This story was originally published in the April/May 2015 issue of Chattanooga Magazine.
When you enter the doors of St. Peter’s Episcopal School, it is clear why so many families fall in love with the school. Student art fills the walls and display cases of the Student Gallery, which headlines a school-wide art exhibit that rotates regularly. The Post Office, a thriving enterprise, invites students to design stamps, write letters, and manage business operations. Every hallway in the building is filled with student projects and classwork, showcasing the creativity, love of learning, and sense of wonder that St. Peter’s strives to inspire in every child.
“When we visited St. Peter’s for the first time we knew it was home,” says Alexis Bogo, parent and past president of the St. Peter’s Board of Directors. “The sense of community and nurturing environment is apparent from the moment you walk in the door, and I still feel it to this day.”
The St. Peter’s Way
For many families who choose St. Peter’s, this strong sense of community, coupled with a rich liberal arts curriculum and small class sizes, defines the St. Peter’s educational experience. “For 50 years, creating a nurturing learning environment grounded in faith has been central to the mission of St. Peter’s,” says Meredith Ruffner, Head of School, who has been both a St. Peter’s parent and teacher. “The school has a strong legacy that will influence the next five decades as we strive to advance and elevate our educational program.”
At St. Peter’s, the Core Knowledge Sequence curriculum forms the foundation of the academic program and allows the school’s faculty to put their creativity into action in the classroom. The faculty empower students by engaging them as scientists, artists, mathematicians, authors, and scholars. Complementing the classroom program is a diverse enrichment schedule that includes visual arts, theater arts, music, foreign language, technology, community service, Native American cultural studies, organic gardening, physical education, nutrition, and athletics.
“We chose St. Peter’s because we wanted a balanced, well-rounded education for our children,” says Becky Sharp, parent and president of the St. Peter’s Parents and Teachers Association. “The small class size ensures each child receives individualized attention. Our teachers are passionate, and we have amazing programs in our school that make learning come to life.”
Trailwise, a hands-on outdoor program, extends the classroom into the natural world. Guided by the expertise and knowledge of highly regarded naturalists, Trailwise introduces students to the culture and traditions of Native Americans. According to Ruffner, “Trailwise transports students from the comfort of a traditional classroom into the challenges faced by native, primitive societies. Students become explorers and discoverers as they collaborate on projects that require observation, critical thinking, intense focus, and strategic planning.”
The St. Peter’s organic gardening program provides an onsite experience for students to enjoy the outdoors and get their hands dirty while they learn. Students help plant, harvest, and maintain the garden, as well as sample a variety of produce throughout the growing season. The popularity of the gardening program inspired the Lewis Card family to donate funds for the construction of a greenhouse. Their generosity honors the memory of Margaret Culpepper Card, whose son, Joseph, is a St. Peter’s graduate.
After school programming provides an array of educational opportunities that are as robust and exciting as those offered during the school day. These programs include athletic activities, sports teams, music lessons, choral arts, art lessons, ballet and tap classes, yoga instruction, and a Lego educational building program.
“My favorite thing about St. Peter’s is that it is a school for kids – the kids have ownership of the art on the walls, the colors on the teepee on the playground, the design on the spirit day shirts and the name of the school mascot,” says Bogo. “They take pride in the school and they take care of each other.”
Love of Learning
Bolstered by 50 years of educational excellence, school leaders wanted to mark this milestone by launching an initiative to prepare students for life in a globally competitive world. In August 2014, St. Peter’s integrated foreign language immersion into the 3-year old preschool program. Foreign language immersion is an educational approach in which teachers instruct and interact with their students while speaking a second language. At St. Peter’s, 3-year old students participate in a variety of educational activities within the context of a Spanish immersion program. Teachers, who are native Spanish speakers, communicate and engage with their students while conversing only in Spanish. This educational strategy allows preschoolers, whose young brains are linguistically open and flexible, to acquire a second language in the same way they learn English.
“Research has proven that foreign language immersion is the most effective method to teach a second language,” says Ruffner. “And acquiring fluency in a second language directly benefits student academic achievement.” St. Peter’s will grow its Spanish immersion program by adding it in the 2015-2016 junior kindergarten or 4-year old program. Ruffner anticipates expanding Spanish immersion every year, a plan that will ultimately establish two educational pathways. Beginning in kindergarten, families will have the option to enroll their children in either a traditional or Spanish immersion program. Both pathways will continue through fifth grade.
Sarah Steffner, parent and president of the Board of Directors, is enthusiastic about the development of the Spanish immersion program. “By combining traditional expectations for academic rigor with foreign language immersion, our students will graduate with a cultural awareness about the larger world and mental elasticity that will directly impact their future.”
As St. Peter’s prepares for the next 50 years, the school will remain committed to honoring the uniqueness of each child and his or her walk through learning, faith, and service.
“It is a privilege to represent a school of caring staff and families who really believe in what we are doing together,” says Steffner. “We serve young kids – the most fragile resource any community can have. Our pledge is that we will nurture those kids in a way that they will learn to love and love to learn. It’s a deeply meaningful mission that means more in our modern world than ever.”
To learn more about St. Peter’s School, visit www.saintpetersschool.net or call 423-870-1794 to schedule a visit.
Photography by David Andrews and courtesy of St. Peter’s School