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Friday, March 28, 2008

S.C. Teachers to Get Retreat Center
By The Associated Press

A developer will donate $10 million and roughly 450 acres to help create a waterfront, resort-like center where South Carolina teachers can rejuvenate, officials with Clemson University and the state Education Department announced Thursday.

The first-of-its-kind South Carolina retreat will serve as a reward for teachers who are too often overworked, under-appreciated and increasingly asked to do more with little pay, state schools Superintendent Jim Rex said.

"We are getting close to having a demoralized and compromised teaching force," Rex said. "If we want our state to thrive, we must pay closer attention to classroom teachers."

The Teacher Renewal Center will be located in Pickens County near the Jocassee Gorges, a 43,500-acre public park that borders the North Carolina line. Plans call for a hotel, restaurant and conference complex on the banks of the Keowee River between lakes Keowee and Hartwell.

Developer Jim Anthony said he and his company, The Cliffs Communities, gave the land and money as a way to say thank you to teachers.

The South Carolina retreat is similar to a state-funded program in North Carolina, which has two retreats for teachers, one in the mountains and the other on a barrier island. But South Carolina's program would be the first to provide activities for both teachers and their students, officials said.

Groups of kindergarten- through 12th-grade teachers will come to the center for weeklong retreats that include group training and opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking, canoeing and whitewater rafting. Students will explore the outdoors and conduct hands-on science experiments overseen by Clemson's Youth Learning Institute, which already operates camps and is based nearby, said Jorge Calzadilla, the institute's executive director.

The center will likely hold about 50 teachers and operate year-round, allowing about 2,500 teachers to participate yearly. Teachers will be asked to set goals before making the trip that could include losing weight and walking regularly, Rex said.

"We want teachers to start taking better care of themselves," he said.
The selection process is still being worked out, but poor, rural districts that have a tough time attracting and retaining teachers may get priority, Rex said.

The teacher center will be built on the largest tract of roughly 350 acres. Smaller tracts are connected by hiking and biking trails and include waterfalls and mountain lookout points, Cliffs Communities spokeswoman Jamie Prince said.

The students will camp near the falls, and instructors could include Clemson education majors, said Pam Bryant, a youth institute director.

Anthony, whose private, mountain and lakeside golf communities include The Cliffs at Keowee, declined to say how much the land is worth. Showing teachers respect and appreciation is key to keeping them in the classroom, he said, praising his first-grade teacher as the reason for his success.

In South Carolina, more than 6,500 teachers or about 13 percent left their districts at the end of last school year, according to the state Center for Education Recruitment, Retention and Advancement. Nationwide, about 20 percent of new teachers find a new career within the first three years, according to the National Education Association.

Special education teacher Ann Marie Taylor, the state's current teacher of the year, said she loves helping children but sometimes comes home from work crying.

"Sometimes I'd come home and there was not much left for my husband and son," said Taylor, of Pine Tree Hill Elementary in Camden. "Today has reminded me that what we do does make a difference."

Details on the programs, the buildings' design, and an exact construction timetable are still in the works. The first group of 21 teachers will arrive this summer to help develop the curriculum, and the center should open full-time by summer 2010, officials said.

Rex said no state money will be needed for now, though the Legislature may be asked to help at some point. The $10 million cash gift will build the facilities, and the partners plan to secure more money through donations, grants, and possibly golf tournament fundraisers. Operation costs are unknown.

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