This school year marks the 25th academic year of St. Peter’s Catholic Elementary School on Lady’s Island.
“There is a tangible buzz on campus,” said Principal Ann Feltner, who began her long association with the ‘Saints and Scholars’ of St. Peter’s in 1996 as a parent, and has since held various leadership and teaching positions at the school. “I can see the excitement growing that people in our community have for St. Peter’s. Many volunteers from the community are helping us make it into the vibrant campus it has become.”
She exudes enthusiasm and pride while discussing the volunteers who worked side by side with paid employees, contractors, parents, and teachers to give the school a major renovation this past summer to get it ready for its 25th anniversary year.
New paint, new lighting, new flooring, new safety doors and new security cameras were added, in addition to the volunteers who have been tutoring students, reading to classes, gardening campus grounds, working in the school office and shelving books in the library.
Admission to St. Peter’s Elementary School is open to children of all faiths, so “it is good for the children to see the volunteers from all walks of life come to the school and give of their talents,” said Feltner, who had four children attend St. Peter’s and now has grandchildren enrolled.
The school has seen many changes in the 25 years since the now-retired Monsignor Martin Laughlin began garnering support from the St. Peter’s Church parishioners because he felt strongly the children of the area deserved the opportunity to get a traditional religious education.
The school started in the small eight-room education wing of the parish complex in 1991. In its first year, the school consisted of five classrooms, a library, a work room and an office. As grades were added, space was needed.
A new school building was constructed on the church’s property in 1995. Enrollment peaked in 2000, when the school averaged about 220 students.
But the road to success wasn’t always easy.
Feltner remembers when the recession hit Beaufort in 2007 and enrollment dropped dramatically. Since then, the Beaufort County School District’s public charter schools have opened in addition to a new Christian school in downtown Beaufort. All have offered enrollment challenges to St. Peter’s Elementary School.
But Feltner remains resilient, stating “no other elementary school in the Beaufort area can offer the solid, traditional teachings” of a religious education “combined with the training, discipline and high academic standards” that St. Peter’s offers.
Two-thirds of the faculty hold graduate degrees. Spanish is taught in grades K4 through sixth grade.
Values and discipline are emphasized. Teachers are concerned about the character development of each student.
“Our educational environment nurtures the whole child – mind, body and soul – into becoming a saint and scholar,” said Feltner, quoting the school’s motto of Saints and Scholars, which emphasizes St. Peter’s commitment to supporting the spiritual and intellectual growth of each child.
In addition, all paid staff, volunteers and anyone who interacts with children are trained to proactively recognize and safeguard students from bullying and abuse.
“Another positive aspect about our school is that decisions are made at the lowest level possible. Cumbersome, stifling bureaucracy simply does not exist,” said Feltner.
Today, during the school’s 25th year, the school is a vibrant, active campus and enrolls 103 Saints and Scholars in grades pre-K through sixth grade, with the seventh and eighth grades having moved to John Paul II High School in Okatie two school years ago.
Kim Morris, a third-grade teacher at St. Peter’s, recently received a sizable national grant to improve math fluency and assist students in mastering basic math skills. The school has also utilized the talents of the college students studying Computer Science at the Technical College of the Lowcountry, having them repair and update all of the school’s computers.
When it came time for their children to start school, John and Catherine Stephens of Beaufort felt St. Peter’s Elementary School was where their children would receive the best overall education.
In the two years their daughter, Laura, 5, has been enrolled, “we have been amazed at what she has learned about faith,” said her mother. “She says things out of the blue like, ‘Jesus wants us to help people when they are sick.’ ”
Catherine Stephens admits the tuition is a sacrifice, but surprisingly the tuition is a lot less than other private schools in the area.
But despite the successes the school has seen in its 25 years, Feltner has bigger plans she would like to see achieved.
“I would love to see our school continue to do more community outreach. There are many local organizations that would benefit from having our students share their talents,” she said, as she was getting some students ready to attend an outing to Morningside Assisted Living to sing for the senior citizens who live there.
To learn about enrollment and the tuition assistance available, contact Feltner at 843-522-2163 or visit www.saintpeterscatholicschoolbeaufortsc.org.