The Parish Church of St. Helena is reviving its long-standing tradition of educating Beaufort.
In its 300th anniversary year, the church plans to open Holy Trinity Classical Christian School next fall.
The school's curriculum will be focused around the trivium, a practice that gives students a strong grounding in grammar, logic and rhetoric. Developed in the Middle Ages and taught for centuries, the trivium, or a classical education, follows the concept of a liberal arts education. The objective is not just to give students facts to learn, but to teach them how to learn and analyze those facts.
"Our hope is that this school will prepare students to go out and do whatever God guides them to do," said headmaster the Rev. Chad Lawrence.
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Lawrence worked as a teacher for seven years in Bakersfield, Calif., before going to Trinity School for Ministry near Pittsburgh. After graduation in 2009, Lawrence came to Beaufort as an associate priest at St. Helena. He didn't think his training in education would come in handy here. But rector the Rev. Jeffrey Miller started talk of a school, and Lawrence's background in education made him the perfect fit.
Lawrence wasn't familiar with the concept of classical education. But he began researching and found it in tune with his ideals from when he was a teacher.
"The things important in classical education are important to me as an educator," Lawrence said.
A classical education follows the natural growth of a child, he said. The elementary years are the memorization phase; the middle school years are for taking that information and thinking critically and developing arguments based on it; the high school years play off a growing independence of thought and desire to become better at communicating views on the subjects they've learned.
A history class, for example, wouldn't emphasize dates and place, but rather how the events shaped the past and continue to affect us today.
What Lawrence found especially compelling about the classical education approach is an independence to teach. In his seven years as a public educator he went to meeting after meeting where state testing became a constant topic of conversation. Teaching for the test can stifle the student and drain the teacher, he said.
"That's more about evaluating the teacher than evaluating the student," he said.
The challenge is showing that the method used to educate the Founding Fathers can be relevant today.
"When you hear 'classical,' it sounds stodgy and outdated," Lawrence said. "That's a mischaracterization."
Although the phrase might not be commonplace, classical education has been gaining popularity over the past 20 years, starting with theologian Douglas Wilson's 1991 book "Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning." Schools inspired by the text began cropping up that emphasized a classical education combined with a Christian orthodoxy. The Association of Classical and Christian Schools now lists more than 200 members.
St. Helena plans to start the school with kindergarten through fourth grade with as many as 70 students, Lawrence said. From there, the school will add a grade each year. The church is looking for space to house the school. Plans call for extensive scholarships, allowing the less-fortunate an opportunity to attend.
"We will be an elite school but not elitist," Lawrence said.
The school will follow in line with the church's history of promoting education in Beaufort. St. Helena started as a colonial parish of the Church of England in 1712. The church started the first free school in Beaufort in 1748. More than 50 years later, the church donated 20 acres of land to establish Beaufort College. The land is now home to University of South Carolina Beaufort north campus.
"In many ways, it's a return to the foundation of this parish," Lawrence said.