A profound commitment to academic excellence, enhanced outdoors and arts programming, and greater financial accessibility are a few of the initiatives recently announced by St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School.
“When St. Andrew’s School and Sewanee Academy came together in 1981 to form St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School, there was a great emphasis on preserving the programs of both schools. As we eye our 40th birthday, we are ready to assert a vision that is informed by our past but that looks boldly at the opportunities and challenges of the future and establishes a strong identity for this school in this time,” said Head of School Karl Sjolund.
One of those initiatives is an expanded commitment to academic excellence. “Parents choose SAS because we provide an outstanding academic program for their children,” said Academic Dean and Associate Head of School Kelley Black. “Education is a significant investment for families, and our first priority must always be inspiring our students’ intellectual growth as we prepare them for the world beyond our campus.” With members of the Class of 2020 committed to the University of Chicago, Vanderbilt, the University of the South, George Washington University, New York University, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, it is clear that SAS is preparing students who stand out from the crowd.
The commitment to academic excellence includes innovative humanities courses and advanced courses in the sciences. Many courses at SAS take advantage of the school’s 550-acre campus, including Field Geology, Archaeology, Environmental Science, and a course in Horticulture which will debut next year. SAS is one of the very few secondary schools in the country with an archaeological site, a working farm, and ongoing wetlands research.
These courses, as well as courses in American Studies and Environmental Literature, reflect increased emphasis at SAS on place-based learning. The immersive experiences make use of local history, culture, and landscapes to initiate the study of increasingly complex histories and systems. A 2020-2021 course in electoral politics will take advantage of both place and time by engaging students in American political history even as that history is being made.
Many of the curricular adjustments, including a new course in Classical Mythology and the discontinuation of Chinese, are a direct result of the changing interests of students. SAS 6th graders will explore more deeply linguistics and grammar in addition to sampling Spanish and Latin as they prepare to learn another language. They will then choose a classical (Latin) or modern (Spanish) language track. Once students have met the language requirement at SAS, they will have the opportunity to continue in Latin and/or Spanish or take Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, or Russian at the University of the South.
The school’s Afternoon Programs, which extend the school day with wellness, outdoors, athletics, and arts pursuits, are also primed for change. “For several years, SAS has ranked high among schools for the number of athletic offerings per student,” explains Director of Athletics Rob Zeitler. “While that’s a distinction, even with 80% of our students pursuing an interscholastic sport, it has sometimes left our teams with light rosters.” After years of diminishing interest in football and baseball, SAS will be dropping those programs. “Participation in wrestling, swimming, track, soccer, mountain biking, and volleyball has skyrocketed,” explains Zeitler. “We are listening to our students and will be committing coaches to the programs with high student interest.” That includes 24 teams in 10 sports and afternoon opportunities to pursue strength and conditioning, yoga, lifetime fitness, and mindfulness.
Outdoor Education Coordinator Michael Short is excited to be able to better meet the interest in outdoor adventure programming with expanded offerings, including a spring adventure mountain biking program and more weekend outings. “In 2013, we established one of the first varsity mountain biking teams in the state,” says Short. “That program and our afternoon climbing program are at capacity and are both seeing tremendous success. With additional resources, we will be able to meet this demand and expand participation.”
“Study after study tells us that time in nature helps to relieve stress, improve short-term memory, inspire creativity, and improve mental health,” says Short. “SAS is uniquely positioned to provide opportunities that help to combat the epidemic of teen stress and anxiety.” Short added that time in nature is time away from electronic screens, another source of concern for teens and their parents.
Enhancing the school’s reputation for inspiring creativity remains a high priority. With 18 pottery wheels and three kilns, the school is extraordinarily well equipped for its clay program, but it goes beyond that with courses in film, technical drawing, photography, theater, art history, and music. A new instrumental ensemble, a course in Renaissance Theatre, a songwriting Afternoon Program, and new visual arts opportunities will be introduced in 2020-2021. As many public schools have cut back on arts courses, SAS remains committed to offering music, art, and theater to middle school students with students having the option to begin deeper pursuit of a specific art genre in later grades.
SAS juniors and seniors continue to have the opportunity to take college courses for free and for credit at the school’s neighbor and strategic partner, the University of the South. The school also provides one-on-one support for students needing help with organizational skills and study habits and maintains its commitment to providing educational opportunities for those students for whom such experiences might not otherwise be available. SAS recently announced a tuition reduction for boarding students and an even lower tuition rate for students from the Appalachian region.
The commitment to access is an important part of the school’s Episcopal identity as is the school’s emphasis on character formation, student wellness, and community. In addition to the senior Introduction to Religious Studies course, the school will be introducing a new course in eighth grade that focuses on ethics. “Our study of ethics and religion and our considerable community time, including weekly worship, help us to create the connections that allow us to boast that ‘You belong here,’” explained school chaplain, the Rev. Molly Short. “The sentiment goes well beyond a tagline. A recent student poll indicated that 99% of SAS students feel supported by at least one friend at SAS, and 97% of students agree that there is at least one adult at SAS who genuinely cares about their well-being.”
A new daily schedule informed by concerns for student wellness will be announced later this spring. The schedule is informed by research on adolescent sleep habits and preserves time in the day for academic support, “brain breaks”, and community gatherings.
“In the coming years, the schools that claim their ground, commit to excellence, and meet parents on affordability will be the ones that thrive,” said Sjolund. “At SAS, we have staked our claim to academic excellence, enhanced outdoors and arts programming, student wellness, and financial accessibility as we seek to provide students with challenge, balance, and joy.”
St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School is now accepting applications for Fall 2020 admission. For more information, go to www.sasweb.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.