Four percent of S.C.'s 2010 high school graduation class was Hispanic. By 2022 -- when this school year's first-graders are seniors -- that number will be 22 percent, according to data by the Southern Regional Education Board.
Three S.C. schools are majority Hispanic. Others are trending in that direction. Many S.C. teachers and principals say they are doing a good job meeting the demands of these students -- now.
But state budget cuts and an unrelenting recession mean schools are not prepping for the oncoming increase in Hispanic students, many of whom will need help learning English and acclimating to a new culture.
By law, schools must figure out a way to teach students, whether they're in the country legally or not. Educators cannot question whether a student is here legally.
"Federal law requires that we educate all children that come to us regardless of immigration status," explained Fatiha Bencheikh who runs Richland 1's International Welcome Center in Columbia, a unique one-stop shop for international families enrolling their children in school. "It's not our role to enforce immigration law or to report it. We try to be very inclusive and break down any obstacles that would prohibit a child from getting an education."
Chuck Bagwell, principal of Arcadia Elementary in Spartanburg 6, takes lots of phone calls from stressed S.C. principals, seeking his advice on how to best teach the growing number of Hispanic students at their school.
"I tell them it's not about buying a program," Bagwell said. "It's about people. Establishing relationships with people in your community.
Then, the learning will come."
Bagwell and his team have fostered relationships in their community, transforming a once-typical school that operated during regular school hours into a year-round community center.
Parents come to the school for free parenting classes to learn how to survive in their new American community.
English classes also are offered for free to parents and community members.
Those who are working and can't make the class can use the school's computer lab every day using Rosetta Stone software to learn the language.
"Our parents love their kids as much as anyone," Bagwell said. "But if you don't know how to speak or write English, you can't help your children with their schoolwork. The after-school program helps the kids get all of their homework done with all the help they need. So by 6 o'clock, they're all done with schoolwork and parents don't have to worry with it."
All the programs mean the school building is buzzing from about 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every weekday.
And don't even get Bagwell started on how good the Mexican food is that the families bring in each year during their annual Cinco de Mayo celebration or the fun they all have during the monthly family movie night where the school family gathers to watch movies.
The school's test scores are pretty impressive, too. The school's Hispanic students and its students with limited English proficiency met federal education goals this school year in English language arts and math.
South Carolina's Hispanic students are shining overall. The state's nearly 17,000 students with limited English, 80 percent of whom are Hispanic, also met federal goals in math and language arts this year.
"Many of the (Hispanic) families have come here after great personal sacrifice," said Bencheikh, who works with dozens of international students each school year in Columbia. "They value education. They're really pushing their children to get the most out of their education."
But challenges remain for many S.C. school districts that have long suffered from poverty-related issues.
In Jasper County, Hispanic students and students with limited English proficiency failed to meet federal education goals in math and English language arts in 2010. They did meet some of the goals in 2009.
The district is 23 percent Hispanic. Most of the students have limited English proficiency, say district officials.
"We don't have enough teachers, but what we're doing is still phenomenal considering," said Joyce Gerald, the Title I coordinator for the Jasper County school district. Gerald would like five more English-as-a-second-language teachers to add to her current eight-member team.
For most of the day, Jasper County students with limited English are in regular classes with other English-speaking students.
But up to 45 minutes a day, four days a week, they're pulled out of regular class and put in intensive language classes.
That extra help may explain why the district's Hispanic students are sometimes outshining other ethnic groups on standardized tests. In many subcategories of this year's PASS test, the state's standardized test for third- through eighth-graders, a higher percentage of Hispanic students than African-American students met the state standards.