Hilton Head Prep: Excellence in Education
Author: Becca Edwards
Since opening its scholastic doors in 1965, Hilton Head Preparatory School has aimed at raising the academic bar on Hilton Head Island. Like any good success story, Prep’s is one that includes ups and downs. I have seen this firsthand as a student, then a teacher and now as a parent. What has been consistent—and what Prep’s headmaster Jon Hopman and director of development and finance Margot Brown say is the school’s quintessence—is a sense of community.
“Prep has always focused on a sense of pride in our community,” Hopman said. “We hope to honor Prep’s history and what we think is the best part of Prep, add new community-oriented initiatives, and incorporate programs to continue to strengthen our academics.”
“Like the STEAM program,” Brown said. STEAM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, is a way to teach how things relate to each other in school and in life. It’s more fun than traditional learning styles and makes more sense to all types of learners, because it is based on the natural ways that people learn and are interested in things—which is another one of Prep’s core concepts.
“We have increased our lower school clubs and increased our electives. Part of building community and a joy of learning is to connect students with something that excites them beyond the normal academic day. If middle school kids are interested in tiddlywinks and it unites them, then we are going to offer tiddlywinks,” Hopman said. “We give our upper school students an opportunity to supplement AP courses by doing a project in conjunction with the class. This not only is a way to set themselves apart and earn a diploma of distinction, but this allows them to do more than just memorization. They get to fully experience the material.”
Prep sets itself apart from other learning institutions in the area because of its commitment to higher education. “The mission of our school is to be a college preparatory school and we remind ourselves of this in everything we do. We try to create a culture on our campus so that even our smallest kids understand that they are working toward college,” Hopman explained. “Our college guidance office has changed things considerably in that area, too. We host a huge college fair, and our college counselor Deena Paradiso travels extensively to multiple colleges, networks, and is there to say, ‘Hey, you need to think twice about this kid.’”
“We have also expanded our SAT and ACT prep classes and started using NAVIANCE,” Brown said. NAVIANCE is an American college and career readiness software provider that partners with high schools and other K through 12 institutions to provide students with college planning and career assessment tools. “It is a great research tool. A student can input information and the program will list the top 30 or 50 schools that fit their criteria,” Hopman said.
Prep has also implemented more technology-based programs to help the parents. For example, with Schoology, a learning management system, parents can receive e-mail and/or text updates about each of their children that includes important information like upcoming projects and dates, as well as grades. “It’s our responsibility to make sure everyone is on the same page,” Brown said. “We don’t want any surprises.”
For Brown and for Hopman, this also means ensuring that the faculty and students maintain great relationships “Yes, we have more teachers with masters and doctorates than most schools, but it’s not necessarily about the degree. It’s about their ability to relate to the kids,” Hopman said. “When we review senior feedback forms, the student-teacher relationship ranks high. Our faculty wants our students to know that no one is going to slip under the radar. Through individual attention, no one is lost in the shuffle.”
“At the same time everyone is challenged,” Brown said, explaining how the student body—which consists of day students, sports academy athletes, and both domestic and international boarding students—contributes to Prep’s rigor. “Our diversity is a huge motivation for our students to succeed and a great introduction into the real world.”
Hopman agreed. “Initially, I think that it scared a lot of people to admit all these kids from around the world. They worried it would change who Prep is, but people have come to realize that this is the reality of our world. Our children will be surrounded by international people in college and in life and it’s a good idea to start having that experience now. Plus, many of our international students raise the bar and are superlative, becoming homecoming queen or valedictorian of the graduating class.”
Thinking globally, Prep offers two language tracks, Spanish and Chinese; thinking holistically, Prep places an importance on the students’ physical and mental health. “Health is important in all facets,” Hopman said. “Our director of counseling, Marilyn Calore, has expanded programming to address issues like substance abuse, bullying and overall wellness, and our food service, Healthy Culinary Concepts, offers nutritious meals.”
One misconception about Prep is that it is too expensive. “Don’t let the sticker price scare you. Get here and see there is value,” Brown advised, adding that several scholarship opportunities are available.
“We will work with people,” Hopman said. “We have found that once we get people in the door, 90 percent want to come. All you have to do is call Bobbie Somerville in the admissions office at (843)671-2286, start the discussion, and we will do everything in our power to help you get here if you are a good fit for our school.”