In this age of technology, when Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and texting are the preferred modes of communication instead of face-to-face interaction, independent schools thrive due to their close-knit, family-friendly environments. Consistently, students attending these institutions say that, in addition to quality academics, it’s access to teachers, smaller class sizes and supportive friendships that make the independent school experience a positive one. Here, we profile a student from each participating school, chosen by each school to represent their student body.
Ben Lippen School
Being involved in student government throughout high school has helped senior Michael Parks develop important leadership skills that he believes will benefit him in his career – which may be in the area of law.
Michael says that the skills he has gained at Ben Lippen from teachers and academics have instilled in him the desires to serve and to strive for excellence in all areas of life. He has been a leader in many areas including sports, has received numerous awards, and attended Student Leadership University in Orlando, Fla., and Washington, D.C., as well as Palmetto Boys State.
Michael also cites the strong Christian environment that permeates every aspect of life at Ben Lippen as having an impact on him as a student. “I’ve been here since seventh grade. I was homeschooled before that. I thoroughly have enjoyed it, and I don’t think I could have had a better middle or high school experience.”
Cardinal Newman High School
For junior Eddie Colombo, who has been attending Cardinal Newman since seventh grade, the small community of the school makes him feel like he is at a home away from home each day. Eddie also says that the Catholic faith permeates academics and athletics. “When I suffered a bilateral fracture of the back last spring, I was not able to play football for the first time, and it was a weird feeling,” says Eddie. “But it taught me humility and that sports might not always be there, but my faith, family and friends will be. I was still a part of the team by helping in whatever ways I could.”
Eddie wore a hard brace for four months and was in rehabilitation for 10 weeks. “Eddie displayed a great attitude despite the adversity of his injury,” says athletic director Jeff DiBattisto. “His strengths are leadership, attitude and character. He is exactly the kind of role model with whom we want our younger athletes to model and interact.”
Besides football and baseball, where he is an All-Region performer, Eddie has been a WINGS mentor and Spanish Club president, and he has been involved in the Environmental Club, the National Honor Society and Alpha Theta, which is a non-denominational, student-led religious organization. He has been most enthusiastic about his work, for the second year, as the Dance Marathon fundraising director. This year, the eight-hour event raised more than $31,000 for Children’s Miracle Network.
Eddie says he loves being at Cardinal Newman. “It’s a great place, and I’m not just saying that. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe in what this school is about.”
Covenant Classical Christian School
“Where do you find teachers who will pray for your student when they are going through a hard time?” asks Tammy Shannon, mother of Nicky Shannon, a tenth grader at Covenant Classical Christian School. During Nicky’s experience at Covenant, her mother became a single mom to her and her brother, a middle schooler. “The fact that people at that school pray for me and my children is very comforting. I love that it’s Christ-centered and family oriented.”
Nicky, who has attended the school since first grade, is on the basketball team, involved in student council, and was a member of the math meet team. However, it’s her connection with her teachers that means so much to her. “Since they care so much, they will provide the best education possible and will work with any student who needs help,” she says. “I feel that if I had not attended Covenant, with its nurturing environment, I would not have the relationship with God that I have now. The students are also like siblings to me. Whenever I go through difficult times, they direct me towards God and help me through it.”
When finances became strained and Nicky’s mother thought she might not be able to afford tuition, Nicky learned to make cheesecakes. “I decided that selling cheesecakes, even though it wouldn’t pay the complete tuition, could at least make a dent. I love my school so much that I wanted to do my part.”
Sports have helped senior Maggie Smith become connected to the “family” that is Glenforest School. She began attending seven years ago in middle school and has been involved in cross country, basketball, soccer and volleyball. She says, “Glenforest has helped shape me into becoming more confident and well organized.”
Maggie says her experience at a school that focuses on assisting students with learning challenges has been nothing but positive. “I would say anybody who needs a place where they don’t feel left out or alone could come here because there are many kids who were treated negatively at other places because of their disabilities.” At Glenforest, however, Maggie says, “Teachers work with the students’ learning styles and help them understand certain things. The teachers and staff have been so helpful.”
Besides sports, Maggie has been a part of the drama club for four years and vocal practice for one year. One of her coaches encouraged her to be involved in student government, and she has volunteered in the community – such as helping to beautify highways. “They’ve helped me get ready for college and haven’t held me back,” she says. “I love it here!”
“At Hammond, it’s easy to get involved in anything that interests you,” says Hammond senior Peter McWilliams. “Everyone is friendly and encouraging. And teachers don’t let students flounder.”
Sports-wise, Peter is involved in swimming, football and lacrosse. With drama, he was able to land the lead role in both “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Three Musketeers.” An AP chemistry teacher helped him secure a summer internship at U.S.C.’s School of Engineering, where he experienced post-graduate type work in chemistry. This exposure opened his eyes to the possibility of a career in chemistry or chemical engineering. “You just really have a chance to participate in so much here,” he says.
The opportunity to travel and learn about different cultures has greatly impacted Peter’s experience at Hammond School. A student there since kindergarten, he says Hammond’s goal is for students to enjoy diversity inside and outside the classroom. With the choir, he was able to travel to Poland, Austria, Venice, Florence and Rome. During his junior year, the class trip explored the sites and uniqueness of Costa Rica.
Heathwood Hall Episcopal School
Shelton Blue, a senior at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, is prepared for his future in college because of the instruction and the challenges that Heathwood has ingrained in him. The school’s demanding academic program, coupled with its broad array of extracurricular activities, has stretched Shelton to perform under pressure and develop his skills to their full capacity. “Heathwood offers so many activities to get involved in, and participating in a lot of those activities has taught me time management,” Shelton says. “I am still able to finish a paper that is due when I have three basketball games in a week.”
Having attended Heathwood Hall since nursery school, Shelton insists his success is due to the school’s size. “The smaller community allows people to spread themselves out more among different types of extracurricular activities. Because of this, I am currently student body president and have been on the Honor Roll while also competing in sports, acting in plays and participating in art competitions,” Shelton says. “I have taken trips to Spain for cultural immersion to study the language, and I have gone to Long Beach, Calif., to participate in marine conservation research.”
The advantages Heathwood Hall offers create an environment where Shelton thrives. “I take advantage of the opportunities Heathwood presents to me. Consequently, I will always remember how it has changed my life.”
For eight years, Will Hackney has attended Sandhills School, where he says he has excelled mainly because the teachers have been committed. “It’s almost like one-on-one help every day,” he says. “I have been able to succeed here, where I might have been lost in a large classroom at a public school. I have a tendency to flip my numbers, so they helped me overcome that. I’ve improved so much in my writing and math, especially.”
Will has played soccer, basketball and baseball at Sandhills. In the fall, he will be a freshman at Presbyterian College, where he was accepted early decision with academic scholarships. He credits the dedicated Sandhills teachers for pushing him in a positive way. In return, Head of School Anne Vickers praises Will for his own determination and “for setting goals for himself so that he could focus on success.” Along with his college-bound classmates, Will appreciates the time he has spent at a school “where teachers are friendly and really focused on the needs of individual students.”
Saint Joseph Catholic School
Because of the close-knit atmosphere at Saint Joseph, Chloe Tomblin enjoys working with the younger students – even on her day off. She wants to serve, whether it’s at Mass or with senior citizens or younger students.
A sixth grader, Chloe has been attending Saint Joseph since third grade. Her mother, Theresa Tomblin, believes the Catholic setting has instilled in Chloe a heart to serve. “When you’re raised in this environment, you realize you have to give back. Not everything should be given to you. The culture of the school is to help others.”
Chloe is a member of 4H and offers her time for community service, including giving horseback rides to children. “She is a very intelligent, well-rounded young woman,” says Roselyn K. Tindall, M.Ed., principal. “She is always ready to lend a helping hand, has a smile on her face and has a willingness to do whatever needs to be done.”
Outside of school, Chloe is an avid equestrian, competing in barrel racing events. “The school encourages me to do my best no matter what I’m doing,” says Chloe. Echoes her mother, “Kids are given the opportunity to reach their full potential at Saint Joseph.”
Peyton Pratt has been attending Timmerman School since 3K and is now an 8th grader. Her success, she says, is attributed to the “awesome” teachers at Timmerman. “Peyton feels the teachers are the school’s greatest asset, and their impact on her academic journey is immeasurable,” says her mother, Kathy.
Peyton says teachers are supportive and encouraging, but they also instill discipline. Plus, she points out, teachers teach how to study and the importance of good study habits. She has juggled academics and her classes with a host of extracurricular activities. She is currently the president of the student body, a member of the Beta Club, Junior Honor Society, German Club and Quiz Bowl. She is also an athlete, playing volleyball, soccer and basketball, her favorite. She also is in the school’s drama program and chorus, and she participates in community service projects hosted by the school.
“She sometimes struggles to fit everything in,” says her mother, “but she likes to stay busy and to be challenged.”
Peyton says leaving the school will be her greatest challenge thus far. She will miss her classmates, friends and teachers, but she feels the school has equipped her well to continue her education in high school.