COLUMBIA — At St. Peter School, the arts have become a vibrant part of the daily educational experience.
In the past year, St. Peter has become a laboratory school for the University of South Carolina’s School of Music Education and also for the USC Department of Dance. Graduate students from USC are offering classes in music and dance to St. Peter students as part of their graduate work.
Principal Madeline McMillion said in a recent interview that this year St. Peter will also be working with the Columbia Museum of Art on art education projects, and in the next few months the school will have a poet-in-residence to work with students on writing projects as part of the South Carolina Poetry Initiative.
“Having these arts programs here is a dream come true — it’s been my goal ever since I came here,” McMillion said.
McMillion has been principal at the historic school on Assembly Street for 12 years. She says the addition of the arts to the daily school experience simply adds to the already vibrant atmosphere at St. Peter. Founded in 1852, St. Peter is the oldest Catholic school still in existence in the Diocese of Charleston.
The school draws students from a wide stretch of South Carolina’s midlands. St. Peter Church has parishioners from 41 zip code areas around the Midlands, and the school’s student body comes from 45 zip codes. Many of the students come from Lexington County — just across the river from Columbia — which has three Catholic churches but no Catholic school.
McMillion said St. Peter has recently seen an increase in enrollment to 151 students. The school serves four-year kindergarten to sixth grade.
Developments at the school in the past year include a quarterly newsletter for parishioners and parents called “The Angel Connection,” which features articles on student achievements and events.
McMillion said St. Peter has also started working with CSM Inc., a consulting firm that helps Catholic schools develop strategic plans for achieving goals and trains faculty and staff on the nuts and bolts of managing an effective school. St. Peter is one of three schools in the Diocese of Charleston participating in this program.
“It’s a good experience — it’s always a good thing for you to look at yourself, see where you’ve been and where you’re going,” McMillion said.
Along with the new arts courses, St. Peter students take Spanish classes twice a week along with their regular academic and religious studies.
Spiritual life is, of course, the mainstay of the school community. Each day is dedicated to God through prayer held before the beginning of the school day in the sanctuary of St. Peter Church. Students are also reminded to care for the less fortunate in the community.
During Advent, St. Peter students “adopted” less fortunate families in Columbia and provided Christmas gifts and needed items for them. The students also regularly collect nonperishable foods for Columbia-based Harvest Hope Food Bank and make special favors to put on trays for hospital patients.
The key to St. Peter’s success, McMillion says, is providing a challenging and warm educational atmosphere. She describes a school community where faculty, students, staff and families are generous, caring and devoted to following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
“Our main philosophy is that happy teachers make for happy children, and happy children will be excited about learning,” McMillion said.