midlands Technical College’s human resource classes to raise her GPA. She quit working at the theater and began full time work at an automotive body shop equipment store.

By 1991, Amick had quit her remaining part-time job and was working full time at the equipment store. Doing better financially, Amick enrolled in night classes in psychology – until night classes were no longer available.

In 2000, Amick started working full time at a boating products company. Amick learned how to water-ski, but she fell often. “Falling is just part of learning,” Amick says. “I fell a lot.” But the frequent falling injured her back.

Amick tried to heal her injuries with chiropractic care and massage therapy. However, when that failed, she had a laminectomy to relieve spinal cord pressure.

Everything was fine until 2004, when Amick needed another laminectomy. “I suffer from chronic pain due to scar tissue which surrounds my S1 and S2 nerves,” Amick says. “I have also suffered some nerve damage from the herniated L5 disc.”

The second surgery caused unbearable pain, and Amick was diagnosed with post-laminectomy, or failed back, syndrome. “After 2004, all I did was watch TV, read and work on my family genealogy,” Amick says. The pain lasted until 2010, when Amick felt well enough to enroll in USC’s retail management program. Her previous experiences made Amick realize she needed a better plan – not just good intentions.

If you’re a student with a disability considering college, you need a good plan, too, so we’ve developed a step-by-step guide to help you make your final college decision.

Step No. 1: Research

Know your rights and advocate for them

You need to understand your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the 1990 law, students are allowed accommodations, but they can’t pose undue burden, which is defined as significant difficulty or expense to the school.

Amick made sure she knew the information that could help her on her college journey. She contacted school staff and faculty and advocated for herself.

Able South Carolina can assist in getting helpful information. Executive Director Kimberly Tissot understands the value of advocacy. “Able South Carolina can work with colleges on accessibility issues and also assist students with identifying accessibility concerns, develop ideas for accommodations, and assisting the students with advocating for these accommodations,” Tissot says. “There are over 100 consumers in our serving area with education-related cases. There were nearly 700 consumers last year.”

The Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. has valuable information about self-advocacy. Kathleen A. Martin is the team leader for PAPD’s outreach, information and referral department.

“Depending on the issue, our response may be to direct an individual to a college’s office on Student Disability Services,” Martin says. “Because of the far more extensive protections afforded younger students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, college can be a difficult adjustment. We may take on an issue. Though, frequently, I provide information on self-advocacy. Rather, it is a one at a time means of assisting.”

What size and location is right for you?

Before you decide on a college consider campus size. Big schools, like the University of South Carolina, have 1,600 students registered students with disabilities while Clemson has 819. If you are thinking about smaller schools, USC Upstate’s campus has 160 students while USC Aiken’s campus has 75 students. Of course, there are schools in the Lowcountry, like Coastal Carolina University, which has 215 students. Smaller campuses can offer one-on-one assistance with staff and faculty. Bigger campuses may have more activities on and around campus.

Because Amick knew the Midlands, she was comfortable with Columbia’s big city. Keep in mind the size that suits you and the accessibility in that area. The admissions office at each school will let you know about the neighborhood surrounding the campus.

Campus size, which may also be dictated by campus size or room availability, is important too. Some general education classes have more students than major-specific classes.

What do you want to study?

Amick was considering real estate as a major, not psychology, when she spoke to an admissions counselor. Amick saw the math requirement was too much for her. “I looked at the business calculus requirement and said ‘no,’” Amick says.

If you are thinking about certain majors, contact the admissions office, which will give you class information and required prerequisites.  Each major’s department has class requirements and may give you previous syllabi.

Explore accommodations

Amick contacted USC’s Student Disability Services and made an appointment to see Disability Resource Coordinator Charlotte Helms and was told to get documented proof of her disability.

“At this point, it’s up to the student,” Helms says. “It’s different in college than it was in high school. Parents need to lay back.”

Assistive Technology Coordinator Bradley E. Crain agrees with Helms. “Students need to make their own accommodations,” Cain says. Contact every campus’ disability services office. The staff will tell you their procedures and discuss the necessary forms.

Make an appointment with your doctor to get documentation about your disability. Your doctor can also recommend any accommodations that will work for your situation.

Contacting every college is tedious. However, more knowledge leads to a more educated decision.

Step No. 2: Visit

Get the lay of the land

After narrowing your choices, schedule a campus tour with an admissions counselor and prepare questions about the campus, neighborhood, classrooms and majors.

Amick met with Helms, who showed her possible accommodations, like low-distraction testing, and showed her the registration process on the SDS website. Helms also told Amick about Delta Alpha Pi, an honor society for college students with disabilities. Through meetings with DAP, Amick met Student Disability Services Director Karen Pettus.

Pettus and Director of Maintenance Service Don Gibson often go around campus to look for possible barriers, which affect students with disabilities. Check with your disability services office for accessible maps that show ways of traversing the campus and avoiding barriers.

USC Upstate’s Disability Services Director Margaret Camp understands the need to get around campus: Her office staff uses an accessible golf cart to transport students with disabilities.

Get the lowdown on classes

Now it is time to think about academics.

Amick sought advice from her admissions counselor who understood her dislike for business calculus.  Her counselor suggested the retail program and explained the similarities with real estate without the business calculus requirement.

If you have a major in mind, speak to the department head or a professor on each campus you visit. They can discuss every course, its requirements and syllabi, which shows required reading and other assignments. Remember – Not every campus has the same requirements.

Weigh Your Options

Look at all the information you were given and compare the campus’ layout, size and any classrooms you might be in. 

Step No. 3: You’re a (insert school mascot)  

Make it official

Now that you know what college you want to attend, register with the disability services office as soon as possible because other students will register for their own accommodations. Getting there quickly will help avoid the rush. Amick and Helms discussed the doctor’s documentation and Amick’s disability, which resulted in a list of accommodations.

Discuss your doctor’s documentation and any high school accommodations you had. You may need to adjust or add to the list according to your needs on campus.

Once you get your accommodations, meet with your academic adviser who will have your program’s required classes. Your adviser may also suggest the semester breakdown of classes.

You are now ready to register for classes. Your academic adviser will walk you through your college’s registration procedures.

Now that you are part of the campus community, keep communication going. Always speak up in uncomfortable situations, and ask questions when you have them.

Amick and Pettus often discuss possible accessibility improvements for USC. Talking about your concerns helps shed light on other issues that staff may not have thought about before.

For example, Columbia College Provost Dr. Laurie Hopkins works directly with students with disabilities and forbids words like “midget” and “dwarf” in her office. Hopkins is proud of all her students, but one former student became successful by using the communication skills that Hopkins taught her.

Michelle Harter, a former student with cerebral palsy, used crutches and had preconceived notions on how to act. “I always thought that people with disabilities had to be on their best behavior and make sure the other person was comfortable,” Harter says.

Harter broke her foot in an accident during one semester and realized she needed to do something about her second-floor science class. After hearing the news, her professor moved the class downstairs along with all necessary equipment.

Harter realized that by speaking up, she helped herself and the people around her. She is now an admissions counselor at Columbia College, and her co-workers accept her as part of the crowd. “It is important for people without disabilities to not just assume, and put limitations, on those with disabilities,” Harter says. “Just because I uses a wheelchair, it does not always mean I need help,” says Harter.

Amick and Harter are just two examples of people with disabilities who wanted their college degree and fought against the obstacles they faced to get it. If they did it, you can, too.

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Students with disabilities excel in many things after graduation
By Jay Michaels

South Carolina conducted a survey of students with disabilities one year after leaving high school. For fiscal year 2012, 7,654 surveys were distributed and 1,791 were returned.

  • 26% – Education, students enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges for at least one complete term since leaving high school.
  • 5% – Other Education, students enrolled in Job Corps and other non-traditional education for at least one complete term.
  • 21% –  Workers, people who worked at least 20 hours per day for 90 days with others without disabilities in settings including military employment.
  • 13% – Other Workers, people who worked for at least 90 days in settings including family businesses or who were self-employment.
  • 36% – Other, people who were not categorized, did not work at least 90 days or had not completed one full term of postsecondary education.

To learn more about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, you may go to the South Carolina’s Department of Education IDEA page.

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Knowing your rights and resources can help you make an educated decision
By Jay Michaels

  • If you think you are being discriminated against, you can contact the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which ensures equal access to education by reviewing compliance problems and developing creative approaches to prevent and address discrimination.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act requires auxiliary aids for people with hearing or vision impairments and removal of physical barriers or alternative service methods. You can find more information on the Department of Education’s ADA page.

Talk to your college’s disability services counselor to see if you are eligible for accommodations such as longer time for tests, low-distraction test taking and other possible accommodations.

The Washington Metro Area office serves South Carolina and can be reached at 202-453-6020 or on the Office of Civil Rights website.

 

Cindy Amick uses her scooter to get around the USC campus

Cindy Amick uses her scooter to get around the University of South Carolina campus. Photo by Jay Michaels

USC Student Disability Services staff often discuss how to help students

University of South Carolina Student Disability Services staff often discuss how to help students. Photo by Jay Michaels

The Horseshoe's surface can often be cumbersome for students                       with disabilites

The University of South Carolina Horseshoe’s surface can often be cumbersome for students with disabilities. Photo by Jay Michaels

USC's construction can often be difficult to maneuver around

Construction on the University of South Carolina can make getting around challenging for students with or without disabilities. Photo by Jay Michaels

 

People often love exploring the Horseshoe

The University of South Carolina Horseshoe can be difficult to maneuver for all types of students. Photo by Jay Michaels

Harvick’s pit crew at work

Kevin Harvick's pit team at work during Bojangles Southern 500 Satuarday. (SCPA Photo by Bill Rogers)

Kevin Harvick’s pit team at work during Bojangles
Southern 500 Satuarday. (SCPA Photo by Bill Rogers)

Harvick wins at Darlington

Kevin Harvick, in his No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet, recorded his first career win at Darlington Raceway in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 on Saturday night.

Kevin Harvick, in his No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet, recorded his first career win at Darlington Raceway in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 on Saturday night.  (SCPA Photo by Bill Rogers)

A Scorned South Carolina Hero

Phil Noble

Phil Noble

By Phil Noble

April 11, 2014 was a very important day in the history of South Carolina. Few people noticed that anything much happened – but I would argue that this was the day we as a state did two very important things.

First, we recognized a hero. And second, we showed that there is a new South Carolina that is – and for some time has been– struggling to be born.

First the hero. The South Carolina of the 1940s and 50s was a brutally racist and divided society. Anyone who would deny this is either ignorant of our history or simply unwilling to acknowledge reality.

In most parts of our state the vast majority of black folks were daily suffering the indignities of a society that was only a few steps removed from slavery. Yes there were schools for blacks, but under the “separate but equal” laws of the land, they were hardly worthy of the name school. And when it came to voting, for black folk it was essentially impossible in most places in our state.

Then a native son of Chrleston put things in motion that were to change all of this. The story of Judge Julius Waites Waring is well documented if not well known. In short Waring broke the back of legal segregation with several rulings that changed the course of history, not only in South Carolina but nationally.

In 1944 he ruled that black teachers should be paid the same as white teachers and in 1947, he declared that the all-white Democratic Party could not exclude blacks. These rulings sent shock waves through South Carolina and caused Waring to be ostracized by white society…and much worse.

In 1950, he wrote an opinion that sent shock waves not just throughout South Carolina, but throughout the county. In a dissenting opinion in the Briggs vs. Elliot case of Clarendon County, Waring made the first pronouncement by a federal judge in the 20th Century that said segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.

The Briggs case was later combined with four other cases and became Brown vs. Board of Education, which resulted in the landmark May 17, 1954 decision that outlawed segregation in public schools.

Soon after the Briggs case, Waring retired from the bench and having become a pariah in his home town and state, he moved to New York where he lived the rest of his life. When he died in 1968 and was buried in Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery, only 12 whites but over 200 blacks attended his funeral.

In his famous 1963 Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King said, “One day the South will recognize its true heroes.” That day came on April 11, 2014 for one of our greatest heroes, Judge Waring.

On Friday, in ceremonies in a small park beside the Federal Court where Waring sat and just down the street from where he lived at 61 Meeting Street, a large crowd, including US Attorney General Eric Holder, gathered and praised Judge Waring.  A life-sized statue of Judge Waring was unveiled.

Finally, South Carolina recognized one of its true heroes. We should all be proud of this.

In South Carolina our triumphs are all tangled up in our tragedies and while the treatment of Waring in the 1950s and 60s was a tragedy, the recognition of him now is a triumph.

In a larger sense, this long overdue recognition of Judge Waring is just another in a series of positive developments that shows there is a new South Carolina being born. It has been long in coming and there have been many fits and starts along the way – and we are not there yet.

And lest we forget, this new South Carolina that we so desperately need and hope for is not fully born yet. In the same city of Charleston, only a few blocks from Waring’s statute, less than a month ago, Judge Waring’s alma mater, the College of Charleston, chose an unapologetic and unreconstructed Confederate as its new President.

Another quote from Dr. King later in his life seems fitting today: “Things are not like they ought to be, and things are not like they are going to be, but thank God things are not like they were.”

I suspect Judge Waring would agree.

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform to our state. phil@scnewdemocrats.org   www.SCNewDemocrats.org

South Carolina native A’ja Wilson anything but normal as No. 1 basketball recruit

Editor’s note: Contact info for this story is Isabelle Khurshudyan, 864-280-4361, ikhurshud@gmail.com.

Stories, photos and videos provided by University of South Carolina journalism students are available to the state’s news publications and websites. We ask that bylines be retained and, when possible, clips be provided for student portfolios. The mailing address is Dr. Deborah Gump, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. 29208.

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By Isabelle Khurshudyan
USC School of Journalism

When the No. 1 women’s basketball recruit in the country goes home, she curls up on the couch and watches “NCIS” with her parents. She sends texts and tweets full of emojis. On weekends, she sleeps in and watches movies with her friends. She loves her pearls.

A’ja Wilson clings to those moments of normalcy more and more as her college decision nears. On April 16, she will choose between South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut and North Carolina.

Attention comes with the territory of being the No. 1 recruit in the country, but when it’s a No. 1 recruit that hasn’t picked a school yet, the process can become overwhelming. While the impending decision brings anxiety, it will also bring relief and the end of a recruitment that’s made for an anything-but-normal senior year.

“Kids come up to me and say, ‘I want to be like you, A’ja. I want to be like you when I grow up,’” A’ja said. “I haven’t even grown up yet. I’m trying to figure out who I want to be when I grow up. It’s just crazy sometimes.”

Reluctant start

The No. 1 recruit didn’t even like basketball at first. But as she jogs from one end of the court to the other after practice at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, a private school in her hometown of Columbia, her former Amateur Athletic Union coach, Jerome Dickerson, casually notes that she’ll change women’s basketball.

Dickerson is referring to her versatility. She has the physique of a center, 6 feet, 5 inches with the ability to dunk. She can shoot with accurate consistency from 3-point range. She can handle the ball like a guard. She can drive the lane like a forward.

Aja’s father, Roscoe Wilson, played basketball at Benedict College and went on to play professionally in Europe for 10 years. He pushed A’ja to play when she was 10, signing her up for an Amateur Athletic Union team. The Amateur Athletic Union, or AAU, is one of the largest nonprofit volunteer sports organizations. Parents pay for their children to play with their age group, and the teams typically travel.

A’ja hated it, and she enjoyed keeping a spot warm on the bench.

“My dad kind of got in my face and was like, ‘I’m not going to be paying all this money for you to play AAU and ride the bench,’” A’ja said. “That’s when I started to go outside and work on my shot.”

Roscoe, a consultant and lobbyist for community programs for ex-offenders and primary health care monitoring concepts, had a different training regimen in mind. While some kids went to the pool with their friends during the hot Columbia summers, A’ja practiced her shot with a medicine ball while wearing a weighted vest. The weights in the vest shift with her movements to simulate a defender always guarding her.

“It’s what a daddy does,” Roscoe said. “You do it out of love because you want your daughter to excel in anything. But then it got to be a goal, and that was the transition.”

Her shots started sinking with more consistency, and she started becoming more interested in the sport, watching men’s professional games and admiring Clippers forward Blake Griffin. She was on the Heathwood Hall varsity team in eighth grade. She got her first college offer that year from UNC Greensboro. Then she grew from 5 feet, 9 inches in her freshman year to 6 feet, 5 inches in her senior year.

A’ja was a member of the 2013 under-19 USA World Championship basketball team, which had a perfect 9-0 record and won the gold medal in Lithuania.

She averaged 35 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks per game in her senior season. She is second in Heathwood Hall history in points over her career and first in rebounds and blocks. In her senior season, A’ja led the team to a state championship.

Though A’ja enjoyed the success, the training often put a strain on her relationship with her dad. She would turn to her mother, Eva Wilson, for balance — the person who would help A’ja feel normal by telling her to do homework and chores, like doing the dishes and taking out the trash.

“We’re just trying to make sure she is balanced,” Eva said. “She’s a regular teenager. She procrastinates. Sometimes she can be lazy. That’s what normal 17-year-olds are like, and she’s no different.”

Though the workouts got harder, with each college offer that came to her door, A’ja silently appreciated her dad’s training.

“There will be workouts I do with my dad that I won’t talk to him,” A’ja said. “I’m that mad that he put me through that workout. He comes up and says, ‘I do it because I love you.’ And I’m like, get out of my room.”

When she was 12, A’ja told her dad that by the time she graduated high school, she wanted to win a state championship, a gold medal and she wanted to be the best recruit in the country.

“I said, ‘If you’re going to do that, then we’re going to work,’” Roscoe said. “I told her she was going to have to sacrifice and she wasn’t going to be like other kids.”

She accomplished all three goals.

Narrowing it down

When the No. 1 recruit in the country plays in a basketball game, college coaches are bound to be in attendance. In a Heathwood Hall’s game last year, 27 colleges were represented.

“When they’re in the stands, she wants to put on a good show for them,” said Heathwood Hall coach John O’Cain. “She takes her game up another notch.”

When A’ja decided on her four favorite schools, she called every coach that didn’t make the list to tell them the news. She cried while making the calls. Narrowing it down to South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Connecticut was the hardest thing A’ja said she has ever done.

Picking just one will be even harder, which is why she’s waited until the first day of the spring signing period. Basketball recruits typically sign sooner, making A’ja’s recruitment all the more dramatic.

A tweet about which flavor of Sonic Slush she should pick was misinterpreted as a metaphor for her college decision, prompting responses from her 3,800 Twitter followers that wanted to know her choice.

The obvious pressure from her friends is to stay in Columbia and pick USC. She’s attended Heathwood Hall since kindergarten, and fellow top recruits and friends have signed with the Gamecocks. With South Carolina recently drawing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the push to stay close to home is stronger.

“I think it puts a lot more pressure on her because USC is right in her backyard,” said Jatarie White, the No. 7 recruit in the country and a USC signee. “Everybody around the area looks up to her.”

A’ja spends time with her 92-year-old grandmother when she needs to escape the basketball world. Her grandmother has never seen her play, even when A’ja’s played on national television, because A’ja said she wouldn’t want to see A’ja get pushed around.

“She’s just stayed the same through all of this,” said Chelsea Joseph, a friend of A’ja’s at Heathwood Hall. “She’s never had a big head or anything. She’s really down to earth. She really values family and friends, and that’s one of the things I love the most about her because no matter how many offers she gets or how many awards she wins, she’s still a family-oriented girl.”

She unwinds by watching her favorite show, “Pretty Little Liars,” away from her parents, who aren’t as fond of it. It’s her thing. When things get overwhelming, she and Chelsea will have a venting session at Panera, or they’ll watch one of their favorite scary movies together.

In those moments of normalcy, A’ja reflects back on her unexpected, whirlwind basketball career. It’s hard not to smile.

“My friends kind of tell me, ‘I can’t believe I’m talking to you. You’re No. 1,’” A’ja said.  ”They’re the ones who remind me because I don’t like being called that a lot. I don’t want to be like, ‘Yeah, I’m No. 1.’ It is kind of crazy to wake up in the morning and realize that you’re it.”

The No. 1 recruit loves being the No. 1 recruit.

A'ja Wilson will choose between South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Connecticut on April 16. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

A’ja Wilson will choose between South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Connecticut on April 16. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

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A'ja Wilson was named the Women's Basketball Coaches Association's High School Player of the Year. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

A’ja Wilson was named the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s High School Player of the Year. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

A'ja Wilson learned how to play basketball from her dad, Roscoe Wilson. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

A’ja Wilson learned how to play basketball from her dad, Roscoe Wilson. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Roscoe Wilson cheers on his daughter, A'ja Wilson, in the 2014 girls' basketball playoffs. Heathwood Hall went on to win the state championship. By Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Roscoe Wilson cheers on his daughter, A’ja Wilson, in the 2014 girls’ basketball playoffs. Heathwood Hall went on to win the state championship. By Isabelle Khurshudyan.

 

 

S.C. drama adds new layer to suicide prevention through anonymous app Yik Yak

Editor’s note: Contact info for this story is Katie West, 423-903-8924, westkc2@gmail.com.

Stories, photos and videos provided by University of South Carolina journalism students are available to the state’s news publications and websites. We ask that bylines be retained and, when possible, clips be provided for student portfolios. The mailing address is Dr. Deborah Gump, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. 29208.

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By Katie West
USC School of Journalism

Yik Yak is a simple concept: a Twitter-like live feed of short, anonymous messages that can be up-rated or down-rated by users. It’s location-based, meaning that you see posts from users within a few miles of you.

The app has had a controversial run in the press recently, as middle schools, high schools and universities across the country have decried it as a tool for easy, anonymous cyberbullying. The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, USA Today and student newspapers at such schools as Clemson University, the University of Texas and the University of Tennessee have covered Yik Yak’s arrival, and Yik Yak’s founders responded to criticism by disabling the app on 85 percent of the country’s middle school and high school campuses.

But Tuesday night, users in the Columbia area saw something different on Yik Yak. Between complaints about impending exams and opinions about Greek life, someone posted a suicidal message, and others responded with messages offering support.

“Up this to show that poor boy how common strangers care about him and want him to be happy,” read one message, encouraging users to click an up arrow, which moves the post higher in the feed. “No one should feel so low they disregard their own well being. We have to remind him of that. We are here.”

“To the guy saying he’s going to kill himself, I’m a junior girl at USC and I will come to wherever you are to talk to you and get you some help. Please do not hurt yourself it’s not worth it,” read another.

And finally: “The guy trying to hurt himself lives on the same floor I do. His roommate checked on him and ambulance took him to the hospital,” another user posted.

There’s no way to know whether the incident actually happened, but mental health experts confirm this is a stressful time on college campuses. The semester is drawing to a close, and exams and job searches loom.

News of the incident came as a surprise to Yik Yak co-founder Brooks Buffington, who graduated last year from Furman University.

“That’s amazing,” he said. “That’s great that he was able to get help from people.”

He said had never anticipated the app being used in such a way. Buffington, who created the app with fellow Furman student Tyler Droll, had envisioned it as a “giant virtual billboard,” and it usually is.

“One of the reasons we don’t have profiles is that we want people to feel like they’re able to share anything,” said Buffington. “Potentially, on a different social media, the right people might not have been friends with him on Facebook or followed him on Twitter, but since everyone in the area was able to see his message – wow.”

Anonymous or not, social media presence can play a critical role in suicide prevention, said Donna Soileau, program director for the South Carolina Suicide Prevention Coalition in Rock Hill.

“Obviously, it is an enormous prevention resource, especially with young people, so I think it cannot be overlooked,” Soileau said. “It can be a very, very effective tool. We only hear about the cyberbullying, the bad cases, but it can work both ways.”

What’s important, she said, is for people to be educated in suicide prevention.

“I talk about these kinds of things in our community, and there is a belief sometimes that when someone posts something suicidal on social media, they’re either not serious or they’re looking for attention,” said Jennifer Myers, assistant director of campus mental health initiatives at USC. “What we know about people who are suicidal is that they often give warning signs, a lot of times in the week going up to the event.”

These warning signs aren’t always straightforward, so people need to know what to look for, Soileau said. She listed a couple of examples.

“If somebody is obviously is depressed, and then they say something like, ‘Thanks, everybody, you’ve been real good to me, I’m checking out,’” she said. “If somebody mentions that they can’t go on any longer. Recently, somebody posted a picture of a bridge in New Jersey and said they were thinking about jumping, and a friend noticed it and called the authorities.”

The friend did the right thing, said Myers: Getting the person help from the right resources is critical.

“Sometimes the trouble with social media is that people respond with one-liners and think they’re helping, but one line didn’t cause suicidal thoughts, and one line isn’t going to fix it,” she said.

Social media plays a critical role in suicide prevention when users interact, even if users are anonymous: giving people a feeling of togetherness that can be a literal lifesaver.

“One of the protective factors is a sense of community,” Soileau said. “Social networks can be someone’s sense of community. If they feel like they are part of that group, they may be a little bit safer.”

This sense of community is crucial to bring up to someone who may be contemplating suicide, she said.

“The biggest thing when you are talking to someone is to let them know that you care, that you are supporting them and that you will not leave their side,” said Soileau. “So if you can say these things in a very concise way on Twitter, that’s what you need to do.”

For more information

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline will connect callers to a trained counselor at a crisis center in their area: 1-800-273-8255

The South Carolina Suicide Prevention Coalition offers a number of resources and answers to frequently asked questions.

Brooks Buffington, left, and Tyler Droll are the creators of the YikYak application. Photo courtesy of Brooks Buffington.

Brooks Buffington, left, and Tyler Droll are the creators of the Yik Yak application. Photo courtesy of Brooks Buffington.

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S.C. bites back: Alligator meat gaining popularity as food

Editor’s note: Contact info for this story is Travis Broussard, 843-312-5705, tjbroussard@homesc.com 

Stories, photos and videos provided by University of South Carolina journalism students are available to the state’s news publications and websites. We ask that bylines be retained and, when possible, clips be provided for student portfolios. The mailing address is Dr. Deborah Gump, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. 29208.

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By Travis Broussard
USC School of Journalism

It’s big, green, scary and, apparently, very tasty.

Alligator meat has become a popular seafood in South Carolina, with South Carolinians snapping up the chewy, pork-like meat almost as fast as stores can put it in their freezers.

Gator meat, which comes almost exclusively from the tail, is typically a by-product of processing. Gators as a product are wanted more for their leathery hide, usually to make clothing and shoes, according to Mark Kelly, a sales representative at Inland Seafood, a distributor in Atlanta, Ga., and the largest distributor in the Southeast.

Lucius Moultrie, owner of Palmetto Seafood Company in Columbia, said he started selling gator around 2009 in one- and five-pound packages. In the week before the University of South Carolina Gamecocks played the University of Florida Gators that year, Moultrie advertised the meat with the slogan “eat gators, beat Gators,” and his family business had to scramble to keep up with demand. Moultrie said some of his customers have made it a tradition to eat gator meat before and during USC/UF games.

David Young, owner of Roastfish & Cornbread in Hilton Head, said the restaurant typically sells 20 to 25 pounds of gator a week during the summer. He said few places in Hilton Head sell gator meat, but the food is popular among tourists, especially with kids.

According to Young, gator is prepared in a variety of ways, but it is typically served as deep-fried nuggets. Young said his restaurant also sells the meat in a smoked pork/gator sausage and as ribs. He also has a recipe for shrimp and gator chili.

Mike Godbout, general manager of Sellsfish Premium Seafood in Summerville, said he started selling gator in 2011 and has seen sales gradually rise. On a good week, he said, he sells about 30 pounds. Godbout said that he also sees a significant rise in sales around Gamecocks/Gators games.

Why has gator meat become so popular? Moultrie, Young and Godbout cited credited the recent rise in popularity to History Channel’s Swamp People, which documents the life of a gator-hunting family in Pierre Part, La.

Paula Huff, who co-owns Huff’s Seafood on James Island alongside her husband, Bill, had trouble acquiring and selling the meat during last year’s recession because gator farms in states like Georgia and Louisiana stopped harvesting the animals until the economy improved.

Good news for the Huffs and other seafood markets arrived when Sen. C. Bradley Hutto, D-Orangeburg, proposed R167/S714, the Captive Alligator Propagation Act, in May 2013.

The act was signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley April 14, making regulated gator farming, the process of carefully raising gators specifically for slaughter and processing, legal in South Carolina.

The Huffs have been selling gator for a decade. Gator, Paula Huff said, can be cooked just like almost any other meat. She said a number of her customers come from outside the Charleston area to buy gator from her.

Jay Butfiloski, the Department of Natural Resources’ alligator program coordinator, said that no special licensing is required to sell and distribute gator in the state, though standard inspections and regulation from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control are required. However, special licensing is required to privately hunt gator in the state, and hunters are subject to a number of restrictions. The recently passed law, Butfiloski said, subjects gator farmers to special licensing and inspection from the Department of Agriculture.

Gator meat sells for about $12 to $14 per pound. According to Moultrie, that’s roughly double from when he first sold it. Despite the high price, he said, the meat is not always available because of its high demand.

David Szam, a sales representative at Lowcountry Shellfish, a distributor in Charleston, said the product is especially popular at gullah restaurants across the state.

Most of Lowcountry Shellfish’s meat comes from a gator farm in Crescent City, La., and the distributor provides for about 35 locally owned restaurants and fish markets and dozens of chains and franchises. He considers Roastfish & Cornbread and Sellsfish to be his biggest buyers.

Szam said that gator as a food is a “love it or hate it thing,” but most people try it anyway for the novelty of eating something “exotic.”

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Lucius Moultrie, owner of Palmetto Seafood Company in Columbia, said that his sales of gator meat skyrocket whenever the University of South Carolina Gamecocks play the Florida Gators.

Lucius Moultrie, owner of Palmetto Seafood Company in Columbia, said that his sales of gator meat skyrocket whenever the University of South Carolina Gamecocks play the Florida Gators. Photo by Travis Broussard.

 

Precooked gator is usually sold as fried nuggets paired with French fries or fried fish. To most people, the taste of gator meat is somewhere between chicken and pork.

Precooked gator is usually sold as fried nuggets paired with French fries or fried fish. To most people, the taste of gator meat is somewhere between chicken and pork. Photo by Travis Broussard.

S.C. House Proposes New Prosecution Powers for Lawmakers

By Rick Brundrett for TheNerve.org
April 10, 2014

In what critics describe as an unconstitutional power grab, the S.C. House on Wednesday quietly introduced legislation that would give lawmakers the authority to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate criminal violations of state ethics laws by the governor, attorney general and other executive-branch officials.

A proposed change to the S.C. Constitution would eliminate the attorney general as the state’s chief prosecutor.

The bill (H. 5072) sponsored by Florence Republican Rep. Kris Crawford, who was found guilty in 2012 of misdemeanor charges in a state income-tax case prosecuted by Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office, comes as House Speaker Bobby Harrell is battling to have Wilson, a fellow Republican, removed from handling hisongoing ethics case before the state grand jury. Read the rest of this entry »

Indie Grits: A recipe for film success in South Carolina

Editor’s note: Contact info for this story is Katie West, 423-903-8924, westkc2@gmail.com.

Stories, photos and videos provided by University of South Carolina journalism students are available to the state’s news publications and websites. We ask that bylines be retained and, when possible, clips be provided for student portfolios. The mailing address is Dr. Deborah Gump, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. 29208.

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By Katie West
USC School of Journalism

“South Carolina” may not have quite the same ring to it as “Hollywood,” but the filmmaking scene is becoming increasingly visible in the state.

Perhaps nowhere is that more apparent than this week in Columbia, where the eighth annual Indie Grits Film Festival kicks off Friday.

The festival has made MovieMaker Magazine’s “Top 25 Coolest Film Festivals” list twice in the past four years, and organizers are determined to keep the accolades coming. Indie Grits has added length and variety to its schedule since its start in 2007, with this year’s 10-day festival celebrating film and a sometimes crazy array of other arts: puppeteering, variety shows, video game creation and hip-hop culture, to name a few. If that sounds unusual to you, well, that’s the goal.

“We have a very specific brand that we try and define ourselves by,” explained Indie Grits co-director Seth Gadsden. “We’re not trying to be any other kind of festival. You won’t find another festival like us. That’s why we’re going eight years strong, and we keep getting bigger and bigger, because we do our own thing and people respect that.”

The first Indie Grits Festival attracted around 500 attendees, said Gadsden. Last year welcomed 16 times that many, and even more are expected this year.

Most of the films, filmmakers and performers at Indie Grits don’t have ties to South Carolina, although all are required to have some connection to the Southeast, but the state still benefits from the money and the attention it brings.

South Carolina Film Commission’s Tom Clark said that Indie Grits is appealing to out-of-state filmmakers.

“So many of the film festivals are really hard to get into – Sundance and Toronto and Tribeca and SXSW – they are all so big that having the Indie Grits is a breath of fresh air,” he said.

Gadsden said the festival is an undeniable asset to Columbia.

“Out of 8,000 people last year, 40 percent of them were from out of town, so they were finding places to stay, they’re eating at the restaurants, they’re doing different things in town,” said Gadsden. “And not only that, but you’re talking about awareness in the national attention that we could potentially bring Columbia in the future – being in the magazines, having an Internet presence, having filmmakers who live all over the world know about us and talk about us. Every year, we increase in submissions simply because world has spread about the festival.”

South Carolina also profits from the broader film industry, which the South Carolina Film Commission estimated poured more than $1 billion into the state from 1994 to 2012 through hotels, food, the use of local businesses and hiring locals. The Motion Picture Incentive Act became state law in 2012, increasing rebates on resident and non-resident labor.

“We’re probably in the top 20 out of the 44 states that offers incentives,” said Clark.

South Carolina filmmakers benefit from Indie Grits, too. Chris White, a writer and director from Greenville, says festivals are helpful to filmmakers however they choose to use them.

“If you just want to go to a screening and a party, you can do that,” said White. “We won the People’s Grit award last year, and we think of ourselves and our work in terms of how to advance ourselves as filmmakers, and Indie Grits was like a momentum boost. We leveraged our win into audience development, but you can also go and just have fun. You can meet people and network.”

Columbia resident Michael Tolbert is writing, directing, producing and starring in a Web series called Underground 13, which is being filmed in Columbia. He said he’s excited that the film industry is paying more attention to the Southeast.

“A lot of shows are being filmed in North Carolina and Atlanta, and that’s bringing jobs in,” said Tolbert, a student at the University of South Carolina. “Not only is that stimulating the economy, it’s allowing the creative people to be creative and not have to go all the way to California to do it.”

From what he’s seen, Columbia is warming up to the idea of seeing people run around town with filming equipment in tow.

“A few years ago, it probably would have been really taboo to see anyone with a film set, and we’re not getting the same stares we were just a few years ago,” he said.

Indie Grits plays a prominent role in Columbia’s acceptance of film culture, and it wants to do more. It supports itself with ticket sales, grants and funding from Columbia’s hospitality tax, and Gadsden says his hope for the near future is that the festival grabs the attention of prominent companies who would like to sponsor it.

“It’s amazing what we’ve been able to do up to this point with what we have,” said Seth Gadsden. “We’ve built a reputation up to this point that if and when it happens, we’ll be ready.”

 

Seth Gadsden, co-director of Indie Grits, said that the film festival's popularity is growing every year thanks in part to its unique style. Photo by Harrison Cahill.

Seth Gadsden, co-director of Indie Grits, said that the film festival’s popularity is growing every year thanks in part to its unique style. Photo by Harrison Cahill.

 

The Nickelodeon Theatre on Main Street in Columbia, S.C., hosts the Indie Grits film festival. Photo by Harrison Cahill

The Nickelodeon Theatre on Main Street in Columbia, S.C., hosts the Indie Grits film festival. Photo by Harrison Cahill

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Michael Tolbert, a student at the University of South Carolina, is a filmmaker currently working on a web series called "Underground 13." Photo by Harrison Cahill.

Michael Tolbert, a student at the University of South Carolina, is a filmmaker currently working on a web series called “Underground 13.” Photo by Harrison Cahill.

Proposed cursive law gains support of some S.C. professionals

Editor’s note: Contact info for this story is Caitlyn McGuire, 508-681-5097, cem1028@gmail.com.

Stories, photos and videos provided by University of South Carolina journalism students are available to the state’s news publications and websites. We ask that bylines be retained and, when possible, clips be provided for student portfolios. The mailing address is Dr. Deborah Gump, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. 29208.

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By Caitlyn McGuire 
USC School of Journalism

Look inside the classrooms of today.  A pen and paper have taken a back seat to computers,  and Microsoft Office is used more often than handwriting.

But some South Carolina legislators think that no matter how advanced technology becomes, students should learn cursive.

The Back to Basics Education Act of 2013 (H 3905) would require students to learn cursive by the time they reach the fifth grade. Cursive lessons have not been included in the state’s required curriculum since 2000.

The bill was introduced and sent to the Senate in April after a unanimous House vote.

Rep. Norman “Doug” Brannon, one of the 13 Republicans among the bill’s 19 sponsors, said writing in cursive is still a relevant skill, despite the fact that students may communicate only with technology.

“But until you get to a situation which the business world is dealing just in electronics, you’re going to have an issue,” he said.

It isn’t just some in corporate America and legislators who think cursive needs to be taught, though. Here’s what a few professionals and parents had to say about the place of cursive writing in modern-day life.

Cynthia Grosso
Owner of the Charleston School of Protocol and Etiquette

“Etiquette says the words ‘thank you’ are words you should handwrite yourself. A proper thank-you is not an email and is not a text,” Cynthia Grosso said.

An etiquette teacher for corporate professionals and children, Grosso said she’s seen the significance of cursive for people no matter their age.

“Formal letter writing is still important,” she said.  “It teaches us socialization, but also in personal situations, it’s not very appropriate to type a note.”

She added that cursive helps in formal situations, such as signing legal documents.

“How will our children sign a lease if they don’t know cursive?” she said.

Often overlooked is the relevance of being able to read cursive, she said, not just write it.

“This is a part of our history,” she said.  “You can’t read a historical document without this knowledge. It shouldn’t be a secret message that people can’t read because they never learned how.  It’s not a different language”

Grosso is teaching her stepson, Jacob, to write in cursive.

“Once Jacob understood the ‘why’ part of cursive, he got very into it,” Grosso said. “He realized he couldn’t study history and couldn’t sign his name, so now he’s excited about learning it.”

Grosso said the way to successfully teach cursive is to empower children to learn it by showing them its significance.

“The personal branding aspect of things, people pay attention to detail,” she said.  “They don’t realize it speaks loudly about them, and this is what we need to remind the future generations.”

Margaret Crabtree
Design coordinator, ByFarr Design Studio in Columbia

Margaret Crabtree said in her business of designing invitations, logos and cards, script is thriving.

“We use script here on a daily basis,” Crabtree said. “There is always going to be someone getting married, and there is always going to be somebody who wants a pretty handwritten font.  I think it’s sad that some people don’t think handwriting is important anymore.”

A recent trend, she said, is handwritten invitations and blank cards for customers to write in themselves.

“Businesses even request custom stationary and notecards just to jot things down on,” she said. “And they’ll probably be jotting it down in cursive because it’s the fastest way to write.”

Crabtree, a mother of two, said she’s relieved that her 9-year-old is learning cursive. Despite the increase in technology, she said, sometimes technology can fail, so children need to learn to write in cursive sooner rather than later.

Whether she is helping her daughter with her homework or handwriting a letter for a customer, Crabtree said, writing cursive is a part of her everyday life.

“Not only is it important for this business, but I think it’s important as a tradition,” she said.  “Traditions like this need to keep going.  I don’t want it to be a completely different universe one day.”

Laura Rogers
Children’s librarian at the Richland Library in Columbia

In her eight years at the children’s section, Laura Rogers has seen cursive pay off for children.

“The benefits of children learning this skill are endless,” Rogers said. “I work with a lot of kids who have different types of reading and writing disabilities, and cursive has been scientifically proven to be a much better way for these kids to read and write.”

She said that research has found cursive is much easier for children with these difficulties compared to print because there are not as many reversals, such as b and d; the motor pattern of cursive is easily understood because each letter starts in the same place; and there are not as many spaces to confuse children.

“Muscle memory takes 180 strokes for your muscles to learn,” she said. “You never forget how to ride a bike because after 180 peddles; your muscles remember it. When a child forms a cursive letter, it is the same thing.  A dyslexic child has to think hard to form a letter, but once they hit that 180 mark, which is harder to do with print, they don’t have to think as hard.”

Rogers said that since her dyslexic 10-year-old son has learned cursive, she has seen a huge improvement in his confidence and ability to make letters.

She added students can’t rely on technology to read and write.

“Of course technology is the fastest way to reach people,” she said. “But a lot of students still don’t have access to that technology or the Internet all the time. If the technology fails us, these children all need to know what to do.”

She fears that if cursive isn’t a required skill for children, a whole generation may not be able to read original documents, either.

“I would hate for these children not to be able to read the Declaration of Independence because they never learned cursive,” she said. “We can all see why this isn’t just a skill that’s helpful for children with learning disorders, but for all children everywhere.”

Lydia Hendrix
Freelance calligraphist, Columbia

To Lydia Hendrix, cursive isn’t just words on paper, but a form of art.

“The reason people use fonts like Comic Sans and Papyrus is because they crave the intimacy of a hand-crafted letter,” she said. “There is a comfort in it and a human aspect related to it.  This is why it can’t die.”

Thanks to her time as a calligraphist, Hendrix said, she understands the personal importance of handwriting and thinks it is much more than pretty letters on a card.

She said she hoped that as computer usage grows, people will appreciate the human interaction of handwriting even more.

“You can’t express a mood with a computer like you can with calligraphy or handwriting,” she said.  “Children should learn to feel this human interaction.”

Hendrix fears a generation without cursive is the end of her career.

“If people don’t understand cursive, they can’t read what I’ve written,” she said. “Today and in the future, I need the mailman to be able to read the address I’ve written in cursive.”

Sean McCrossin
Owner of Drip, Columbia

“I never really think about cursive, but that’s probably because I have horrific handwriting,” said coffee-shop owner Sean McCrossin.

Although he doesn’t use cursive on a daily basis, McCrossin said, he couldn’t imagine a generation of children losing the skill of handwriting.

“I just think about my grandmother and her cursive,” he said. “It was beautiful.”

As a business owner, McCrossin said, he can associate many different traits with an employee who has good handwriting like organization and cleanliness, traits he looks for in his workers.

He said he hasn’t necessarily thought about whether his workers can write in cursive, but would be worried to find out they lacked the skill.

“If someone came in now to apply for a job and couldn’t write their signature, I would probably be judgmental about it,” he said.

However ….

Despite the support for cursive, some businesses and recruiters still favor technology.

Sherry McAdams, director of USC Upstate’s Career Center, thinks cursive is a thing of past.

“I look at dozens of resumes and cover letters, and no one ever includes that they’re good at cursive,” McAdams said.  “This is a technologically driven world, and there really is no need for cursive anymore.”

In the business world, McAdams said, everything should be done as quickly as possible.

“Technology is the only way we can get things done fast enough,” she said. “Cursive may be the way for some businesses and people, but not for most.”

Children's librarian at the Richland Library in Columbia, Laura Rogers, has seen how beneficial cursive is to children with reading and writing disorders. By Isabelle Khurshudyan

Laura Rogers, a children’s librarian at the Richland Library in Columbia, has seen how beneficial cursive is to children with reading and writing disorders. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Design coordinator for ByFarr Design Studio in Columbia, Margaret Crabtree, said she always has customers who request script or handwritten invitations. By Isabelle Khurshudyan

Design coordinator for ByFarr Design Studio in Columbia, Margaret Crabtree, said she always has customers who request script or handwritten invitations. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Cynthia Grosso, a Charleston etiquette expert, uses cursive regularly to write thank you notes, invitations and condolences. By Isabelle Khurshudyan

Cynthia Grosso, a Charleston etiquette expert, uses cursive regularly to write thank-you notes, invitations and condolences. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Columbia calligraphist Lydia Hendrix uses cursive daily, but said if future generations can't read cursive, she'll be out of business. By Isabelle Khurshudyan

Columbia calligraphist Lydia Hendrix uses cursive daily but said if future generations can’t read cursive, she’ll be out of business. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Owner of Drip coffee shop in Columbia, Sean McCrossin, said he hopes all his future employees will be able to sign their names in cursive on an application. By Isabelle Khurshudyan

Owner of Drip coffee shop in Columbia, Sean McCrossin, said he hopes all his future employees will be able to sign their names in cursive on an application. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan,

cursive_graphicSCNE_IK

 

One of the 19 sponsors of the Back to Basics in Education Act of 2013, Rep. Doug Brannon said writing in cursive can still be a relevant skill. Photo from Brannon's office.

One of the 19 sponsors of the Back to Basics in Education Act of 2013 is Rep. Norman Brannon, who signs his name “N. Douglas Brannon.” He said writing in cursive can still be a relevant skill. Photo from Rep. Brannon’s office.

Flower festivals celebrate spring in South Carolina

Editor’s note: Contact info for this story is Katie West, 423-903-8924, westkc2@gmail.com.

Stories, photos and videos provided by University of South Carolina journalism students are available to the state’s news publications and websites. We ask that bylines be retained and, when possible, clips be provided for student portfolios. The mailing address is Dr. Deborah Gump, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. 29208.

***

By Katie West

USC School of Journalism

Festivals are popping up like daisies all over the state. The azaleas were blooming in full force at Summerville’s Flowertown Festival earlier this month, and there are plenty of opportunities left to enjoy the floral bounty and buy local flowers from local growers.

The South Carolina Department of Agriculture sponsors three plant and flower festivals each spring and fall, according to Jackie Moore, the department’s flower festival coordinator.

“We’re not doing it to make money,” she said. “It’s to help the horticulture and agriculture industry prosper. And they do, because they come back. I know it’s possible or they wouldn’t keep coming back.”

By “they,” she means both the vendors, who must compete for spots, and the customers, of whom there are swarms. Last year, for example, 53,625 people visited the plant and flower festival at West Columbia’s State Farmers Market over four days.

“I was amazed,” Moore said. “We had people from out of state, and there were 40-something counties in the state represented from guests. Agrifestivals are quite popular because you’re getting something from in the state and you know it will be good for the climate here. They’re not coming up from Florida or something.”

Last year, the 85-vendor West Columbia festival made an estimated $1.4 million in four days, a number that includes vendor space rentals, plant sales, food sales and hotels, said Brad Boozer, state farmers markets director.

The Pee Dee Spring Plant and Flower Festival in Florence, with 40 to 50 vendors, makes around $1 million each year over four days, although it’s difficult to estimate because some vendors are wary of reporting their sales, said Tre Coleman, market manager at the Pee Dee State Farmers Market. Anywhere from 25,000 to 55,000 customers make an appearance.

At the Greenville State Farmers Market, the four-day spring festival showcases 32 to 35 vendors, each of whom can expect to sell anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 worth of plants or merchandise, according to Ardona Summerall, the market’s manager.

Moore said the vendors are a mix of wholesalers and hobbyists. Some sell their flowers, produce and yard art throughout the year at farmers markets, and some travel around to festivals.

For some vendors, selling their goods at the seasonal festivals is a tradition. Wendell Bedenbaugh’s tomato salsas, pickled okras and apple butters have made an appearance at the plant and flower festivals for nearly a decade, and he still marvels at the variety of plants sold.

“What I say is, if you can’t find the type of plant you want at the plant festival, you’re looking for an odd plant,” said Bedenbaugh of Canebrake Farm in Saluda.

Another vendor, Lucy Hernandez, said she likes that most of the plants sold at the festivals are locally grown. She works for Wilson’s Nursery and Garden Center in Rock Hill, which grows all of its own plants except for some tropical varieties.

“It’s fun, and we have a lot of customers come and buy flowers,” she said.

To find more festivals celebrating South Carolina’s flowers, food and culture, visit the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism’s events calendar.

Gloria and Wendell Bedenbaugh have sold their salsas, jams, and butters at every Plant & Flower Festival in West Columbia for almost a decade. Photo by Harrison Cahill.

 

 

  • Creeping phlox are among the large variety of flowers visitors can see and purchase at a South Carolina farmers market flower festival.Creeping phlox are among the large variety of flowers visitors can see and purchase at a South Carolina farmers market flower festival. Photo by Harrison Cahill.
Lucy Hernandez, a flower vendor at the State Famers Market in West Columbia, said her favorite flower is the gerbera daisy. Photo by Harrison Cahill.

Lucy Hernandez, a flower vendor at the State Famers Market in West Columbia, said her favorite flower is the gerbera daisy. Photo by Harrison Cahill.

flowers_graphic1_HDC

Bennettsville offers cell phone tour

For Immediate Release
April 8, 2014

Contact: Rhonda Frazier
Bennettsville Visitor Center
843-479-3941

Bennettsville Offers Cell Phone Tour

Visitors to Bennettsville can now listen to a tour of key sites in the city with a new cell phone tour. Based on the city’s current historical walking tour, the cell phone tour is accessible by calling 843-309-3024 (not a toll free number).

There are 31 sites including some listed on the National Register of Historic Places on the tour. “These are the key historic and architecturally significant sites in Bennettsville,” said Rhonda Frazier with the Bennettsville Visitor Center. “We want to ensure visitors to Bennettsville appreciate our history and the many architectural details throughout downtown. The cell phone tour is just another way we can make a trip to Bennettsville meaningful for our visitors,” she added.

The cell phone tour is part of the marketing campaign for Bennettsville to attract visitors where they can, “Visit a day and see a lifetime.” Visitors can get assistance planning their trip to Bennettsville by going to visitbennettsville.com or following the city on Facebook. The City of Bennettsville uses a variety of tools for visitors including a walking / cell phone tour brochure, website, Facebook page, advertising and other resources to encourage visitors to Bennettsville.

To plan your next trip to Bennettsville go to visitbennettsville.com for history, sites of interest, events and other useful information. Follow us on Facebook and sign up for our email updates.

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“Same old Same old” by Stuart Neiman

"Same old Same old" by Stuart Neiman

“Same old Same old” by Stuart Neiman

Let’s talk about sex in South Carolina

Phil Noble

Phil Noble

By Phil Noble

Now that I have your attention, let’s narrow the focus a bit and talk about sex education in South Carolina. It may not be as titillating, but it’s still really important.

A look at human nature, a recent study, and our state governments tell us four things we know for sure. But before we get into the four specifics, when it comes to a highly-charged subject such as sex or sex education, it’s always nice to begin with some real facts.

There is some very good work being done in our state in these areas by the New Morning Foundation and an advocacy group called Tell Them. Their recent authoritative study, entitled Comprehensive Health Education Act: 25 Years and 250,000 Teen Pregnancies Later, provides lots of good data.

Though it will surprise many people to learn, way back in 1988 we passed the Comprehensive Health Education Act (CHEA), which was an amazingly good and forward-thinking law. By looking at the history of 25 years’ worth of experience, there is a lot we can learn.

Which brings us back to my four things.

First, young people are going to have sex. We can talk for months about whether they should, what we as parents and teachers should say about this, what the Bible says, and on and on, ad infinitum. The truth remains: young people are going to have sex. According the study, 19% of middle school students have had sexual intercourse, and it jumps to 50% among high school students and to 60% among high school seniors.

And when young people have sex and they don’t have the basic information about the possible consequences, bad things happen.  There are 68 new cases of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) reported among adolescents every day in South Carolina. Among 15-19 year olds, the pregnancy rate is 36.5 for every 1,000 young women – the 11th highest in the country.

Each year teen mothers cost the state $197 million, and from 1991 to 2008, the cost to the taxpayers was $4.1 billion.

Second, what we are doing now is not working. When CHEA was passed in 1988, the law was quite good, but there was one fatal flaw. Many of the most important provisions were essentially voluntary and schools and school districts soon learned that they could simply ignore important parts of the law. As a result, today 75% of SC school districts are “noncompliant” with CHEA.

Here are just two examples of the problem: only 44% of school districts reported teaching STD and HIV prevention in grades 6-9, and only 66% of the materials used are “medically accurate,” while 24% are actually “harmful.”

Third, we know what works. There are proven, effective things we can do. In the nation as a whole, we have had a whopping 52% decline in teen births since 1991, just after CHEA was passed.

There are lots of factors, but it all boils down to: 1) giving young people medically-accurate and age-appropriate information; 2) providing access to condoms and other methods of birth control; and 3) beginning this process earlier rather than later.

Here’s just one great example close to home. When CHEA was originally passed, the town of Denmark (and Bamberg County as a whole) had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state.  Since then, parents, educators and the community have worked together and adopted this three-part strategy, and pregnancy rates have dropped by over 50%. Today, they have one of the lowest rates in the state.

As parents, we all wish abstinence education was the answer. And in some narrow circumstances with some people, it has a positive impact – but overall, it doesn’t. We just need to face the facts – as much as we think of our children as our sweet little innocent Mary and Johnny, the truth is that they are most likely getting it on long before we want to admit to ourselves that its happening.

Fourth, the Legislature is critical to what happens next. Right now the state legislature is considering new legislation to update and expand the work of CHEA. The question is: are they going to get caught up in moralistic rhetoric or actually go with what works?

Let’s hope they do the right thing – and then, maybe, the sex talk 25 years from now will be about how great we have done as a state.

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and is President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform to our state.  phil@scnewdemocrats.org   www.SCNewDemocrats.org

Voterheads, a start-up ‘Match.com’ election site, spreads across the Carolinas to Greenville, Charlotte

Editor’s note: Contact info for this story is Jared Owenby, 864-421-4507, owenbyj@email.sc.edu

Stories, photos and videos provided by University of South Carolina journalism students are available to the state’s news publications and websites. We ask that bylines be retained and, when possible, clips be provided for student portfolios. The mailing address is Dr. Deborah Gump, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. 29208.

***

By Jared Owenby
USC School of Journalism

It’s a beautiful day. A slight breeze pushes the wind chimes, and the sight of children playing in your subdivision brings a smile to your face. There is sweetness in the air.

Suddenly, your beautiful day is interrupted by heavy machinery, yells from construction workers and the beeping of large trucks moving around your neighborhood.

An hour and five frustrating phone calls later, you get your what does this do to my property value? answer: The city is constructing a paper factory next to your neighborhood.

How did this happen? Why wasn’t I informed about this? Who voted for this? And who proposed it?

Isn’t there an easier way to stay informed about issues like this?

Yes, now there is.

Voterheads.com, launched last summer, is geared up to inform people about what their elected officials are doing, from school boards to city councils. Founded by Columbia businessmen Karl McCollester and Mike Switzer, the website posts agendas, sends out alerts for upcoming meetings and shares ballot briefings, from candidates to referendums. Its weekly podcast gives an overview of South Carolina’s “hot topics.”

As creative director Matt Hudson says, “It’s like a Match.com for you and your elected officials.”

Voterheads did its beta testing in the Midlands, but now it is ready to branch out. It is coming to Greenville on April 7 and Charlotte April 28.

Switzer, chairman of the board, recalls a time when his daughter was reaching voting age and his father was moving to South Carolina. An election was coming up, and they wanted a copy of the ballot to do their research.

“It was really difficult getting that information,” said Switzer. They went to the Richland County Election Board and found out that they didn’t have a copy of the ballot or any election information. It took almost a week to get what they needed.

The founders wanted a central place for civic engagement: helping people make informed decisions about their political candidates, educating residents about local issues and providing timely information about local happenings in their area.

Voterheads strives to make it easy to learn about political figures by doing the research for you. The website provides a profile of each candidate, links to news organizations and campaign-related sites, and access to social media.

The next statewide election is the primary on June 10 and then Nov. 4 for the general election. The team at Voterheads plans to have the information up a month before the primaries.

“From our stand point, our thought process was what can we do to make that easier,” said McCollester, president and CEO of Voterheads. “How can we lower the bar to really make it so doing your civic duty at the municipal, county and local level is really the same effort as doing Facebook?”

Hudson added: “How cool is it to think that, based on the information that I give the site, about what I like, dislike or am passionate about, it will in return give me its suggestions and reasons for why a certain person would be better for me versus somebody else,” said Hudson.

At the website, residents type in their ZIP code and then answer a series of questions that allow them to pick the government entity they would like to follow  (e.g., state, city, county or school district). Next they choose the areas within that entity that interests them most, such as conservation or gay rights, and indicate where they stand on the issues. For example, a user can be “thumbs down” on taxes, or “neutral” on gun control.

“I really have no clue, or had, rather, no clue when it comes to politics. But I knew I had a civic duty to be involved, and I always felt that I just wasn’t smart enough to get involved,” said Hudson. “I was always two steps behind the decision that was already made, and all I could do was gripe about it,”

In addition to its free service, the website also has premium subscribers who pay $200 a month for reports from South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Maryland.

“We don’t like to name names, but they include Fortune 100 companies, economic development groups, law offices and chambers of commerce,” said McCollestor, adding that the site now has nine premium subscribers.

Voterheads has seen steady growth since its launch last July. The site has been piloted and promoted in the Midlands with the intent that by year’s end, it would reach across several major cities in the eastern United States. The Greenville and Charlotte launches are just the beginning.

The Voterheads team takes on serious issues, but don’t take these folks too seriously. For example, one of its staff members has the title of evangelist.

And its mascot? It is a grown man in a green spandex suit with an orange cape and a big box with a check mark on his chest. His name is Voterman, and you might see him at a polling place near you.

*****

Connect with Voterheads

Twitter: https://twitter.com/voterheads | @Voterheads

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Voterheads

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/Voterheads

Karl McCollestor is the CEO and president of Voterheads. Photo courtesy of Voterheads

Karl McCollestor is the CEO and president of Voterheads. Photo courtesy of Voterheads

Matt Hudson is the creative director of Voterheads. Photo courtesy of Voterheads.

Matt Hudson is the creative director of Voterheads. Photo courtesy of Voterheads.

The homepage for Voterheads is simple and easy to navigate. Type your ZIP code into the search bar and begin the process to be alerted about your local goverment. Photo courtesy of Voterheads

The homepage for Voterheads is simple and easy to navigate. Type your ZIP code into the search bar and begin the process to be alerted about your local government.

It's a bird...It's a plane...It's Voterman! The mascot for Voterheads. Photo courtesy of Voterheads.

It’s a bird…It’s a plane…It’s Voterman! The mascot for Voterheads. Photo courtesy of Voterheads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liquid nicotine cases send calls to S.C. poison centers soaring

Editor’s note: Contact info for this story is Caitlyn McGuire, 508-681-5097, cem1028@gmail.com.

Stories, photos and videos provided by University of South Carolina journalism students are available to the state’s news publications and websites. We ask that bylines be retained and, when possible, clips be provided for student portfolios. The mailing address is Dr. Deborah Gump, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C. 29208.

***

By Caitlyn McGuire 
USC School of Journalism

The number of calls linked to liquid nicotine to the Palmetto Poison Control Center at the University of South Carolina increased from 10 in 2012 to 25 in 2013. That 250% increase during the past year led the center, which serves all 46 counties in the state, to issue a public alert this week.

Toxic exposure to the liquid has become a problem not only in the state, but also around the nation, as smoking alternatives rise in popularity.

According to The National Poison Data System, liquid nicotine cases have increased nationally by 300 percent since 2012.

Liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes can be harmful and or even lethal if ingested or absorbed through the skin.  The liquid is made up of concentrated nicotine, flavoring, vegetable glycol or propylene glycol, or both and comes in an array of flavors and nicotine strengths, including many with no nicotine.

Because the liquids are not FDA regulated and don’t have child resistant caps, the fear among safety experts is that children can easily access what could be deadly levels of nicotine.

“Companies have made the liquid nicotine in all these tasty flavors,” Jill Michels, an assistant USC pharmacy professor who works at the Palmetto Poison Control Center, said Tuesday. “It smells good to a child, it can taste good to a child and it comes in a small containers possibly similar to a drink or candy they’ve had before.”

If ingested or absorbed through the skin, the liquid can cause vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate and, in extremely high doses, seizures.

Michels said most of the calls the poison control center has received have involved children. The number of cases reported in 2012 and 2013 do not include any calls made to hospitals or emergency rooms. Nationally the number of cases linked to e-liquids increased from over 300 in 2012 to 1,351 in 2013, according to The New York Times.  Of the 1,351 cases, the paper said 365 were referred to hospitals, triple that of 2012.

“I don’t think people understand. People think, ‘It’s not going to happen in my house,’” she said. “A 10-milliliter bottle contains 240 milligrams of nicotine.  One cigarette has only about 15 to 30 milligrams.  We want to send the alert out to let everyone know this is very concentrated nicotine.”

Caleb Brown, manager of the High Life Smoke Shop in Columbia, said he agrees that pushing child safety caps should be a priority.  He added that with or without safety caps, it is the parents’ responsibility to keep their children away from the toxic liquid.

“This is a tobacco store, so anything you buy here, if your kids get into it, it won’t be very good,” Brown said. “There’s plenty of things kids can get into, like if there is a bottle of Robitusson on the counter, so they need to just think of it like that.”

He said that while he hasn’t heard any complaints from his customers about the danger of liquid nicotine, he still encourages parents to let their kids know not to touch it.

Despite the safety reports, e-cigarette users like University of South Carolina student Kyle Smith are still big advocates for the cigarette alternative.

Smith has been an e-cigarette user for nearly a year and frequents the High Life Smoke Shop.

“The stuff in the liquid isn’t nearly as dangerous as what is in cigarettes,” said Smith.  “I’ve seen people who used to smoke a pack or two a day and decreased their levels of liquid nicotine.  Now they use liquid with no nicotine.”

Michels said that parents should talk to their children about the dangers of the liquid, but kids will not always understand the severity of the issue.

She suggests that just like cigarettes, liquid nicotine should not be left in an open area or purse and should be kept in a safe place away from children, locked in a drawer or cabinet.

“Kids know where you keep the gum and the candy, so they’ll know the first place to look for treats and can find something bad,” Michels said.

If you or your children are exposed to liquid nicotine, immediately call the Palmetto Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

 

E-liquids" can be tempting to children because of their many flavors, but the nicotine is harmful if injected or absorbed. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Liquid nicotine can be tempting to children because of their many flavors, but the nicotine is harmful if ingested or absorbed. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

ecigs_SCNEgraphic_IK

High Life Smoke Shop in Columbia sells a variety of e-liquids. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

High Life Smoke Shop in Columbia sells a variety of liquid nicotine. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Kyle Smith said e-cigarettes helped him quit smoking traditional cigarettes. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

University of South Carolina student Kyle Smith said e-cigarettes helped him quit smoking traditional cigarettes. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Jill Michels, of the Palmetto Poison Center, suggests that parents who smoke e-cigarettes hide their "e-liquid" and keep it under a lock. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Jill Michels of the Palmetto Poison Center suggests that parents who smoke e-cigarettes hide their liquid nicotine and keep it under a lock. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

A small bottle of an "e-liquid" can last at least a week for the "pack-a-day" smoker. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.

A small bottle of liquid nicotine can last at least a week for the pack-a-day smoker. Photo by Isabelle Khurshudyan.