ORANGEBURG — Think of it as pre-nursing school, or pre-pre-medical school.
Students at the High School for Health Professions shadow doctors, work in pharmacies and learn the foundations of anatomy and biology. Their teachers dress in hospital scrubs as well as pleated khakis.
The public charter school in Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 boasts a virtually unheard-of statistic: 100 percent of its seniors graduated and were accepted to college last year — with scholarships.
For years, South Carolina has had magnet schools focused on technology or the arts, but some schools are creating even narrower niches.
The High School for Health Professions is a good fit for Amaya Calloway, a junior who hopes to become an anesthesiologist. She spends part of her day taking college-credit courses at nearby Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College. In the summer, she has worked for an optometrist and collected samples for a podiatrist.
Beyond that, she’s gaining skills that apply anywhere.
“I picked up a better work ethic,” Amaya said. “I have to do more than study the day before a test.”
S.C. Education Superintendent Molly Spearman expects to see still more schools with specialized programs. “This is all about engaging students and finding something they’re interested in,” she said. “We are going to see more of this.”
Here’s a sample of some unique schools already in place:
PALM Charter High School, Myrtle Beach
The Palmetto Academy for Learning Motorsports has a real working garage. Students in the Horry County public school take typical high school classes but also learn how to weld, paint, repair an engine, change a tire and write up cost estimates.
They start out working on high-performance go-karts that can reach speeds of 75 mph before moving on to the real deal. They don’t get to race for liability reasons, but they can hone their skills in a racing simulator.
Their mechanical work is as real as it gets. Last year the students built a late-model Camaro from the chassis up. Principal Avery Moore trusts his students’ work so much, he plans to race their car at the Myrtle Beach Speedway on Oct. 21.
At PALM, Moore hopes to teach students skills that will get them into technical college or well-paying jobs.
“This is where the jobs are across the nation,” Moore said. “Students now can get a graduate degree and not find a job.”
The Acorn School of Charleston
For parents who cringe at the sight of toddlers with iPads, the Acorn School is an oasis of old-fashioned teaching.
“In those early years we want to build imaginative muscle, and machines tend to undermine that,” said Lee Stevens, director of the private school in West Ashley.
The Acorn School opened in 2016 as the first Waldorf school in South Carolina, emphasizing the arts and “play-based experiential learning.” The school is starting off with one kindergarten class but aims to expand to grades K-6.
Acorn’s students tend a garden beside their playground, chop carrots for lunch and spin wool into yarn. They make up games and stories with simple wooden toys.
And at the end of every day, their teacher puts on a puppet show, often based on a story from Grimms’ Fairy Tales.
Hilton Head Island Elementary School
Principal Sarah Owen entered uncharted waters eight years ago when her school became the state’s first to offer dual-language immersion programs in Spanish and Mandarin.
Guided by schools with similar programs in Utah, Hilton Head Island Elementary made intensive language learning part of its International Baccalaureate program.
“Because we’re an IB school, international-mindedness is involved with everything we do,” Owen said.
Students in a dual-language program spend half their day learning in English and the other half learning in their chosen foreign language.
Mandarin language classes are gaining popularity in younger grades. Broad River Elementary in Beaufort County also provides a Mandarin immersion program, as do Meadow Glen Elementary, Carver-Lyon Elementary and East Point Academy in the Columbia area. Mandarin immersion charter schools also are set to open in Greenville and Charleston next year.
NEXT High School, Greenville
NEXT High School opened in Greenville in 2015 with a focus on developing entrepreneurs, and it still has the feel of a start-up company. So when a few students got frustrated with the Google Classroom suite they were using for assignments, they got creative.
A NEXT student named Eli Harrison developed an alternative program and named it All Pro, enlisting classmates to help with development. Several classes at the high school adopted it for everyday use.
“In our environment, if a child is unhappy with Google Classroom, they go out and build their own program,” said Jeremy Boeh, president of the NEXT School Foundation.
At its Greenville school and a similar school in Salem, NEXT runs an incubator for student start-ups and emphasizes problem-solving among its students.
“The skills that you need to be successful are rooted in those entrepreneurial values: How you are thinking? How you are negotiating? How you are interacting with one another?” Boeh said. “It prepares students for life.”
Fair Play Camp School, Westminster
Nestled in the woods in the state’s northwestern corner, Fair Play Camp School offers a change of pace for boys ages 8 to 17 dealing with emotional and behavioral issues.
“We’re not a boot camp. We’re a therapeutic camp,” said Executive Director Daniel Hochstetler.
Unlike other wilderness-style schools, Fair Play isn’t affiliated with the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice. Students attend voluntarily, paying tuition on a sliding scale supported by revenues from a few Upstate thrift stores.
While in the camp, students take regular classes with help from an education coordinator provided by the Oconee County School District.
“Our staff looks at camp as a ministry,” Hochstetler said, “and our ministry is to love boys, help them and strengthen families.”
Cape Romain Environmental Education Charter School, McClellanville
Students aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty at Cape Romain Environmental Education Charter School in McClellanville.
The public school serving grades K-8 includes environmental education and community service. Students collect trash along Jeremy Creek once a week and even take kayaking trips to clean debris.
On campus, the students are starting an organic farm. They also tend to a small zoo of animals, including chickens, goats and two English babydoll Southdown sheep, said Principal Margaret Crouch.
“It’s about being a responsible citizen and having a love of place,” she said. “It’s their responsibility to take care of this creek. It’s their creek. It’s their responsibility to learn about healthy food and make sure it’s available.”