Popular private school hopes to break ground for state-of-the-art campus in January 2018
You might miss the gray marble marker when driving to Hilton Head Island, but “the bridge,” as it’s commonly known, is named after Robert Graves, patriarch of one of the Lowcountry’s legacy families who had a hand in developing the island. Graves, along with Konrad Marcus and developer John Reed, built the Hilton Head Christian Academy building on Gardener Drive just a decade after the school began in a church along Mathews Drive in 1979.
There wasn’t even a town government in place when a few families decided the island needed a place where reading, writing and arithmetic were taught along with chapel values, and so Hilton Head Christian was born. The Town of Hilton Head Island would incorporate a few years later in 1983.
Just as the Lowcountry has grown in the past 40 years, Hilton Head Christian administrators and parents have chosen to branch out as well. They’ve recently announced plans to build a new school in rapidly growing Bluffton to meet the needs of a booming population on the mainland and one without a full kindergarten through 12 grade private school option.
“Just over 50 percent of our students are from Bluffton. It’s a growing area with young families and one where we feel we can make an impact,” said Doug Langhals, Hilton Head Christian’s head of school. He said that the goal is to grow enrollment and expand offerings so that more families who want the option of a faith-based education can have that choice — and that the school has no plans to increase tuition to do so.
“Our goal is actually the opposite,” Langhals said. “We’d like to get to a place where we have an enrollment of 600 to 700 students and can lower tuition levels.”
More than 30 percent of students currently enrolled received some type of financial assistance. According to Langhals, more students mean more possibilities to offer need-based scholarships for families throughout the Lowcountry.
The new school will have a prime location at the corner of Buckwalter Drive and Masters Way. The land is adjacent to one of the nation’s fastest-growing churches, Lowcountry Community Church, but not affiliated with the church.
The land was donated to the school over a decade ago, and the school’s board and administration have been waiting for the right moment to make the move.
Langhals is clearly passionate about the potential to bring a 21st-century education model to students in the Lowcountry.
He described the model as something different than today’s traditional classroom filled with desks in a row; he envisions one where students learn more by application in real-world situations rather than parroting back the right answer without critical thought. Some classrooms and study areas in the new building will have a coffee lounge-like feel to them, with comfortable chairs and group study areas.
He described an educational environment heavy on the technology students are exposed to every day. “Through technology, project-based learning and mentoring, students are empowered to extend their studies beyond the classroom and campus walls,” Langhals said. Online education continues to grow, and the new campus will integrate it into the curriculum.
Hilton Head Christian is known for its rigorous academics. The school has a 100 percent college matriculation rate and test scores that consistently rank at the top levels for Beaufort County schools both public and private. But beyond test scores, Langhals has seen that students who are allowed to discover their passions and pursue them gain confidence and are better prepared to enter college and the real world.
He also noted that high school is more about mentoring and less about lecturing. Students will have a high school mentor who will be with them for all four years of upper school, committed to their growth and success. Langhals says that many student relationships with teachers continue long after they leave Hilton Head Christian based on the strong mentoring that happens with students, teachers and staff.
The new school is planned to be approximately double the size of the current campus, including athletic facilities and designated space for the academy’s rapidly growing arts program. More than 70 percent of students currently participate in drama, music and art options, and the expanded school will allow more growth and offerings in this area.
Hilton Head Christian will also continue to offer strong athletic programs in a variety of sports. Over half of all students participate in sports from baseball and clay shooting to golf and soccer; just two of the sports in which the school has garnered state championships.
Bluffton students currently commute to the Hilton Head campus by school bus or car, but that commute will be easier for Hilton Head students making their way to Bluffton thanks to a reverse commute that goes against the heavy traffic coming onto the island each morning.
According to school officials, the ideal scenario would be to have the opening of the new campus parallel the 40th anniversary of the school, which is in 2019. As with any undertaking of this size, the project’s timeline relies on a number of factors.
Langhals noted that it’s an ambitious goal, but that big goals are nothing the school hasn’t accomplished in the past. While the building may be new and different, what will remain, according to Langhals, is the school’s priorities of looking at education through a Christian worldview and providing a culture where students are safe and loved. The move isn’t just about a bigger campus; it’s about fulfilling the school’s vision and mission.
“As a private Christian school, we have the unique opportunity to pour into the lives of our students academically and spiritually,” he said. “It really is a special place, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re passionate about growing the Hilton Head Christian family.”