Entrepreneurs and Engineers: Spring Hill High School preparing students for bright futures

Jeff Eargle invites students to think globally at Spring Hill High School.

Jeff Eargle invites students to think globally at Spring Hill High School. (photo by Rachel Ham)

Visitors might not notice on first glance, but teachers at Spring Hill High School easily can see that future Fortune 500 CEOs, ESPN sideline reporters and even the person who will advance alternative energy research daily walk their school’s halls.

In reality, students are being given the tools they need to succeed above and beyond those expectations at Lexington-Richland Five’s brand-new magnet high school. Celebrating its opening this year, Spring Hill is home to 210 sophomores and 360 freshmen – and they’ve all dived right in to the inventive courses that are putting them in touch with a myriad of career paths.

“We’re here to expose them to high levels of academics and hook them into their interest,” said Principal Michael Lofton, previously principal at Chapin Middle School.

Upon becoming Spring Hill Stallions, students were guided into one of five “academies” based on their vocational goals and everyday hobbies. Desiring to train students in areas where people are finding jobs today, Lexington-Richland Five administrators and the Spring Hill team worked hard to cultivate just the right options. The result is the formation of the Entrepreneurial Academy, Engineering Academy (the most popular), Entertainment Academy, Environmental Studies Academy and Exercise Science Academy.

Lofton said work readiness and college prep were considered as he worked in tandem with Lexington-Richland Five Superintendent Stephen Hefner to bring Spring Hill to fruition. The five academies and their Schools of Study (or concentrations) not only stem from what employers are seeking but also the already-available resources at the nearby Center for Advanced Technical Studies. In fact, nearly every Spring Hill School of Study can link to corresponding courses at the Center, which range from aerospace engineering to culinary arts.

“We wanted to have a direct relationship with the Center,” Lofton said.

It was Hefner who pushed for the vision of more choices for Lexington-Richland Five’s older students. Five years ago, the board passed the bond referendum and funds to construct Spring Hill were included in the grand plan.

Lofton spent much of last school year spreading the word about the coming opportunities for high schoolers. He presented the academic blueprint for the magnet school at town hall gatherings, community events and individual school campuses to help students and parents understand how the school could benefit them. It wasn’t long before applications began to pour in – so many that a waiting list was formed.

In keeping with the inclusive theme, students didn’t have to pass an entrance exam to become one of Spring Hill’s first students.

“If students were interested in studying here, they were accepted,” Lofton said. “We have everyone from special needs to AP students.”

No matter what level they’re on or academy they’re a part of, students already are reaping the rewards of their dedicated teachers. Lofton praised his staff and commended them for handling their intensive workload which, at Spring Hill, can feature five different classes with multiple sessions.

“Lots of planning is involved,” Lofton said.

Nonetheless, the teachers are thrilled to be a part of a pioneering local movement.

“This is my first year with Lexington-Richland Five, and I came here specifically to teach at SHHS,” Jeff Eargle said.

Eargle is just one instructor who has taken the magnet approach and run with it in order to captivate students.

“Our focus is on getting them far more hands on and engaged,” he agreed. “We’re teaching the standards but also making concepts relevant to them.”

In his world history classes, students in the Entrepreneurial Academy began the year by studying the connections between the economies of different countries by relating them to box office revenues. Part of the lesson involved them role-playing as studio executives trying to pitch summer movies that flopped to new markets.

“The project has a good business link that lets them use real world and problem solving skills,” Eargle said. “We want them to see that what they’re learning has value.”

“It’s social studies through the lens of entrepreneurship,” Lofton added.

Just days into the school term, Spring Hill students can see how the crossover classes will help them arrive at their career goals with more tools – even if they haven’t picked their “dream job” just yet.

“I’m not sure what I want to be in the business world, but I know the Entrepreneurial Academy will be a benefit,” said sophomore Maggie Todd. “I’m ready to see where this takes me.”

Todd, one of several who transferred from Chapin High, is getting the good foundation through a leadership class this semester.

“It’s a really fun class, and we’re learning a lot about what it takes to be a leader,” she said.

A look inside SHHS' brand-new cafeteria. Word is that the food is excellent.

A look inside SHHS’ brand-new cafeteria. Word is that the food is excellent.

With the school currently hosting fewer than 600 students, Todd said the class sizes of 20 to 25 students are allowing her and fellow academy members to get extra help as well as interact with those from other schools.

“I like the smaller atmosphere and personal attention from teachers,” she said. “There are a lot of my Chapin friends here but I’ve made new ones, too. Now when I go to another school for a game, I know people there.”

To encourage a well-rounded education, students can take courses relating to their School of Study (i.e. sports psychology, agricultural studies, digital media and design, etc.) as well as a categories of their choosing. With her background in dance and love of baseball, Todd is excited about the chance to explore the Exercise Science Academy.

The environment of Spring Hill is purposefully conducive to helping students glean all they can from their courses. Everything from the college-like cafeteria with multiple seating styles to the outdoor study areas is aimed at making students enjoy school.

“Officials wanted areas for them to study and brainstorm,” agreed Katrina Goggins, Lexington-Richland Five public information specialist.

When they’re not sitting in on a natural resources class or tinkering with the latest broadcast technology, students are thoroughly appreciating the “new school” feel and the chance to be leading the way for future Spring Hill classes.

“It’s cool to be able to say I’m one of the first ones here,” Todd said. “I’m glad to be able to build it up.”

Lofton was happy to give his students responsibility when it came to boosting Spring Hill spirit.

“I want them to help develop the identity of the school,” he said.

A large student council already has been busy as has the student advisory committee, which came up with Spring Hill’s honor code. Soon, each academy will feature officers and an executive committee that will plan activities for the group. Since the school doesn’t feature music courses, students have taken upon themselves to form clubs to utilize their talents.

Lofton also has the goal of implementing academic advisory committees to bring in employers, business owners and parents for support and input on Spring Hill courses. Internship offers from community leaders are piling up on Lofton’s desk, too.

Students will continue to have a voice as they’ll get and give report cards each nine weeks. Through regular feedback, they’ll be able to talk to administrators and teachers about positives and things they feel are missing.

One change is already on the way after students asked for more study spaces. Since many travel a long distance to Spring Hill, they need a central area to plan group projects and hold study sessions. Lofton said the media center’s hours will soon be extended to give students a safe place to do homework and hang out. A new coffee shop is also in the works so they can get an afternoon caffeine jolt when needed. Culinary and hospitality students will benefit greatly from hands-on experience as they eventually take over the coffee shop.

All in all, Lofton and the Spring Hill team are predicting great things ahead as they witness students pursuing their individual goals in hopes of leaving their mark on the world.

“That’s what they’re coming here to do,” he said.

Categories: Education, Lexington County, Local News, Richland County