Local independent schools offer valuable educations
As families all over Columbia and the surrounding area seek the best possible education for their children, new private schools are emerging, while established independent schools continue to strive to offer unique environments and academic opportunities. Columbia parents have more choices than ever before. This year, Columbia Metropolitan puts the spotlight on one student from each of the 20 area schools accredited by the South Carolina Independent School Association, in an effort to learn about each school’s distinct features.
The Barclay School
When Page Mensing realized last year that her daughter tested three grades below her actual grade because of issues with dyslexia, she began researching other educational alternatives. What she settled on for Lakin, 12, was The Barclay School, founded two years ago by Gillian Barclay-Smith, Ph.D.
“What attracted me was that it was a small school with a multi-sensory, nurturing environment. They ride horseback to learn balance or swim to learn coordination. They deal with the whole child and use a strong, steady curriculum that not only teaches but grows their self-esteem.”
Gillian, who was born in England, educated at the University of Düsseldorf in Germany, and worked as a teacher and administrator in a variety of settings, says, “We expose children to as many different experiences as possible to learn what will inspire them.” She says she learned early on that the one-size-fits-all style of educating does not work … nor should it.
About Lakin, Gillian comments: “She is luminescent. She has come to us and just flourished. We’re a kinder, gentler, hands-on school, and our teachers have an enthusiasm for teaching that rubs off on students.”
“It is a fantastic place,” says Lakin. “We all treat each other like brothers and sisters. We share many laughs together all the time. We drink tea in the mornings. I don’t know any other school that does that.”
“Before Lakin came to The Barclay School, she could not spell and she did not want to pick up a book,” says her mother. “Now she is spelling well, and she’s reading all the time. If I had to guess now, I would say she’s above her grade level.”
Ben Lippen School
Ben Lippen has been a presence in Columbia since 1988, when the school for missionary children was moved from Asheville, N.C., and became a premier Christian school for both international and local Columbia students. Thomas Fisher began attending Ben Lippen at the beginning of his sophomore year. He transferred from a public school and admits to being apprehensive about the transition. However, he says, “I feel like I’ve been here my whole life.”
Thomas became involved at Ben Lippen as vice president of the student council his junior year and as president his senior year. He has also been on the cross country, track and football teams. Yet, the greatest benefit, he admits, has been his interaction with teachers, coaches and students of faith.
“We’ll have a prayer request in class, and you know that everyone genuinely cares about each other. Everyone rallies around those who are in need. When students have had sick parents or have lost parents, the faith of the people here is real. There is also a lot of school spirit for sporting events and homecoming.”
Now a senior, Thomas says he is pursuing a future as a math teacher because of the way his pre-calculus and calculus teacher, Emery Nickerson, inspired him. “He’s been a big influence on me. What really sets Ben Lippen apart are the teachers who care about you and your grades.”
Bethel Learning Centers
Destiny Dawkins has attended Bethel Learning Centers since she was six months old. Now 10 and in the fifth grade, she is making history because she has been there longer than any other student. For Destiny’s graduation from the school, which only offers classes through the fifth grade, her mother June Dawkins Robinson will have a celebration at the State Museum for Destiny, her friends and teachers.
June says Destiny has thrived at Bethel. She plays the piano, sings, dances at Columbia City Jazz, speaks Spanish and is a top student academically. “When she started there, we right away felt it was a school of excellence. Rev. Dr. Ronnie E. Brailsford founded the school in 1995 and his wife has worked with Destiny’s talents, teaching her voice lessons. Destiny created her own CD demo under the direction of Rev. Carolyn Brailsford.”
“My teachers challenge and encourage me to strive for excellence,” says Destiny. “They make all of us feel special and loved. They let us know each day that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. The teachers tell us that we can do anything we put our minds to.”
Destiny has also put her mind to reading, devouring over 500 books this past summer. She will work with a talent agency acting, singing, dancing and modeling during her summer break.
Cardinal Newman School
(803) 782-2814William Carl Joiner, III, began attending Cardinal Newman in middle school and became involved in a variety of activities, including tutoring, football, wrestling, Quiz Bowl, student council and band, and he has been a Civil Air Patrol-Squadron Cadet Commander and president of WINGS Student Mentoring Program.
Now a senior, Carl has an unofficial fan club: his teachers. “Carl is by far the hardest working young man that I have been associated with,” says Eric Goff, who teaches honors and AP biology and human genetics and is the varsity wrestling coach. “He has been part of the wrestling program for the last four years … our team considers him a leader. Carl is always the first person to practice and the last person to leave. He is a perfect example of what every young man should be.”
“I have had the pleasure of teaching Carl for three years in band. He is one of those kids that everyone will remember because of his honesty, integrity, drive and desire to succeed,” says Drew Loeffler.
“Carl is the epitome of quiet strength,” says Cara Condra, English teacher. “He leads by example. I have witnessed this attribute countless times.” When in New York City for a Model United Nations’ convention, instead of continuing sightseeing as the afternoon drew to a close, Carl chose to attend afternoon Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“Carl is an endangered species, a true gentleman and a scholar,” adds Sister Eileen Quinn, calculus teacher.
“Carl is what we hope every young man at our school can be. He lives his faith through this actions and words towards others. He is a very quiet testament to the love of Christ. As a teacher, I will never forget him because of his purity of heart and love for every person he meets,” says Elizabeth Loeffer, department of theology.
Carl has received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, where he will attend college. “Cardinal Newman helped Carl transform from a typical, uncertain teenager into an incredibly focused and remarkably responsible young man,” say his parents, Julie and Carl Joiner, Jr.
Columbia Jewish Day School
Columbia Jewish Day School has encouraged Maya Ortiz’s compassionate heart. When the kids at the school found out that one of their teachers passed away from cancer, Maya was especially affected, says her mother, Jacqueline. “She talked to the other teachers about going on a cancer walk to raise money for Palmetto Health’s cancer research, and she organized a school bake sale, at which parents purchased goods. She and the other kids also went around their neighborhoods and talked about the teacher and why they were raising money. They made over $1,000. Maya just goes out of her way to show others she cares … even animals.”
Maya has attended the school for most of her elementary school years. She has enjoyed history and math most. “I work at the school as an assistant teacher for the kindergarten class,” Jacqueline says, “and I see first-hand all the love and positive influence that Columbia Jewish Day School possesses. This is also a reason why Maya has done so well and continues to do well. The staff and friends are superb. Maya is so comfortable here because teachers are so involved in the students’ lives.”
She adds, “The small class sizes make a huge difference. It’s a beautiful place, and the teachers are accessible all the time. Maya is very happy here.”
Covenant Christian Academy
(803) 796-2860DeAnna Dickerson began attending Covenant Christian Academy for four-year-old kindergarten and is now in the sixth grade. She has been a standout student at the school not only for what she has achieved academically, but also for how she has endured an extreme trial. A few years ago, her mother passed away.
“We all have hard times dealing with losses, but this school has really helped to strengthen us,” says her father, Frank. “There is such a good atmosphere of faith in Christianity, which we have fostered at home. They’ve provided spiritual guidance, offered prayers and helped keep our mind on what God has done and what He will do.”
Frank says his wife was alive to see DeAnna receive a Fruit of the Spirit award in third grade. She was awarded it again in fourth grade, and she also has won the High Academic award three times. She is a talented speller, recently advancing to regionals in the spelling bee, and she also likes to read and enjoys her Bible class. Her father plans to see her graduate from Covenant Christian, which he says benefits his daughter because of its small class sizes, great teachers, and excellent Biblical program.
DeAnna says, “I’m a Christian. I sing on the praise team and at talent shows, I play the piano and I was the lead person in two of the Christmas plays. My favorite things to do are sing, design fashion wear, cook and attend chapel. My motto is: Love everyone.”
Covenant Classical Christian School
Will Gasaway says that Covenant Classical has been every bit a family to him, most especially during his senior year. When his parents had to relocate to California, after his mother had worked at the school for 22 years, Kathy and Jeff Peckham immediately volunteered to be Will’s senior-year family so that he would not have to leave the school he had always known. Kathy is a teacher at Covenant Classical, while one son, Andrew, coaches the basketball team. Her other son, Jonathan, is Will’s good friend.
“It was just such a natural fit,” says Will’s father, Mike. “It was difficult for Teresa and me to leave him his senior year, but we knew the Peckhams would care for him.”
“The Peckhams are like my second family,” says Will. “They’re as much involved with me as my parents have been.” Plus, the transition has been helpful in preparing Will for being away from his parents while in college.
Will plans to pursue a degree in biology and then apply for medical school. He feels that Covenant Classical has prepared him well for his future. Besides coaching basketball, Andrew Peckham has been a mentor to Will. “He’s young and offers advice on college and about life,” says Will. “I’ve had such good friends at this school who have grown up with me. We’re a tight-knit group.”
Will adds, “There is absolutely a strong focus on Christ at the school. We try to incorporate Christianity into every aspect of the curriculum. This year, I took an apologetics class and it challenged me in own my faith.”
(803) 796-7622When Joshua Simmons was in the third grade, his mother, Pat Ellison, began to notice that he learned differently. Eventually, she discovered he was challenged with dyslexia, so she moved him into Glenforest School in the seventh grade. There, teachers and staff are equipped to encourage students based on their individual learning styles, whether due to dyslexia, ADHD, autism or other distinctions.
After attending Glenforest for a short time, Joshua’s mother observed a big change. “He had always been nervous at public school because he was trying so hard to be like the other students so they wouldn’t know he learned differently,” she says. “At Glenforest, he has been able to relax and learn instead of concentrating on making people think he didn’t have struggles.”
Pat says teachers and coaches at Glenforest have invested in Joshua, who is a senior this year. They have mentored him and encouraged him in such a way that not only has he maintained a strong B average, but he also has developed a love for math and science. Currently, he is deciding among at least five different colleges, at which he will play basketball, his number one interest.
Pat says basketball at Glenforest gave Joshua not only an outlet for his energy, but confidence as well. She feels that if he had stayed in public school and tried to play, his struggling grades – due to his learning challenges – would have kept him off the court. “That would have just been another frustration,” she says.
As Glenforest’s senior guard, Joshua was selected to compete in the A-AA SCISA vs. GISA All-Star Game. The game features outstanding seniors from both the South Carolina and Georgia independent school association schools. According to Shayna Simoneaux, who handles media for Glenforest, “Josh was promoted to the varsity program as an eighth grader and has held his own. This year he received his third straight Region Play of the Year honors, and he finished his career with 2,780 points.”
“Playing in the All-Star Games has given me a chance to play with some of the best competition in the SCISA,” says Joshua. The opportunity also afforded him exposure with many college scouts.
When the Polans family moved to Columbia from Connecticut a few years ago, they searched for a school for their daughter, Morgan, and son, Zach, that offered excellent academic programs, extracurricular activities and a true sense of community. According to Chrissy Polans, they found all that in Hammond.
“Although moving during the high school years was challenging,” says Morgan, “I immediately became involved in the Hammond community.” Morgan challenges herself academically by taking four AP classes and one honors class. Her GPA is 5.0, and she was inducted into The Cum Laude Society. Morgan also holds elected positions in Student Council, Community Service Club and the Spanish Club.
Morgan is also on the varsity ladies golf team and is involved in Peer Mentoring. Already, Morgan has received a $1,000 scholarship, the MLK Dream Keeper Scholarship Award, which she won in January. The award was for the non-profit she started last year called My Art Project Inc., which teaches visual art projects to children after school, for no charge, at the Boys and Girls Club of the Midlands, Richland County Recreation Commission and Sistercare.
“I have benefitted tremendously by being a Hammond student,” says Morgan. “When I think of my relationships at Hammond, it feels like a second family. Many of the teachers and staff encourage me academically and also to be a leader. They are truly my mentors inside and outside the classroom. It doesn’t feel as though I have only been a part of Hammond for two years.”
Heathwood Hall Episcopal School
(803) 765-2309Karson Kocher, a junior at Heathwood, knows all about overcoming obstacles – and not just with the pole she uses in pole vaulting. In fifth grade, Karson sustained a brain hemorrhage related to a brain tumor. This affected her cognitive ability, according to her father, Dr. Gary Kocher, and resulted in what will be a lifetime of recovery. The Kochers decided that, since the brain hemorrhage caused the dynamics of Karson’s social structure to be disrupted, she should have a fresh start at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School beginning with her freshman year.
“Since attending HHES, she has been welcomed by new friends; this has allowed for a more normal interpersonal interaction,” Gary says. “HHES emphasizes an all-inclusive atmosphere, which begins with the administration and continues at the student level.”
He adds, “As a father, I have witnessed a transformation in Karson. She has been accepted as a member of her peer group without prejudice. Her attitude is positive and refreshing. Although the college preparatory curriculum is demanding, the personal interactions of the teachers have mitigated her difficulties.”
During the holidays last year, Karson suffered yet another intracranial bleed that required surgery. Gary says, “The entire HHES family responded with Christian concern that made a terrible situation a heartening reminder that God puts people in your path to lessen your pain. We have witnessed the Heathwood family experience and are blessed to be a member.”
Heritage Christian Academy
Anna Croft is the third of the Croft children to attend Heritage Christian Academy. Now in the 6th grade, she has thrived during her time there, according to her parents, Jean and Jay.
“I like that they reinforce what we already teach at home … Christian principles academically, spiritually and morally,” says Jean. “We read passages from the Bible every night that the school assigns, and then the teachers go over that reading with them in school. On Fridays there is a chapel service, and sometimes guest pastors are brought in to speak.” Small classroom sizes mean that teachers have time to spend with the students.
Jean says her daughter has grown up with her friends, which accounts for the strong bonds that the students have with one another. “Everyone is nice. There is no bullying. Instead, they’re rooting for each other.”
Anna is her class’s student council representative. She loves to read and enjoys tennis and basketball. “Art class and literature are my favorite,” says Anna. “And, since it’s a small school, everyone is your friend.”
Educator Sandee Hensley founded the Heartworks Ministry in 1999 as an after-school opportunity for underprivileged students. In 2005, he ministry added a school, Jubilee Academy, which serves the needs of a handful of committed students.
Freshman Robert Terrell began attending Jubilee Academy six years ago. The Christ-centered curriculum approach enables him to pursue his goal of one day being a missionary. “We do devotionals together every morning, and all day long we are God-focused,” he says. “Going to Jubilee has made me much more aware of how the world works, especially through the lens of Christianity … what the world wants versus what God wants for us.”
Robert is striving to achieve academically with such programs as Saxon Math, Institute for Excellence in Writing and LifePac. He was also accepted into the Governor’s School summer program in Greenville last summer to pursue his interest in acting. He has applied again for this year’s program. He has performed for Excelsior Academy, Divine Playhouse and Shandon Baptist Church, where he attends and is an intern under the youth pastor there.
“What’s great about Jubilee is that I’m able to get a hands-on education,” says Robert. “We’ve taken great field trips to Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown and the Creation Museum. I’m able to mentor and be a role model to the younger kids at Jubilee. Here, it’s a safe, comfortable environment where teachers are like family.”
Sandra says, “These kids are working hard to overcome so many generational poverty issues. It will be a lifelong journey. They’re going up hills and over bumps. But what we try to do here is to train disciples. God has given us the resources to do that … to be positive influences on these lives.”
New Heights School
Lauren and Mark Pittman are happy with the way New Heights has challenged their daughter, Shelby, who has been attending the school for four years. The sixth-grader has participated in state spelling bees and enjoys Bible studies and acting. Last year she participated in a class project, which involved a school newspaper that she helped design and write with her class.
“Shelby has flourished in the small classroom settings,” says her mother, Lauren. “The teachers know the students well and are able to give specific and personal attention. We also like the interaction of different age groups together, allowing her and all students to be able to relate to children of all ages.”
Lauren says her daughter has grown in her leadership skills and has become better organized with schoolwork, homework and studying. “We love the fact that she is receiving an education that is grounded in the word of God, and we’ve seen her grow spirituality. The biblical worldview that we are trying to teach her at home is reinforced five days a week at school, which is an important aspect to us. We feel the academics here are challenging and encouraging her to strive to do her best.”
She adds, “Shelby is always excited about what she has learned or what they have done for the day. We love the close-knit feel of all the students knowing one another and caring about each other.”
Richard Winn Academy
(803) 635-5494The opportunity to be heavily involved in sports has been a plus for Alexandra “Alex” Maass. The junior at Richard Winn Academy, who has been attending since five-year-old kindergarten, currently plays volleyball and basketball and has played softball as well. “I have always loved sports and have played them ever since I was little, always attending RWA summer sports camps,” she says.
Alex is a member of the Rotary Interact Club, an officer in the Senior Beta Club and treasurer of student government. She is also a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and an ambassador for Richard Winn, meaning she gives tours of the school to potential new students.
“I feel like I have practically lived at this school because I’m always here, whether it is for a fundraiser, a sporting event or classes. Something special that I was a part of in the eighth grade is the butterfly garden we planted in memory of RWA students who have passed away. We modeled it after the butterfly garden in the book The Red Kayak.”
“I honestly feel prepared for college and really realize how blessed I am to have been a student here. I feel like I’m a member of a large family and the friends I have here are for life. I know I can count on them, as well as the teachers and the staff.”
Hunter Allen was not failing while in public school, but he was struggling. Because he is severely dyslexic, reading was a challenge, according to his mother, Patricia. “He was in the fourth grade and already wanting to drop out of school,” she says. “We hired tutors for him and held him back a year. It was really affecting his self-esteem.”
The Allens learned about Sandhills School through one of Hunter’s tutors and enrolled him in the fifth grade. The turn-around in Hunter’s demeanor was almost instantaneous.
“He loved it so much right away,” says Patricia. “We were so grateful for how it changed our child for the better. They made him realize that he was smart … that he just learned differently.”
Patricia points out that the staff at Sandhills genuinely cares and teachers there helped him determine the areas in which he can excel.
“They push, but in a loving, encouraging way,” she says.
Hunter, who is now in the eleventh grade, says he enjoys all the opportunities at Sandhills, such as establishing a garden in the back of the school to learn agriculture or participating in soccer, basketball and baseball. “And the class sizes are very small, which means the teachers are really there to help you and care about you being the best you can be, getting good grades and succeeding in life.”
St. John Neumann Catholic School
(803) 788-1367Kaitlyn Cote has attended St. John Neumann Catholic School for the past eight years. The biggest plus, explain her parents, is the intimate atmosphere.
“It’s a family environment,” says her mother, Wendi. “That was a big draw. Being in this small school environment has made her comfortable with things like public speaking.”
“What I like best about the school is how the teachers encourage me every day and challenge me to do new things to help me reach my full potential,” Kaitlyn says. “This includes extra help sessions after school, joining team competitions outside of school and participating in school plays.”
Wendi believes that the curriculum at St. John Neumann is well thought out and selected. Plus, it is advanced enough to be challenging for students. “I feel like there are opportunities to do activities that she wouldn’t have had a chance to do in other school environments. She will be prepared when she leaves St. John Neumann.”
Since St. John Neumann only goes up to eighth grade, Kaitlyn will be attending Cardinal Newman in the fall. “The thing I will miss the most about this school is having the little kids look up to me. It will be especially hard because my little brother is in preschool here, and I’ll miss seeing him in the hallway,” she says.
Kaitlyn plays soccer and has participated in volunteer work with her father, David, such as Meals on Wheels. “She’s really just a good student who exemplifies what a student can be – kind and caring,” Wendi says.
St. Joseph Catholic School
As a sixth grader, Cam Tringali is already an award-winning student. In 2009, he was chosen for the Silver Bucket Award at St. Joseph Catholic School. Given by Principal Rose Tindall to a student who demonstrates exemplary character, the award is named for the book Have You Filled Your Bucket Today by Carol McLoud and encourages positive behavior as children see how easy and rewarding it is to express kindness, appreciation and love on a daily basis.
Rose says, “Cam is always polite, respectful, kind and helpful to both students and faculty. He truly demonstrates Gospel values.”
“The Christian values Cam has been taught on a daily basis have been instrumental in making him the young man he is,” says his mother, Melissa.
“I’m so glad to be able to learn about Jesus in school,” says Cam.
Rose adds that Cam is also well-rounded. He has been attending St. Joseph since first grade, is a member of the Beta Club, has participated in mock trial and plays football and baseball. He also enjoys art, math and practicing for the class play.
“He strives to do his best while encouraging others to do their best around him,” Rose says. “He is a wonderful role model for our younger students.”
St. Peters Catholic School
(803) 252-8285St. Peters Catholic School was a natural fit for sixth-grader Alyssa Pittman, who has been a student there since four-year-old kindergarten.
“It’s a small school,” says her mother, Suzanne. “The student teacher ratio is good. Students get a lot of attention and the teachers are all kind and caring. It’s that kind of atmosphere that is like a family because the students have all grown up together. Even the parents are close. We often invite one another to birthday parties and get together during school activities.”
“I love learning about history and things of the past,” says Alyssa. “When we studied the Egyptians, we did a project where we made sculptures of Egyptian jars. In cooking class, we made different snacks. I really like all the teachers here.”
The Timmerman School
Leslie Withycombe describes The Timmerman School as “small enough to be personable to everyone, yet big enough to offer a variety of activities.” Her son, Owen, is an eighth grader who has been attending Timmerman since four-year-old kindergarten.
“As a parent, I know I can pick up the telephone and call Liz Jordan, the principal, directly with any issues,” Leslie says. “She interacts daily with the students there. Plus, there is a traditional atmosphere at Timmerman that includes saying the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer at various school functions.”
Owen has participated in community service projects through the student council, is on the math, spelling and Quiz Bowl teams, and is a member of both the National Jr. Beta Club and the National Jr. Honor Society. He also played soccer for Timmerman and is a year-round swimmer with Carolina Aquatics. Another passion is acting.
“The class work and homework may be tough and time-consuming, but I can see very good study habits that Owen has gained that he will need in high school and college,” says Leslie. Most importantly, she says, “The small, family atmosphere was important to his father, Allen, and me, and it has seemed to have a good impact on Owen’s development.”