Meet Madeleine Ritchie

By Leslie Moore

Meet Madeleine Ritchie

Attractive, passionate and dynamic, Madeleine Ritchie dispels any preconceived notions about what a woman in her 70s should be doing with her time. Currently the Education Consultant for the Bunnelle Foundation in Georgetown County, Madeleine is working to help the Georgetown County Early Learning Initiative achieve their goal of providing quality, education-based pre-school and child care for every child in the county. Her days are spent lobbying legislators, educating the public and facilitating real change for our youngest citizens. A lifelong educator, Madeleine spent her career helping children; first as a teacher, then a principal and 20 years as a consultant for the Reid Foundation where she traveled the country teaching other teachers how to better help their students succeed. A Columbia native, Madeleine grew up visiting Pawleys Island and fortunately for the children of Georgetown County, she was able to move to South Litchfield permanently a few years ago.

Madeleine, how did the Georgetown County Early Learning Initiative (ELI) get started, and why is it so important?

In 2009, First Steps Centers of Excellence (there are six in Georgetown County), lost their state match for their Bunnelle strategic grant. This loss meant that many children would not receive scholarships to attend the Centers. The Bunnelle Foundation held an Early Education Summit in November of 2009 for all local and state agencies that had a connection to early learning, including Georgetown County state legislators, in hopes that support could be found. Our legislators told us at that time that collaboration was the key if we expected to receive state or federal grants. As a result of this summit, a steering committee was formed. Through this committee, the idea for ELI was born.

As of the 2010-2011 school year, there were 4388 children under six in Georgetown County and approximately 1700-2300 of them are not in quality child care; 55% of children under 18 live below the poverty rate and 60.4 % of births are to single mothers. These are the kinds of statistics we would like to change.

If our children are to be ready for school, they need quality early childhood education, not just babysitting. Strong oral language development is necessary for children to comprehend what they learn to read. Little children need to be talked to, that’s how they gain language. Research tells us that for every dollar invested in early childhood education, at least seven dollars are saved. It costs approximately $10,000 for a year for a child to be a student in the Georgetown County Schools. This is far less than the impact of our low high school graduation rate or incarceration. It costs $22,000 for a year of incarceration, and students who benefit from early childhood education have been shown to be more likely to graduate high school and less likely to end up incarcerated. Children who attend quality childcare or kindergarten programs are not retained as often, there is less need for special education, there are fewer teen-age pregnancies, fewer young people incarcerated, and there are fewer dropouts. All this builds a stronger workforce and a stronger community.

What is the committee doing now?

We have over 30 agencies involved in our Early Learning Initiative. Our initial efforts have been focused on public awareness of the problem and building relationships among interested parties. We are currently searching for quality programs in other parts of the county. There is no need to “reinvent the wheel.” Somebody out there is making it work. The schools have actually already offered to provide the classroom space for more classes once funds are located and programs are identified. Andrews Elementary is currently offering a remarkable mix of effective programs through the schools that are really making a difference. First Steps Centers of Excellence, Even Start, Miss Ruby’s Kids, Head Start and many church-based programs are all doing a fine job of helping parents prepare their children to be ready for school. The problem is that there are still too many children not being offered an opportunity to be a part of these kinds of programs. We are hopeful that, together, we can find a way for all children in Georgetown County to be ready to succeed in school.

Do you work on other projects with the Bunnelle Foundation?

I provide support, as needed, for our strategic grants. The Foundation’s mission is to improve the quality of life for Georgetown County citizens. Our vision is of a community where the hopelessness of poverty has been transformed into opportunities for safe, healthy and sustainable living. I believe the Bunnelle Foundation is one of the best things to ever happen to Georgetown County, and am thrilled to be a part of this vision and mission!

What do you do when you’re not working?

I spent as much time as possible with my two children and five grandchildren. I even have one great-grandchild! My family is very close – I have four living siblings. My older brother is deceased. Here at home, I enjoy walking on the beach and reading. I’m on the board of Miss Ruby’s Kids and volunteer with my church, Holy Cross Faith Memorial. I was raised to have a positive attitude. My mother lived to be 99 years old, and she told me I would get more out of life if I paid attention to what I wanted to happen. That’s how I try to live my life.

Learn more about Early Learning Initiative by calling 843-237-1222 or e-mailing

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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