Compass Collegiate Academy is on a mission to demonstrate that a school can be much more than a place where students learn how to read, write and master the basic principles of math. Located in a diverse area of downtown Charleston, the year-old charter school has already established its academic credentials through test results posted by its kindergarten and first-grade scholars.
Executive Director Elizabeth Simpson is among the first to admit that most of the elementary schools in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties – the areas served by CCA – still have a long way to go to reach elite status academically.
“We can do better. We must do better. We’re supposed to be preparing our scholars to reach their hopes and dreams,” she says. “If we’re not equipping them with the tools to do that, we’re not doing our job. We want to compete with the schools at the very top.”
Simpson points out that CCA is a “diverse by design, inclusive community.” During its first academic year, it’s enrollment of 52 kindergarten and first-grade students was 60% Black, 29% White, 9% mixed race and 2% Hispanic or Latino. Adding a grade every year until the school includes eighth-graders, Simpson expects her staff to serve the needs of more than 100 students during the 2022-2023 academic year. Admission is open to everyone in the tri-county area, with only one requirement: The student must be at least 5 years old by Sept. 1.
Simpson says there are approximately 15 spots available for the academic year that starts in August.
CCA, which is not affiliated with the Charleston County School District, is a public school, and there are no tuition charges. As a charter school, CCA has the flexibility it requires “to meet the needs of our children and families.”
Simpson says as the school grows, a larger building will be necessary, but there are no plans to leave the community the school currently serves.
“We will outgrow the building, but we are not going off to the suburbs. This is a place where families need quality school options,” Simpson says.
She adds that scholars receive free breakfast, lunch and a snack during the school day, which begins at 8 a.m. and continues until 5:30 p.m. for those who take advantage of CCA’s after-school program, which offers tutoring, arts and crafts, reading, games and other activities, “providing a fun and safe space for our kids.”
During the school day, each student enjoys the advantages of instruction in small groups.
“They’re going to get individual attention. They are loved, cared for and academically pushed,” Simpson says, adding that scholars participate in music, dance, physical education and, of course, recess, in addition to their academic pursuits. CCA is building well-rounded scholars from the inside out going above and beyond the classic curriculum with their social emotional learning program, dedicating time each day for their students to develop important social-emotional skills.
Once a week, the entire school comes together to recognize “scholar superheroes,” award trophies for various accomplishments and interact with “Focus”, a stuffed eagle that serves as the school’s mascot.
Compass Collegiate Academy’s influence extends well beyond the school’s building. CCA partners with the Green Heart Project, a farm-to-school education nonprofit with a nearby urban farm where students learn about planting and harvesting a variety of crops. And there is ample opportunity for family members to participate in school activities as well, whether for events such as “trunk or treat” or just to come to the school to read to the kids.
Everything that happens at Compass Collegiate Academy is a byproduct of its mission: “To provide every scholar with the academic foundation and strong habits that inspire and cultivate lifelong learners who lead purposeful, civic lives.”
To learn more about Compass Collegiate Academy, visit cca-chs.org.