December 2017

Thriving: Hilton Head Preparatory School

Author: Kitty Bartell

“Many of the reasons we initially chose Prep still exist, if not, many more,” said Hilton Head Preparatory School parent Roxanne Luce. In his sixth year at the Hilton Head Island private school, located just outside the Sea Pines Resort Ocean Gate, her eighth-grade son Connor is thriving. And that is the plan for each one of the school’s 400-plus junior-kindergarten through twelfth grade students.

“At an independent school like HH Prep, teachers have a lot of autonomy,” said Margot Brown, director of development and finance. “That allows kids to thrive in ways that are unique.” Standards for high expectations, collaboration, and continuity align here under a common vision and the direction of headmaster Jon A. Hopman. HH Prep was just named the number one private school in Beaufort County, and the number three private school in South Carolina by NICHE, an independent school ranking organization. “We’ve seen a huge increase in our passing ratios for the AP exams, and improvements on our SAT and ACT scores; everybody is working together toward the same goals,” Brown said.

Families are coming to HH Prep for myriad reasons from as near as Hilton Head Island and Lowcountry neighborhoods, to across the country and around the world. Having vacationed on the island as a child, Luce, her late-husband, and their son visited island schools during a spring break vacation from Atlanta when Connor was in second grade. “Our plan was to move here in 2013, but after we toured Prep, we absolutely loved it,” she said. “Student ambassadors greeted us and shook our hands. It was so refreshing to see that they were instilling leadership qualities, and the kids had confidence.”

Connor began his tenure at Prep the following fall, a year earlier than planned. Now on the middle school cross country team and a leader in FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a HH Prep club), Luce said her son has had to face a lot of challenges, including a new home, school, and church, divorce, and death. “He’s had a lot of things happen in his life that a lot of adults shouldn’t have to deal with, and yet he’s thriving. The Prep community has been a big part of that.”

Tradition is a driving force for some families coming to HH Prep. A 2004 graduate, Justice Mellencamp, known as a “Lifer,” for having attended first grade through twelfth, and her husband Michael Moore, whom she met there, wanted their son Trent, now in sixth grade, to have the Prep experience. “We always had the idea that we’d love for him to go there—maybe in middle school,” she said. “After his first-grade year at another school, we found out about the Legacy Scholarship, and we thought it would be a great opportunity to send him even earlier.

Trent is part of FCA, he played football for the first time this year, and now he’s playing basketball. They really want kids to be involved in sports and for everyone to feel part of a team and work together. It’s nice,” she said.

Inclusion is a significant part the expectations, collaborations, and continuity at HH Prep, and is sited by many families as pivotal to why they selected the school. In addition to encouraging student involvement in sports (where participation usually does not come with a try-out) and the arts, academic pursuits, and special interest clubs, a focal point for HH Prep is the development of leadership skills with lessons and opportunities for learning, from the lower school, through middle and upper school. “They’re really homing in on what it takes to be a good leader,” said Sarah DeMaria, associate director of admissions.

“It’s not all about academics,” said Bobbie Somerville, director of admissions. “We have outstanding academics; our kids go to Vanderbilt, Georgetown, University of Virginia, but we have other pieces to offer, as well.”
In their first year at HH Prep, Nancy and Christopher Paris’s children Sophia, seventh grade, and Colin, fifth grade, are happy and loving their new school home. When the children’s former school announced relocation plans, the family had a decision to make. “We live on the island, we own two businesses on the island, and we want our children to go to school on the island,” Nancy Paris said. “That’s something we felt very strongly about.”

Sophia found her place on the cross-country team this fall and has taken her passion for math to the SCISA middle school math meet. “Coach Nash [cross country] is amazing,” Paris said. “She rallied the team to run at States in honor of a specific inspirational person. She’s teaching them that there are bigger things than themselves out there. Colin is involved in some of the school clubs, and is loving Mr. Almeida’s Tuesday fitness club.”
“What we’re doing here is a college preparatory school, so everything in our curriculum aligns all the way up,” Brown said. “When you’re in first grade, second grade, third grade, you’re getting those building blocks for middle school, and then upper school.” In addition to an average teacher-to-student ratio of 1:12, that continuity is part of several offerings at HH Prep, including Chinese language and cultural immersion, STEAM (a curriculum focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), as well as an enhanced diploma program—an Advanced Placement capstone program offering students the opportunity to complete a two-year project intended to help them stand out during the college application process. HH Prep also has a dedicated college counselor on-staff, working with students on college applications and selections.

Corinne Steinbauer’s eighth grader, Trevor, is in his first HH Prep year. Smaller class sizes, and their approach to class and athletic scheduling impacted their choice of school when they moved from Charlotte to the island. “Students have their four core classes in the beginning of the day, and then electives in the afternoon,” she said. “At the end of the day for anybody doing sports, and he is in sports, they have study hall to do homework.”

“At the beginning of every school year I say to Trent, do you want to try a new school?” Justice Mellencamp shared. “Every year he always says, no…I want to stay right here.” The paths down which students find their way to HH Prep is varied, however, each student has at their disposal, the same tools: the tools to collaborate in their success…the tools to succeed and to thrive.

Hilton Head Preparatory School is located at 8 Fox Grape Road, Hilton Head Island. For more information, please call (843) 671-2286 or visit hhprep.org.

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