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 the classroom. Here, we pay ode to special teachers through in-depth profiles from each participating school, and learn how the teachers truly make the grade.
Ben Lippen School
Rawle Ragoonath, affectionately known as Mr. R, teaches sixth grade Bible and history at Ben Lippen School and reflects the diversity which makes Ben Lippen distinct. His goal is to teach and prepare students for their life calling based on God’s purposes for them.
Of East Indian descent, Mr. R grew up with his moderately religious parents and five siblings as a Hindu in Trinidad and Tobago. From childhood Mr. R was exposed to Christian ideas, but it wasn’t until he was 19 that he made the life-changing decision to be a Christian while lying on his coconut fiber bed with the knowledge of Jesus arresting his mind in a moment of epiphany.
Mr. R planned to be an evangelist in the Caribbean but never left the classroom after being asked to teach Bible at a church-run school. As a 20-year veteran of Christian education, Mr. R has been recognized as a SCISA Master Teacher of the Year and is currently in his 10th year at Ben Lippen.
Mr. R says that while teaching can be a frustrating profession at times, the rewards are immeasurable. Among the rewards is the joy of watching students discover and pursue their life calling.
Cardinal Newman School
Each year, when the Cardinal Newman senior superlatives are polled, students are asked which teacher has influenced them the most. Performing Arts Department Chairperson and Theatre and Literature Instructor Patrick Boos consistently ranks at the very top of the list. Known on campus for his infectious smile, exuberant personality and great sense of humor, Mr. Boos is dedicated to bringing out the best in his students. He is also known for his passion for theater arts.
Since Mr. Boos started at Cardinal Newman, student participation in theater arts has multiplied tenfold. “I consider our theatrical mission to be producing shows that are as challenging — performatively, intellectually, physically, psychologically, artistically, you name it — as my students can handle, and to create an environment that uses those big challenges to create lasting relationships,” Mr. Boos says. In addition, he started a debate program that will hopefully be competitive next year. In 2013, Mr. Boos received the Carolyn McLendon Excellence in Teaching Award, which indicated his peers respect for him, as the faculty and staff selected nominees. Mr. Boos has a Bachelor of Arts in English and in Psychology from the University of Dallas and a Master of Arts in Theatre Literature and History from the University of South Carolina.
The secondary support teacher at Glenforest School, Heather Miller has a Masters of Education in Special Education from the University of South Carolina and an undergraduate degree in special education from Winthrop University. She has a South Carolina teaching credential and meets the qualifications of a highly qualified special education teacher. Mrs. Miller is responsible for providing students with guidance in career exploration and secondary transition, which equips our students to reach their post-secondary goals.
In addition, Mrs. Miller acts as a support to students in their core content classes. She also supports teachers in their delivery of instruction, accommodations and modifications to the general core curricula. Mrs. Miller is in her fourth year at Glenforest School. In addition to her instructional responsibilities, she serves on the academic leadership team and the behavior support team. She is a true team player at Glenforest and models Bulldog Pride for our students. “Working with students with learning differences or who struggle in a traditional learning environment is a passion of mine,” Mrs. Miller says. “I love working at Glenforest where students thrive in a positive learning environment.”
You might describe Jody Lumpkin as homegrown Hammond. A 1996 graduate, Mr. Lumpkin serves as math department chair and teaches a full load of math classes to high school students. To Mr. Lumpkin, however, it’s less about the numbers and more about the students. While math is his specialty, developing personal relationships and connecting with students is his forte.
According to Mr. Lumpkin, “We have a unique opportunity here at Hammond to inspire, challenge and engage our students. I strive to maintain a connection with my students. It’s about personal relationships. If they know you care about them, it’s a short jump for them to understand that you also care that they grasp the knowledge you are trying to impart.”
Mr. Lumpkin grew up in a teaching household, and believes the challenges and opportunities of being a teacher today are vastly different. His mother taught math at Hammond also, and his father frequently served as an instructor at the police academy. “With the advances in technology what they are today, students are far more worldly than students of yesterday. They have access to information at their fingertips. While it is a brave new world, I still believe that the personal conversations between students and teachers are a vital component to the process.”
Sally Harman Plowden, Ph.D.
Heathwood Hall Episcopal School
Dr. Sally Plowden teaches British and American literature, AP English and composition, and college essay writing. A native of Lexington, she is the co-sponsor of Heathwood’s literary and art magazine, and the sponsor of the Cum Laude honor society. She received her B.A. in English from Columbia College and both her M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of South Carolina.
Dr. Plowden taught English at the University of Miami, Columbia College, Furman University and Wofford College before coming to Heathwood in 2000. Her children’s book, Turtle Tracks, was published in 2002 and received the Wildlife Federation’s Harry Hampton Woods and Waters Conservation Award for Writing. In her 2014 study, Inspired by Blank Pages and Empty Spaces, Dr. Plowden explored the connections between two of her passions: dance and lyric poetry. An avid student of the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald for many years, Dr. Plowden organized an event for Heathwood in 2013 featuring renowned Fitzgerald scholar and author James West, Ph.D., an advisor to the most recent Great Gatsby movie. Dr. Plowden is devoted to helping her Upper School students develop a passion for literature and writing. She is married and has three daughters.
Saint Joseph Catholic School
Teaching 4-year-olds takes a special kind of person who can blend the desire to teach, the ability to love and the willingness to embrace a flair for the unexpected. Just ask Chris Castellano, one of Saint Joseph Catholic School’s 4K teachers. With more than 12 years of experience in education, she begins each school day with anticipation. As a mother of two boys and a wife of more than 20 years, Mrs. Castellano has built up enough patience to know sometimes the simplest things in life must be done one step at a time.
“I think we are most funny walking in line. Inevitably, girls will start their ballerina pirouettes; boys will zigzag to get away from the animals in the jungle; there is always one to stop the line to admire God’s creations; and there are two boys who have skillfully mastered walking backwards.” Teaching at a school like Saint Joseph’s offers Mrs. Castellano many tools to keep her students both entertained and academically challenged. She uses child-friendly centers to keep their imaginations alive and hands-on, child-centered learning techniques in mathematics, reading, social studies and science to help expand their young minds. And let us not forget about the critical element of spiritual development. When asked how she feels at the end of the day, Mrs. Castellano says, “We always end with laughter. Then I think, ‘It must be so great to be 4 years old!’”
Like all of our teachers at Sandhills, Holly Bliss is a woman of diverse talents. A gifted artist herself, her sun-filled art studio is a place for first through 12th grade students to express themselves through drawing, painting, clay, singing, drama or any artistic medium, sometimes overflowing outside to the gardens, carp pond, or nature trails. In her 11th year at Sandhills School, Mrs. Bliss successfully directed two musicals, motivating even the shiest students to project their voice, express their character and sing in harmony. Mrs. Bliss also helps students frustrated with writing unlock their ideas and find their voice through her writing courses. Her students appreciate how she is always there to support them. “If you don’t get something about an art project or you are stuck with your writing, Mrs. Bliss will come right over to you and help you and give you a boost,” said one of her middle school students.
After teaching computer science, coding and journalism to our high school students, Mrs. Bliss rose to the challenge of further preparing her students before they headed off to college. She developed and implemented full study skills courses for middle and high school students, teaching them how to manage their time, plan ahead, balance homework, stay organized, and learn what study and test-taking strategies work best for them. Mrs. Bliss’ level of individual attention and in-depth understanding of each student epitomizes the Sandhills experience.
Amanda Guffey Miller
Amanda Guffey Miller has taught first and second grades at Timmerman School for 16 years. After completing her Elementary Education Degree from USC Aiken, she taught in North Augusta. After moving to Columbia, she taught in Richland District Two. It was a lucky day at Timmerman School when she interviewed for a second grade position. Her passion for educating young students has not waned over the years. If anything, she is more devoted to ensuring that all students are exposed to academic concepts that lead to success.
Mrs. Miller expects much from her students and guides them through the processes necessary to achieve goals. She devotes much time after school to tutoring students and to mentoring middle school girls. Not only does Mrs. Miller fulfill her duties as an excellent teacher, but she also takes on added responsibilities of extra-curricular activities. She sponsors the competitive spelling team and serves as girls’ volleyball coach. Along with another teacher, Mrs. Miller started the Timmerman School Doll Club where different topics devoted to dolls are discussed at monthly meetings. She still finds time to devote to her son Will, a second grader at Timmerman School. Principal Jordan says of Mrs. Miller, “She epitomizes the ideals of common sense when dealing with children and their parents.”