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Alumnus believes communities are capable of rising above adversity through education
By Thomas Boone Ferrebee ('01)
Rusty Carlock ('01) talks with children in his Sister School in El Salvador.
El Salvador is a country still taking shape, socially and geologically, in the shadows of 10 volcanic cones. Evidence of the shifting land is written everywhere like graffiti on the eroding landscape. In early April, dust blankets nearly every surface while shacks cling to partially washed-out mountainsides. The landscape seems frozen in the dry season. For decades El Salvador has been defined by those with money that can finance the means to move swiftly along past adversity and by the impoverished laborers who carry themselves along in the heat of a nation trying to find its way out of Third World stagnation.
The next chapter in El Salvador's story, however, may be written by a group of children unwilling to accept an unstable future. These children live in the village of Zaragoza, which sits above the main road between San Salvador and the Pacific beaches of La Libertad. Zaragoza has one public school -- Escuela Publica Canton El Zaite. Public education is free to all children through the ninth grade at Canton El Zaite; after that, however, the cost of high school tuition forces the majority of students to discontinue their education. Another problem the school struggles with is overcrowding. The school tries to deal with the problem by staggering the school day; the younger children attend morning sessions while the older children's classes are in the afternoon. Teachers face the daunting challenge of having more than 60 students to teach. Aside from the huge demand for space, there is the problem of noise. Classrooms have only steel grates for windows, so children in each class must fight to concentrate on their studies despite the noise in the accompanying rooms.
Each year in Central America's most overcrowded country, public schools like Canton El Zaite churn out ninth graders eager for further schooling. Rusty Carlock ('01) is quietly leading an effort to provide the opportunity for every student to continue on, one scholarship at a time. Carlock almost single-handedly created the "Sister School Project," serving as the director and primary volunteer, while teaching at Monticello High School in Charlottesville. His vision for the project is based on relationship building with a foundation in the classroom. Carlock currently works at the exclusive Escuela Americana in San Salvador and donates his time to the Sister School Project at Canton El Zaite on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
The level of commitment Carlock shows toward his students and the insights he shares with others about the promise and struggles of the people of El Salvador deserves far greater recognition than it has yet received. He has, after all, raised thousands of dollars to provide scholarships, school supplies and a better learning environment to the children of Zaragoza. Through a massive series of e-mails to friends and family, he is helping to give the struggling students of El Zaite hope in a country where the gap between rich and poor, between privilege and despair, is one of the largest in the world.
"I'd say my biggest success has nothing to do with paying the kids' scholarships or the fence we put up around the school. It's the relationships I've been able to have with the students," Carlock says. "It gives them a place to be excited about learning -- to work hard and to see the results of their efforts. They have hope and relief from the difficult parts of their lives."
"My work in El Salvador has taught me how important education is to breaking the cycle of poverty in which so many people are trapped around the globe," he says.
About the Author
Thomas Ferrebee grew up in Virginia Beach. He and Carlock roomed together during their senior year at Madison. Currently, Ferrebee works for his father's law firm while taking classes toward his master's in education at Old Dominion University. Like Carlock, he is an avid surfer. In 2006, Ferrebee became vice chairman of the Surfrider Foundation in Virginia Beach.