A Matter of Choice
By Kara Pound
Photos by Kate Gardiner
Education is a hot topic these days, with some people steering towards alternatives to public education for a variety of reasons ranging from avoiding public school required standardized testing to preferring smaller class sizes. Luckily, Northeast Florida happens to have a diverse array of education options. In the realm of independent education, those can be broken down further to include both secular and non-secular institutions.
Many independent schools in the area provide academics with a religious foundation. One such institution, Cathedral Parish School, located at 259 St. George Street in St. Augustine, has been a leader in the St. Augustine community for decades. Their success has been due in large part to their interdisciplinary educational approach. CPS educators pursue inquiry and discovery through cross-grade level activities and they pride themselves on dynamics and diversity. “Our goal is to provide a seamless Catholic education through twelfth grade at our High School St. Joseph Academy,” says Kathy Boice, Principal of Cathedral Parish School.
Cathedral Parish Early Education Center, the only Catholic preschool in St. Augustine, located at 10 Sebastian Avenue, serves infants as young as one-year old and goes to VPK preschool. “Our teachers are dedicated, caring, and attentive. “We have a clean, safe environment with a family atmosphere,” says Jill Valley, CPEEC Director of Early Education.
Also offering Catholic Education is Palmer Catholic Academy (PCA), located at 4889 Palm Valley Road in Ponte Vedra Beach. The school has been designated a Blue Ribbon, A+ Accredited, Pre-K through 8th Grade Catholic School. Accelerated and Honors courses are offered in middle school. The main focus of PCA is to provide a challenging academic environment for students in order to build their character and help them become leaders. Their curriculum includes STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, and Math) initiatives. The PCA mission statement declares that the school, “provides a Catholic and Christ-centered educational environment that inspires all students to reach their full spiritual and academic potential.”
Also located in the heart of downtown St. Augustine is Trinity Episcopal Learning Center — a small Christian preschool. The curriculum includes a movement program, Spanish, and American Sign Language. According to Director Tammy Walthall “We focus on individual learning, promote academic skills, encourage physical movement and increase socialization for children ages 2 years old to VPK.” Walthall asserts that their low student-to-teacher ratio allows them to provide each child individual attention, which is crucial in early education.
Veritas Classical School, located at 253 State Road 16, takes a classical approach to Christian education. As an independent and interdenominational institution, Veritas is not affiliated with any one church but encourages students of many denominations in their Christian walk. With the belief that “a school is a garden, not a factory,” Veritas offers small class sizes and teaches the value of community service to its students. “It’s about teaching the whole child,” says Principal Melinda Provenza, “…not just adding information, but teaching the heart of the child so that all knowledge is connected. Our mission is to love God, love others, and love learning.”
Memorial Lutheran Chapel School, located at 3375 US1 South, is another option for families looking for Christian-based early childhood education. With a family-oriented atmosphere, Memorial Lutheran’s HighScope curriculum allows children to actively learn by doing. “Making Christ known drives everything about our school,” says Director, Linda Burrier. “We use the tuition we receive to help serve our community.” Memorial Lutheran Chapel School has won the Best of St. Augustine award for Best Preparatory school the last three years in a row.
Those seeking more secular alternatives are not without options on the First Coast. There are several highly-ranked, well-respected institutions whose reputations have been built upon academic excellence and complete dedication to bringing out the best in each and every student.
The Bolles School is an unrivaled option for independent education in Northeast Florida. First opened in 1933, Bolles connects the terms ‘education’ and ‘success.’ Offering grade levels from Pre-K through twelfth, Bolles provides leading-edge technology and science resources with a foundation in character development. “We provide students the resources, instruction, and inspiration to become good people who can stir positive change in this world and learn how to be effective leaders on a global scale,” says Incoming President and Head of School, Tyler Hodges. The Bolles Lower School Ponte Vedra Beach Campus is located at 200 ATP Tour Boulevard. The Bolles Lower School Whitehurst Campus is located at 7400 San Jose Boulevard, next door to the School’s iconic Upper School San Jose Campus in Jacksonville. The Bolles Middle School Bartram Campus is located at 2264 Bartram Road.
Closer to St. Augustine proper, Island Prep is a perfect choice for eco-friendly families. After opening as a preschool in 2011, the institution has expanded and will include third grade instruction for the 2018-19 school year. Their plan is to expand to the fifth grade in the coming years. “It has been a dream of mine for years to have a primary school that focuses on nurturing children’s natural curiosity to enrich their educational experience without the stress of standardized tests,” says Dani Gwiazda, Founder of Island Prep. Island Prep’s pre-school is located at 4171 A1A South and their primary school is located at 4001 A1A South. They also have a third location opening soon at 150 Blackford Way.