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Local university-model school enters its second year

By Prioleau Alexander

We see it every night on the news and across the internet — parents engaged in high-volume debates with school boards regarding the curricula being taught to their children: sexuality training at an age when children aren’t (and shouldn’t) even be aware of the concept of sex; critical race theory, teaching children white kids are oppressors, and black kids are victims; rewritten American history that paints America as “the bad guy from day one.” Even the most straightforward of topics — math — is somehow now classified as racist.


To make matters worse, the proponents of this “new and improved” version of education use carefully crafted language to deny what they’re doing.


A concerned parent must wonder, “Even if these school board members say none of these ideas are an ‘official’ part of what’s taught, what safeguards are being used regarding the teachers who agree with these radical ideas? What’s to stop them from ‘unofficially’ teaching the topics to our children?”


It is confusing, frightening and infuriating, but it has given rise to many Christians wading into the issue and declaring, “Since we can’t trust public and private schools, we’ll homeschool, or start our own school.”


Such is the case with Hope Scholars Academy, a new faith-based approach to education. Hope Scholars Academy focuses on the knowledge essential for both intellectual formation and life foundations, while treating their students as adults. There’s no spoon-feeding here — students must be committed to learning and embracing this new approach to their education.


“I’ve always had a passion for assisting teenagers,” said Anna Goodwin Smith, founder of the school “The isolation associated with the COVID lockdowns has exacerbated the normal challenges they face. The calling from the Lord to start this school was the clearest and most powerful guidance I’ve ever received. My husband, the Rev. Greg Smith, and I were living in Myrtle Beach and moved back to Charleston to launch the school.”


A school obviously can’t function without enrolled students and tuition payments, so some “faith-based” schools take a “religion-lite” approach towards religious education. Some schools offer a Bible course, but the rest of the curriculum can reject or question the truth claims of Scripture. In short, “religion-lite” can be an attractive model for attracting students.


Hope Scholar Academy, however, is straightforward about who they are: A university-model school is committed to helping parents prepare life-equipped, college-worthy, disciples of Jesus for the next generation.


Wisely, they are non-denominational, and thus their religious teachings center on the elements of the faith upon which all biblically based denominations agree. After all, these young scholars have the rest of their lives to consider and debate the nuances of denominational theology.


The academic rigor is challenging but not full of busywork — the focus is humanities, ancient history, Medieval philosophy and the foundations of United States history and government. Logic is taught beginning with eighth grade, and the 11th grade Bible course is called, “Bible, Film and Worldview.” In this class, the juniors are wrestling with the different worldviews in our culture today and how they are shown through movies and the arts. They are challenged to understand a biblical worldview and how to appropriate that for themselves.


The school is launching new electives this year. The students may choose from either a hands-on engineering course or a fine art course featuring drawing and watercolor. All courses have a true classical focus on the good, the true and beautiful in all that is taught.


“The benefits of a university-model school are many,” said Anna, “one of which is the ease of transition from high school to college. The students are trained in time management skills, work flow and how to connect to teachers for help. They definitely don’t come in ready to do that in eighth and nineth grade. We consider that part of the job and curriculum of what we do. We take time in our ‘Discover U’ classes to teach study skills, time management, and personality tests. During junior year we dig down into the topics an individual student feels might lead to a career they’d love and attempt to secure them an internship their senior year.”

Hope Scholars Academy uses a wonderful turn of phrase when they say, “We take high schoolers seriously!” It’s true — they do. The school operates on a university schedule with students attending classes in the central classrooms three days per week and have teacher-advised syllabi to follow for the remote classroom two days per week. Classes are block scheduled, with science and math classes requiring a lab one day per week. For those who remember college, this was the exact same system they used.


The difference, of course, is that at college, most professors truly don’t care if students fail — which is why so many freshmen do fail out of college. Hope Scholar Academy offers small classes as well as teachers who are there to lead, teach and cheerlead students. Each teacher knows college piles a heap of “personal accountability” on the shoulders of freshman students. Hope Scholars works to ease academy students into this reality years earlier than their high school peers.


“We train them to succeed,” Anna said, “but we can’t do it alone. The university-model school requires part-time parental involvement. Parents are the coaches, you might say. We’re a hybrid system. In homeschooling, every facet of education is on the parents’ shoulders. In a traditional school, parents can simply drop the kids off and head off to work. With the university-model, parents enjoy a great deal more support than homeschooling, but it requires far more involvement than traditional schools.”


One of the things some parents worry about when considering homeschooling is their child’s social interaction with peers. That’s why the “house system” the academy employs is fascinating. Perhaps an analogy will be most helpful: When a freshman arrives at college, it can be an overwhelming shock, because they haven’t learned some of the life skills they need to cope.


They may not know their roommate, or anyone in their class, whereas the year before they knew everyone in their class — and hung around with a specific group of friends. At college, they’re thrust into so many unknowns such as working on team projects with strangers; and dealing with students of wildly different opinions and backgrounds. They often find themselves in situations where they need to be both good leaders and good followers.


Hopes Scholars Academy’s “house system” ensures students have time together both inside and outside classes, and thus prepares them for these college realities. New students are assigned to a multi-grade “house” (think team) and they interact immediately with people they don’t know for the purposes of fun, learning, community service, competitions and more. Years before college, they are learning all the skills and methods needed for sliding seamlessly into a group, ready to lead, follow, or just be an understanding friend to those who are struggling.


Through monthly community service projects, the students take the knowledge they have gained and put it to use serving the people in need around them. As a C.S. Lewis school, the houses bear names from Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia including Reepicheep and Digory.


The houses also compete in the new intramural sports program being offered during the extended lunch hour this year. Jay Bruner, head coach of the College of Charleston tennis team, is overseeing the sports skills and team competitions each week at the school.


Anna’s journey to reach this point has not been easy. From the time of her “decision to do it” to the first day of classes was nine months of grueling research, work, recruiting staff, and marketing. It also required travel to visit several successful schools utilizing the university-model system, and work with the National Association of University-Model Schools. 

The exciting news? As the Academy just began its second year, it is now boasting 22 students in grades eight to 11. 


If this sounds like a ministry that can counter some of the madness our nation is dealing with, we at the Mercury would encourage your financial support. You may learn more and donate at hopescholarsacademy.org. If you know of a junior high or high school student looking for an educational alternative, please contact Anna Smith, head of school, for a private tour and shadow experience. Anna can be contacted at anna@hopescholarsacademy.org.

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