Of all the schools in the Lowcountry, particularly the private ones, one of the quiet achievers is Charleston Collegiate, located in the middle of the woods and farms of Johns Island.
It’s a small school, about 220 students in K-12 with about a hundred of those in high school, but it posts some big numbers.
Among them, 100 percent of graduates are accepted to colleges and universities and 100 percent of students participate in extracurricular activities.
And unlike many private schools, Collegiate’s student body is diverse, with about 30 percent being minorities. That fact bears noting because the school, which originated as Sea Island Academy, was among a wave of low-cost, rural “segregation academies” that emerged in the South during the 1970s as a reaction to desegregation.
More than a decade ago, the school was renamed and set a new, more progressive course. And though I have no children and no direct connection to the school, I’ve been a distant admirer for years.
Many area public and private schools are embracing the importance of wellness on campuses, but Collegiate’s effort goes one step further, tapping into assets on its doorstep: the outdoors.
Connecting kids with nature in this plugged-in world should be a priority because research underscores how it boosts not only health but mental acuity and creativity, as documented by Richard Louv in his books “The Nature Principal: Reconnecting With Life in a Virtual Age” and “The Last Child in the Woods.”
Collegiate’s priority is demonstrated in that it has a full-time outdoor education director, Brooke Haynie, who offers an array of programs to the student body that go beyond fitness.
Last year, Haynie created a challenge course that he uses to teach team-building on a nature trail along school’s adjacent woods. The students are given challenges, such as having a team of a dozen kids balance on platform-like see-saw, and must work together to achieve them.
For students, it’s the perfect mix of problem-solving and fun.
“You might look at some of the challenges and think they are easy, but as a group, they are hard,” says 10th-grader Kymet LaBoard. “The only way to accomplish the challenge is to work together and that teamwork has brought us a long way.”
Classmate Teresa Hernandez Borge agrees, saying the challenges are complicated mental challenges.
“(The challenge) course is something unique and probably something you won’t find in public schools.”
Collegiate’s brochure says “these experiences break down barriers and social cliques, freeing students from any sense of entitlement that can be associated with a private school education.”
Other than the challenge course, Haynie is busy teaching basic outdoor skills, catching and releasing critters in a nearby swamp, taking kids on kayak trips at Fenwick Plantation and organizing student-parent camp outs.
“There’s a lot going on,” says Haynie. “We’re trying to get everyone in the community involved.”
And while many schools are putting in school gardens, I was taken aback on a tour last month when Head of School Hacker Burr says the school is interested in “permaculture,” which is a tad more advanced than container gardens and raised beds.
Permaculture is a practice of using environmental design and engineering to develop virtually self-maintained, sustainable agriculture. In other words, creating a productive food system that requires less work and resources. It’s not conventional, yet.
Burr, who won 2013 Youth Entrepreneurship South Carolina Teacher of the Year at 2013, sees it also as an opportunity to each economics.
“We’re trying to take our outdoor program to the next level,” says Burr. “Farming is a great way to introduce kids to entrepreneurship without it being scary.”
Burr says he hopes to bring the “farm-to-table” concept not only to the school’s lunchroom but possibly to local restaurants.
He adds, “Can you imagine having Charleston Collegiate greens on the menu at FIG (restaurant)?”
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.