South Carolina principal and Clemson alumna helps build school in Dominican Republic
It took years for Sarah Longshore to realize just how passionate she was about education. Her father and grandfather were both educators, but she wasn’t sure she shared their passion. Even when Longshore attended Clemson University’s Eugene T. Moore School of Education, it took until her time as a student teacher before she realized just how much she enjoyed it.
Longshore transitioned to administration after years of teaching, but she can now add globe trotting school builder to her résumé. She recently traveled to the Dominican Republic to help build a school that will make a difference in the lives of many on the Caribbean island. She now can trace the arc of her career from reluctant teacher to education crusader.
“I have a hard time believing I made that trip because I had to make the decision quickly,” Longshore said. “It was short notice, but something just told me I needed to do it.”
The National Association of Secondary School Principals approached Longshore about participating in the Lifetouch Memory Mission® trip shortly after she was named as one of three finalists for the 2015 National Assistant Principal of the Year for her work at Dutch Fork High School. Since 2000, Lifetouch volunteers have traveled across the globe engaging in relief efforts and building projects.
This particular building project would take Longshore and 51 other volunteers to a small, mountainous farming community called Rio Grande in the Dominican Republic. At the time of her trip, the best a child in the region could hope for was a fourth grade education delivered in a single room. After that, a four-mile, round trip walk would net them an eighth grade education. And then there were no other choices.
Longshore quickly agreed to participate based on this dire educational situation, and then the reality of the grueling work involved in building the school set in. Doctors had diagnosed Longshore with multiple sclerosis in 2013, and she worried she would experience a flare up and the fatigue that comes along with the disease.
“I paced myself, and if I got tired I sat down until I felt like I could get up again,” Longshore said. “By the end of it I had learned a trade from the Dominican workers, and I must say I’m pretty good at laying concrete blocks evenly.”
Best practices in construction were not the extent of Longshore’s education, however. Translators helped Longshore and the other volunteers win over the locals, and within days those locals were working alongside the principals and other educators on hand.
A Saluda High School Spanish class gave Longshore a list of questions they wanted answered, so she arrived to build and answer questions for the class. The locals enlightened her in regards to their experience with education, and Longshore shared these stories with students via Google Hangouts On Air. She also collected stories for the class that didn’t involve education.
“There are no cameras or mirrors there, so we were able to show people their own faces for the first time with photos,” Longshore said. “A man brought a picture of his 18-year-old daughter and wanted a picture with it. When asked why, he told us she had died and this was the only way he could ever be pictured with her. We later learned the man died shortly after we left.”
When she related this story to the class, it was one of the few instances in which it was okay for an administrator to make students cry. Longshore believes it brought the message home for the students of Saluda High School and allowed them to cherish what others might take for granted. The trip made her students and colleagues proud, but most importantly it impressed a certain retired educator back home.
Longshore’s grandfather graduated from Clemson’s college of education in 1953. Her father, David Coleman, is a three-time graduate of the Clemson college of education. Longshore is the third generation to attend Clemson University and study education, and her father was proud of her outreach efforts over 1,200 miles from Upstate South Carolina.
“I was extremely interested in Sarah’s observations of the local people and how appreciative the young people were for every small kindness done on their behalf,” Coleman said. “I’m proud of her service to others and what the trip did for her; a trip like this would help anyone develop a greater appreciation of the abundant resources bestowed on our nation.”
Longshore returned home from the Dominican Republic late on a Tuesday night and was back at work at Saluda High School — where she now serves as principal — the next morning. The differences between her workplace and the school in progress in the Dominican Republic were not lost on her upon her return to work. She said the experience will have a lasting impact on her perspective and her career.
It might have taken a few semesters at Clemson University for Longshore to realize she had a passion for education. Now it’s undeniable. It makes her ambitious. It influenced her to pursue a career in administration in order to affect broader, more sweeping change, just as it influenced her to touch so many lives outside the country.
“I didn’t know there was a place for me in education until I fell in love with the profession during student teaching,” Longshore said. “Now, to be able to make a change like this on a global scale, I know I’m in the right place doing what I love.”