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Winston Churchill famously once said, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” Several local schools are taking this to heart and are expanding or building new campuses — with learning at the forefront of the design.

Hilton Head Christian Academy, Cross Schools, Royal Live Oaks Charter School and the new Polaris Tech Charter School are all embracing student-centered learning, which is characterized by a curriculum that teachers can personalize to fit each student.

And the school building is part of that. Experts say buildings that emphasize spaces for collaborative and high-tech learning, as well as interaction with the natural world, can facilitate academic excellence and richer relationships and help produce better citizens.

The new buildings at Lowcountry schools will feature spaces like “learning studios,” where students can work in small groups or on their own with their tablets and laptops. These studios will replace some traditional classrooms — small, box-shaped rooms configured to seat 20 to 30 students, all facing a teacher at the front of the room. Breaking spaces down into smaller gathering places encourages project-based learning, an education trend that many schools are embracing.


Hilton Head Christian Academy has offered Christian-based education on Hilton Head Island since 1979. Today, the school is building a new campus in Bluffton that will house kindergarteners through 12th-graders. Working with Fielding Nair International, one of the top 21st-century education architects in the country, HHCA plans to break ground on the 27-acre campus in 2019 and open to students in fall 2020.

School officials say students interested in attending HHCA in Bluffton should sign up now; many grades are expected to fill up before construction on the new campus is complete.  HHCA is ranked as one of the top 10 private schools in South Carolina according to Niche, one of the nation’s leading school ranking organizations.

Prakash Nair, president and CEO of Fielding Nair International said that the school is designed around a forward-thinking, student-centered  21st century education model where students also will excel on standardized tests. The new campus will help students be better prepared to become professionals in the future.

“Your child’s first employer is not going to ask them to ‘do math,’ they’re going to ask them to think and to solve problems,” he said. “Schools don’t have to choose between creating a forward-thinking, 21st-century education model and one where students will excel on standardized tests. FNI’s schools prove that a well-rounded education is just that — students who graduate with a wide range of skills are prepared for college and capable of pursuing and developing their unique passions and talents.”

The design of the school campus contributes to how children learn, said Kyle Theodore, ASLA, Principal at Wood+Partners Inc., landscape architects for the project.

“The campus master plan emphasizes outdoor learning,” Theodore said. “We make use of the Lowcountry environment as a learning opportunity.”  


The campus on Buckwalter Parkway is about to get bigger. The school, established in 1998 by The Church of the Cross in Old Town Bluffton; today, it has about 440 students in preschool through eighth grade. When its new high school opens in 2020, Cross Schools will become a full kindergarten through 12th grade school.

The design for the new space moves from the traditional four-walled classroom environment into a contemporary connection with nature, as envisioned by Parker Group Design, the architect on the project, and J.K. Tiller Associates, the landscape architect. Gone are the usual rectangular desks; they’ve been replaced by more work stations in more organic shapes that take their cues from nature. The desks fit together in a variety of formations to encourage partner work, learning centers and reading groups. Several classrooms will have large glass garage-style doors that offer students a view of the world beyond their classroom — and when opened, encourage students to explore outside.

The school’s new Makers Space will give students a deeper understanding of how things are put together from the ground up. It will house a variety of learning tools, from computer boards to 3-D printers, that will help students see STEM in action; younger students will learn about STEM concepts at the Imagination Playground, where they’ll build their own playgrounds out of large foam blocks as they learn about architecture and engineering.

The Environmental Learning Center will encourage kids to step out of the classroom. An on-campus garden will teach students about what’s involved in producing our food, from caring for chickens and collecting their eggs to harvesting vegetables and fruit. And plans for an outside classroom and amphitheatre make it easy for classes to move outside when the weather is nice. 


Since 2012, Royal Live Oaks Academy of the Arts and Sciences has served students from Jasper and Beaufort counties. It is a tuition-free public charter school for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, and enrollment is open to any child in South Carolina. Its educational program is designed to address the individual needs of every student and serve children's diverse learning styles within a small school environment of shared core values.  

Construction began in June on a new building with three wings to house Royal Live Oaks’ elementary, middle and high schools, with the cafeteria and school offices in the center. Each wing will include a media/computer center and staff work rooms, with outdoor playgrounds and courtyards for each division. Outdoor basketball courts and athletic fields are also planned. The campus design is focused on creating a project-based learning environment with a combination of traditional and innovative furnishings, with the goal of outside learning as well as indoor learning and walking trails to explore nature. The project architect is SGA Architecture and site planning was done by Carolina Engineering. Phase I is expected to be completed by fall 2019, with a gym and performing arts center opening the following year.


Polaris Tech is a new tuition-free charter school in Ridgeland for middle and high school students. When it opens this month, it will welcome students in grades six through 10th; 11th grade will be added in 2019 and 12th grade in 2020. The 28,000-square-foot campus building will house learning labs, classrooms and administrative space. With high ceilings and store front-style windows,” the studios give students a feeling of what it will be like to work in the “real world.”

Polaris Tech's facility will be bathed in natural light thanks to large pressed-glass atriums and a central tower. An outdoor learning and gardening center is also part of the new design, as are large learning labs and smaller “huddle rooms” that focus on individualized and small-group applied learning, all within sight of the teacher — also known as a “navigator.” The architect for the project is LS3P.  

The new school will focus on career growth areas like aerospace, information technology, business management, health sciences, mechatronics and logistics.