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BEAUFORT, SC: Holy Trinity School may be Country's First Anglican Classical School

BEAUFORT, SC: Holy Trinity School may be Country's First Anglican Classical School

By Julia Duin
June 28, 2016

It was late one summer evening in 2011 when Chad Lawrence was mulling over two paths his career could take. He was a curate at the Parish Church of St. Helena in Beaufort, S.C.; his father Mark Lawrence was bishop over the local Episcopal diocese and continuing in parish ministry seemed a logical option.

But Lawrence, then 36, was feeling restless. He was just two years out of Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa., and solidly in a fulltime ministry track. However, he couldn't forget the overwhelming needs of the children he'd met while a public school teacher in California and as a missionary to street kids in Bogota, Colombia and Recife, Brazil.

He had just locked up the church and was walking back to his office when a man popped up from behind a tombstone and put a gun to his head. For the next horrifying hour, the gunman forced Lawrence back into his office, then tied him up, took his car keys and headed for Lawrence's car. Lawrence managed to free himself and call police, but the man was never caught.

This brush with death (http://www.islandpacket.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/david-lauderdale/article33425973.html) got Lawrence thinking.

"I realized I had a limited amount of time on the face of the Earth," he remembers, "and what was I going to do with it? I decided I wanted to work with children and cultivate a generation that would come after me and carry the Gospel to the ends of Earth. I thought: Who is doing this work right now? We no longer have an undercurrent of Judeo-Christian culture in the public schools."

What he wanted was something different; something that carried a greater weight of learning and tradition with it.

Five years later, he is headmaster of Holy Trinity Classical Christian School, an institution that has nearly tripled its student population in four years. As the Anglican movement has grown in the United States over the past decade, it has spun off dioceses, parishes and other institutions, including St. Helena, which left the Episcopal Church in 2012, and a classical school.

Up until recently, the classical school movement in America has mainly consisted of evangelical Protestants. There are two major evangelical groups: The Society for Classical Learning, which met June 16-18 in Dallas. (https://societyforclassicallearning.org/) and the Association of Classical and Christian Schools, which met June 23-25 in Atlanta (http://www.accsedu.org/). Roman Catholics began entering the field just under a decade ago (wapo.st/1K3aw3S). Their annual confab, simply titled the Catholic Classical Schools Conference, meets July 18-21 at Neumann University in Aston, Pa. http://www.catholicliberaleducation.org/.

Holy Trinity may be the first Anglican school in this country to go classical and some day, Lawrence hopes, more Anglicans, including clergy, will buy into the classical school model.(The Reformed Episcopal Church has four classical schools…one in California, one in Dallas, one in Eldersburg, MD, and one in Rydal, PA.)

"If you look at the history of Anglicanism and the headmasters of Anglican schools, they were clergy," Lawrence says. "Clergy were at the forefront of education in the Anglican world for many years." The first rector at St. Helena, which was founded in 1712, had been the headmaster of an Anglican school in Charleston, he adds.

The classical movement (cnn.it/1SQfFO3) is a fast-growing trend toward educating children in the medieval trivium: Grammar, logic and rhetoric. British author Dorothy Sayers popularized the concept of fusing those stages into modern education with her 1947 essay by called "The Lost Tools of Learning."

During the "grammar" years of kindergarten through fourth grade, children memorize facts and poetry, learn the rules of phonics and spelling, explore animal and plant kingdoms, music, basic math and the history of civilization beginning with ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. They begin learning Latin.

In the "logic" stage - grades five through eight - children evaluate, analyze, discern and question. They study algebra and learn how to propose and defend a thesis. They engage in focused discussion, begin to think through arguments and understand cause and effect.

The "rhetoric" stage - grades nine through 12 - concentrates on applying knowledge and expressing ideas through writing and speaking. At St. Helena, students begin reading some of the great classics in Latin. A few learn Greek as well.

"We believe in a good deal of memorization here and the learning of Latin grammar," Lawrence says. "During the logic phase, we get more into Socratic dialogue. By grades 10-12, students are learning how to communicate effectively and winsomely."

Soon after the robbery, Lawrence was asked to be on a committee at St. Helena's to research the feasibility of starting a Christian school. The then-rector of St. Helena's, Jeffrey Miller, had challenged the parish to engage with the education of the young as a way to fulfill the Great Commission. Retired Pittsburgh Bishop Alden Hathaway, who lives in Beaufort, was one of a team that visited several classical schools.

"An interview with one headmaster particularly sticks in my mind," the bishop recalls. "He had been invited to an informal meeting with some corporation heads and members of Congress. 'We like what we see you are producing,' they said to him. 'Young men and women who are honest, have a moral compass. They can think, they can discern the truth of things and they are not ideologues. They are hopeful, they are enthusiastic about life and about the future. And they inspire others to be so. We desperately need this kind of young people to lead our institutions and to lead our country.'

"And so we began our planning by looking backwards from what we wanted our graduates to be and built the school from the 12th grade back." Everyone involved wanted the school to be Anglican in nature, he said, adding, "We embraced the promise of the Holy Scriptures and the practice of Bishop Alf Stanway, the founding president of Trinity School for Ministry, who said, "God's work, done in God's way, will not want for God's provision." So it has been with us."

Lawrence was hired as the founding headmaster and given a year to decide on curriculum, hire teachers and find a building. He set up a relationship with Highlands Latin School in Louisville, Ky., to help with the teaching of Latin. He then chose red, white and gold as the school colors.

When the school's doors opened the fall of 2012, 100 students were enrolled. When classes start up again this fall, the school will have 275 students in grades K-9. South Carolina, whose public school system was ranked 39th in the country by Education Week (http://247wallst.com/special-report/2016/01/08/states-with-the-best-and-worst-schools-3/), has few Christian schools. Even though Beaufort is in a relatively rural area between Charleston, S.C. and Savannah, Ga., the enrollment at Holy Trinity, Lawrence says, has been "remarkable."

"A major reason is the scholarship emphasis here," he adds. "We gave out $275,000 in scholarships this year. That's allowed a lot of families -- who couldn't reach the tuition level -- to come here." Yearly tuition ranges from $7,000 to $7,800, depending on the grade and the school is handing out $344,000 in scholarships for the coming school year.

Hathaway's presence on the school's board has been "instrumental" in raising support for the school, Lawrence says. The retired bishop gave Lawrence a large Orthodox icon of the prophet Elijah that sits behind his desk in a cheery office that has a silver kick scooter propped up in one corner. The 5-foot-10-inch headmaster occasionally uses the toy to whiz about school hallways.

"If nothing else," he says, "I want the Anglicans to hear that we need to put our money where our mouth is for the formation of our children. We've handed it over to government. I was working in a system where you have to compartmentalize and things you want at the core of the teaching, you have to put to the side. At a Christian classical school, you can put Christ at the core of everything you do."

Candace Brasseur, the school communications director, left a marketing position at the University of South Carolina/Beaufort to work at Holy Trinity. Even though she had to take a pay cut to do so, she has resisted other job offers to stay where she is.

"There's just a higher level of learning and a thirst for knowledge here," she says. "My son had an individualized education program (IEP) at his previous school and he is flourishing here without one. He was floundering at the public school and another mom told me to check out Holy Trinity. I was going through a divorce and my son was not in a good place.

"When my son came here, he told me he could not stop smiling. It is super-structured here whereas he was lost in the shuffle in public school. We didn't know how smart he was until he got here. We had been going to church beforehand but now my son prays all the time."

Students study Scripture daily and plans are to introduce patristics and church history courses on the Anglican reformers as the students get older. Students from other denominations attend the school, which has a daily chapel offering prayer, Scripture and hymns. In the next three years, he school's leaders aim to extend the grade level through 12th grade and pursue accreditation. Lawrence also hopes that more Anglican parishes across the country will catch the same vision.

"Classical Christian education exposes children to beauty, to goodness and it's always undergirded by the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ," says school board member Karen Kusko. "It teaches children how to learn, so whatever it is they do, they will have the ability to think, to reason in a way that's good and noble."

"We're trying to teach them to have a deep, lifelong love for learning," says upper school teacher Josiah Tobin. "And that allows us to pick quality curriculum that is rich in context and focus on that and instill a love for learning in the kids so then they can apply that to any test they might be given."

Julia Duin is the former Snedden Fellow Journalism department, University of Alaska. She is a former Religion Editor of The Washington Times jduin@alaska.edu

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