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Dec 2, 2020

Moving Forward: Perhaps no field has been rocked by the pandemic as much as education. But at Hilton Head Prep, a swift response and an emphasis on safety has helped keep standards high.

Barry Kaufman

Photography By

M.Kat Photography
It can be a little tricky to take the long view these days, with so much still so uncertain about what the next few months or even the next year will bring. But one thing is certain: each of us is going to have a “where I was when the pandemic broke out story” that we’ll carry around forever. Much in the same way you may remember where you were when you heard Kennedy had been killed, you’ll be able to recall exactly what those first few weeks were like. For educators, those stories will be particularly harrowing.

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“We look back on last spring, and everyone got turned upside down,” said Hilton Head Prep Headmaster Jon Hopman. “We were able to do a number of things based on what we were allowed to do. We were fortunate to still be able to offer in-person graduation outside on the football field, which I don’t think many other schools were able to put together.”

That dedication to the students and willingness to go the extra mile helped Prep weather those first few months of the pandemic while still living up to the standard that the school has set for decades. With an entire summer to plan, they started out this school year ready to continue raising the bar while keeping students safe.

Flexibility in scheduling was paramount for a K-12 school, where different age ranges of students would have different needs, so students in grades 7-12 were offered A/B scheduling or full virtual (the grades below that are in school every day with the option of full virtual). During in-person instruction, students are grouped based on their siblings and their extracurriculars—sports, theatre groups, etc.—to limit the spread should one student become sick.

So far, it hasn’t been an issue. “We haven’t had a single student test positive,” Hopman said. “And we’ve had very few students who have missed school because of concerns they had come into contact with someone. The plan we had in place is working very well.”

Another big factor in Prep’s pandemic plan has been a massive investment in technology to help create an immersive experience for students learning virtually. “We invested in 360-degree cameras and monitors in every classroom, so if your child is home, they can see the classroom as it’s happening live and they don’t miss anything,” said Director of Development and Finance Margot Brown. “They can ask questions and be asked questions; they can see what’s on the board, what other students are doing, and most importantly, hear what questions other students are asking.”

The results of all this preparation speak for themselves. Hilton Head Prep has not only thus far been completely free of the virus, it has enjoyed continued success in their constant pursuit of excellence. According to the 2021 Niche ratings, Hilton Head Prep is not only the top private school and private school for athletes in Beaufort County, it has been ranked the No. 1 boarding school and No. 2 private K-12 school in the entire state. That puts them in the top 14 percent of all private schools nationally.

And, in addition to a 100 percent college acceptance rate, this year has seen AP scores continue to improve, with the 92 percent of students earning a three or better, representing some of the top scores in the nation.

“None of our students are falling behind,” Hopman said. “In fact, they’re gaining ground. We’ve made it our goal not to sacrifice academic standards during these unprecedented times. The one thing we really looked at this year was honor roll and GPA, and they are all consistent from last year.”

Even from an athletic standpoint, the plan put in place by Prep has allowed the school’s students to continue competing at the high level they’ve always enjoyed. The girls golf team earned their second state championship in a row this year; the girls tennis teams won regional championships; the football team made the state playoffs and had eight players named to regional teams; swimming standout Sterling Burd was named a state champion in two events; and the sailing team has won two regattas. That’s in addition to five members of the cross country and volleyball teams being named to all-region teams.

The theatre department has stepped up as well, with the Fall Spectacular proving that Prep’s students can still light up the stage without an audience. More than 75 Prep students participated in the virtual showcase, with individual segments filmed in isolation and then edited together for a show-stopping performance.

“Between the theatre program and our athletic association, we were able to basically have a full season,” Brown said. “It’s been a great success, and those have been the main avenues for students to have social interaction.”
More and more studies are showing the importance of that social interaction for young people, and Prep has made great strides in serving students’ mental health along with their physical health.

“We have Mindful Mondays and Thankful Thursdays, helping kids work through emotions they are dealing with,” Brown said. “Our counseling office has really ramped up the programs they’re doing just to help on the emotional side of this. It’s really teaching these kids resilience.”

Just as Hilton Head Prep’s students have stepped up in building on their own academic and athletic excellence through difficult times, the faculty has shined through the pandemic. “Our teachers are just doing an amazing job from start to finish, as this is requiring them to do an incredible amount of planning,” Hopman said.

“Everything is a good bit more complicated this year in terms of how they view the classroom and how we do testing. We wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing now without an amazing faculty.”

They’re doing such a good job, in fact, that the school is seeing an unprecedented amount of interest in enrollment for next year. If you are thinking of enrolling your child, act quickly as classes are filling up. Visit to set your student on the path to excellence.

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