Spotlight on Learning

Students shine at local independent schools

By Deena C. Bouknight

Independent schools provide smaller class sizes and one-on-one attention from teachers, which make education more personalized and accessible to students. Students in these school communities state that the bonds formed with their teachers and fellow students have helped them excel both in and out of school. Here, we profile a student from each participating school, chosen by each school to represent their student body.

Amy Murdaugh
Ben Lippen School

Amy Murdaugh has been attending Ben Lippen School since she was in kindergarten. As a senior, Amy recently reflected on how Ben Lippen has been an ideal environment in both its biblical worldview permeating all aspects of the campus culture, as well as in the care and attention shown by teachers there. “Teachers genuinely care about each student and seek to build into my life, both in and out of the classroom,” says Amy. She believes that her strongest character traits, diligence and mercy, have been encouraged at Ben Lippen. These traits have served her as she has been involved in student leadership, as the Spiritual Life prefect, and as a member of Youth Corps. She is a lover of math and music. “I’ve loved the beauty, organization, and precision of math as long as I can remember, and I am planning on majoring in applied mathematics in college. Also, singing is one of my greatest joys.”
Amy is involved in school choirs and the Columbia International University Ambassador Choir, and she is a vocalist for her youth group’s worship team at church.
Academically, she has been recognized as a National Merit Semifinalist, she is a member of the National Honor Society, and she has received several awards for academic excellence from Ben Lippen School.

Noah Zimmermann
Cardinal Newman

According to Donna Fosmires, director of publications at Cardinal Newman School, Noah Zimmermann, a senior, is a “brilliant young man.” Attending the school since seventh grade, Noah has maintained Bishop’s Honor Roll status throughout high school with an averaged a 4.0 or higher. As a result, Noah was named a 2014 National Merit Semifinalist — an honor in that he represents less than one percent of high school seniors in the United States and is one of the highest scoring entrants in South Carolina.
Besides being a high academic achiever, Noah enjoys other pursuits. He is in the drama club and has just finished playing the role of Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He is also on the executive board of the school’s mentoring program, WINGS. Additionally, he is a member of Student Council and the director of logistics for the Cardinal Newman Dance Marathon.
“There is no high school I would rather be at than Cardinal Newman,” says Noah. “I really appreciate the ability to celebrate my Catholic faith at weekly Mass, something I would not be able to do elsewhere. I also like the size of the school because the small class sizes allow for more discussion and participation by students, as well as greater attention from teachers.”

Elliot Robinson
Glenforest School

Gail Robinson Elliot says that Robinson, her son, an eleventh grader who has been at Glenforest School for four years, has had many opportunities to thrive.
“This school really changed our lives for the better,” she says. “It’s a family oriented place where students receive much attention from the teachers; it’s not just a place where you send your child.”
Robinson credits the school with being “helpful and supportive” in assisting Elliot on his college bound track. Academically, he is involved in student government and on the honor roll, while he also enjoys sports: basketball, baseball, cross country, and golf.
“It’s not just a great, supportive school,” adds Robinson, “but it is enjoyable for the students as well.”

Austin Lewis
Hammond School

Austin Lewis, a senior, has been at Hammond School for 11 years. Although he participates in cross country and tennis, which he considers integral to both mental and physical strength, an important focus has been as a vocalist in the school’s Select Ensemble. The Ensemble is a choir that performs concerts in the United States and internationally.
“I’ve toured with this group in Poland, Austria and Italy,” says Austin.
He is also involved in leadership in the Episcopal Church, and has recognized a strengthening in his faith because of that involvement.
One of his academic interests is in science, and this past summer he had the opportunity to shadow a neurosurgeon and watch a six-hour craniotomy. “That was such a great experience, as it expanded my knowledge in the sciences, specifically the nervous system.”
Austin, student body president and co-president of the National Honor Society, admits that the academics are “rigorous” at Hammond, but says that they have molded him to become a student dedicated to his work and search for knowledge. He adds that teachers are helpful and students are supportive. “Hammond has empowered me to not only become a strong student inside the classroom, but also to become a leader who supports the community around me.”

A’ja Wilson
Heathwood Hall Episcopal School

A’ja Wilson is not even out of high school yet, and she is already making a national name for herself. According to ESPN, she is considered the number-one women’s high school basketball recruit in the country. A’ja, who counts sports involvement as a key to teaching her about life and allowing her to meet a variety of people, has been wooed by many colleges because of her basketball talents. This past year, she averaged 27.4 points and won a gold medal in the summer USA Basketball championships in Lithuania. As a senior, A’ja has narrowed her college choices to colleges in Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
A’ja has always attended Heathwood Hall since she entered the school as a kindergartner and feels like the school has nurtured her as a family member. She receives individualized attention, as well as encouragement, from teachers. “They have helped and prepared me, and I have been exposed to things that have gotten me out of my comfort zone,” she says.

Tucker Woodham
Saint Joseph Catholic School

Tucker Woodham, a sixth grader at Saint Joseph Catholic School, will be graduating from the school in the spring and attending Cardinal Newman for middle and high school. He will leave the school not only with his own memories, but also with the legacy of his father who attended Saint Joseph’s as a boy. Then and now, the school is admired for its small class sizes and individualized attention.
“We love the teachers, principal and class sizes,” says Christina Woodham, Tucker’s mother. “It really feels like the extension of the preschool. Everybody knows everybody. He is sad he has to leave, (because St. Joseph’s offers K4 through the sixth grade) but many of the students he has grown up with will also be attending Cardinal Newman.” Tucker enjoys science and social studies classes as well as involvement in the Boy Scouts at the school.

Tom Clement
Sandhills School

Ninth grader Tom Clement and his parents agree that Sandhills School has been a lifesaver — especially where math is concerned. Always a high academic achiever in public school, Tom began to struggle this past year in algebra — dropping from A’s and B’s to failing grades. It was determined, through testing, that Tom had dyscalculia — a form of dyslexia that affects a person’s comprehension regarding numbers. At Sandhills School, where learning differences are addressed in smaller class sizes and specialized instruction, Tom is “thriving,” according to his parents.
“The curriculum is very challenging,” says Maureen Tilton, his mother, “yet they teach it in a way that he understands.” Tom’s grades in algebra have jumped back to A’s.
Chris Clement, Tom’s father, says that the biggest difference is in his son’s attitude. “Tom was beginning to not like to go to school,” Chris says. “Since joining Sandhills, he’s up every morning and ready to go. That’s a huge thing for a parent. It’s a really good fit. We are very pleased.”
“He loves it and is excited about learning,” adds Maureen.
Tom says that he had no trouble coming into Sandhills for his ninth grade year. “They were all very welcoming. I feel like I get so much individualized attention.” Besides excelling in academics, Tom says that he enjoys soccer and cross country at Sandhills. He plans to be back next year. “The way they teach is way better for me,” he says.

Flinn Christian
Timmerman School

Since entering Timmerman School in 3K, Flinn Christian has been a high academic achiever. She has remained on the “A” honor roll and is a member of the Junior Beta Club and the Junior Honor Society. She is involved as the treasurer of the student body, the president of the school’s chorus and as a member of the math team and Quiz Bowl Team. She is also a Duke TIP Scholar.
Flinn does not just use her mind for academic and leadership pursuits, but uses her athleticism to participate in volleyball, basketball and recreational soccer. She has also been a ballerina with Timmerman Performing Arts for the past 10 years and will dance the lead role in the spring production of Sleeping Beauty.
Flinn points to teachers at Timmerman as encouraging and inspiring. “The teachers have not only given me the opportunity and knowledge to excel academically, but they have always encouraged good citizenship, responsibility and accountability,” she says. “My dance instructors and my coaches have taught me that dedication and hard work all translate into poise, grace, a winning season and the courage to accept challenges of all sorts − and have fun in the process.”

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