December 2019

Prep’s Next Step: With massive improvements to its infrastructure and a commitment to education that has gained international acclaim, Hilton Head Prep is prepped for the future.

Author: Barry Kaufman | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

When the modern era of Hilton Head Island was in its infancy, the founding fathers of The Sea Pines Company faced a conundrum. Creating a world-class resort from scratch, carving it out of a few hundred acres of barrier island wilderness, would require the help of some of the finest minds of their generation. But how do you attract those minds? How do you entice them to uproot their families and establish themselves in what was then the middle of nowhere, in a state where educational standards had fallen behind the rest of the nation?

The answer was simple. Set a new standard by creating a learning institution that would not only serve the children of well-educated parents but would serve as a beacon to anyone looking to call Hilton Head Island home. Out of that mission, Hilton Head Prep was born.

“Originally, people wouldn’t come here if they couldn’t give their children a great education,” Hilton Head Prep Headmaster Jon Hopman said. “That’s why our school was established.”

That mission grew and expanded alongside the island itself, first as simply a way to attract bright minds to the island, then to establish itself as a positive force for educational excellence around the world, producing graduates who are ready to take on the challenges of higher education and life in general.

“As a school, we’re always looking for ways that students can set themselves apart,” Hopman said. “The main focus of any college prep school is making sure students can be in demand out in the world, but when they’re up against so many other students who have a 4.0 [grade point average], how can we help them stand out?”

Answering that question means creating opportunities for students, like the Diploma of Distinction and Certificate of Excellence programs, which allow students to concentrate their studies on areas that interest them and demonstrate to colleges an increased work ethic. It is just as important for students to understand community and the value of giving back, so Prep encourages community service and offers programs such as “Pooh Pals,” which pairs senior students with younger students to serve as mentors and strengthen the school’s culture.

Students have even taken some initiative on building the school’s athletic program. “We do our best to support new programs if there is sufficient interest. This year alone, one student started a swim team and went on to earn multiple first place medals at the state meet. We also had a female golfer encourage enough friends to start a golf team that went on to win the state championship,” Hopman said.

The point is, Hilton Head Prep isn’t stopping at just preparing students for school. It’s instilling in its students a sense of leadership. It’s a dedication to evolving education that has earned Hilton Head Prep a slew of accolades, including No. 1 rankings from as the best college prep school and boarding school in the state of South Carolina and the No. 2 private K-12 school in the state, with a top 13 percent ranking nationwide. That might also explain the surge of enrollment, with this year’s staggering increase of 10 percent representing the highest interest in a decade. And when this small army of new students entered Hilton Head Prep, they saw a whole new school.

“We’ve made massive improvements to our infrastructure to support student growth and keep up with the times, thanks to some generous donations,” Hopman said. “Every aspect of the campus has changed significantly.”

Nearly every square inch of the school saw some improvement over this past summer, from physical infrastructure to communications. New technology allows greater support to both students and parents, creating greater flow of information and open communications; security measures have been upgraded from locks and cameras to new gates; the entire bus fleet was upgraded and extra space was added for classrooms; new lighting was installed; bathrooms were completely remodeled; and the field house floor was resurfaced. On top of that are the less visible elements: all new roofing, new HVAC and fresh paint all around.

And with all the advances the school has pioneered, all the brilliant new paths it has blazed to shape young minds, all the work done to continue offering a safe, state-of-the-art learning experience, that original mission still remains: to create the kind of school that will augment our community’s healthy pool of well-educated transplants.

“A lot of families choose to move to the area in large part because Hilton Head Prep is an option for their children,” Hopman said. “Having a quality school right here is helping to attract people to the community—people who invest and buy homes and give back.” 

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