Then and Now

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Seven decades of St. Andrew’s School

Photography courtesy of  ST. ANDREW’S SCHOOL

WHEN WE THINK of St. Andrew’s School, most envision the esteemed independent school built in 1978, nestled halfway between downtown Savannah and Tybee on its idyllic Wilmington Island campus. But St. Andrew’s had its beginnings years earlier — 75 years ago, in fact, when in 1947, the Independent Presbyterian Church of Savannah, located downtown on Bull Street, founded a pre-school. 

“Then, like many schools, people fell in love with their school community, and so they kept adding grades and matriculating up,” says St. Andrew’s Head of School Dr. Kelley Waldron.

Independent Presbyterian Day School was born. But, as grades kept being added so that students could stay together, the school began to run out of room.

During the 1970s, Independent Presbyterian’s governing body deemed it necessary for Savannah to have another quality college preparatory school. At the same time, Wilmington Island was being developed as a residential community. It seemed the ideal location. Parents and business leaders worked together to raise money and secure a site for this new school. IPC relinquished its control, allowing the school to become an independent, nonprofit institution governed by a board of trustees. It was given the name St. Andrew’s on the Marsh to reflect both its Scottish heritage and winsome island setting.

St. Andrew’s School soccer team, circa 1980s

“The natural environment and ecology of where we are is amazing,” Waldron says, noting that Betz Creek, a tidal creek, runs right through the middle of campus. “There are a couple of grade levels where you’ll see the kids actively down by the creek, in the creek …” 

In addition to incorporating its coastal setting in other ways — such as programming with Tybee’s Burton 4-H center, beach clean-ups and more — Waldron is proud of the work they have done to push forward the conversation about what it means to educate students for the future, to become part of a global society.

“Back in 2008, we became the only school in Savannah to become authorized as an IB (International Baccalaureate) World School. It’s a program that requires a two-year authorization process and offers a prestigious diploma recognized not just by colleges and universities in the United States, but across the entire world. The program really teaches students to think critically, to develop skills that will be important in their future work.” In 2009, St. Andrew’s was also the first pre-K–12 school in the country to implement a one-to-one iPad program. 

“It’s exciting for me to see the growth of the school from the place of being a really nurturing, warm, kind community.” — Dr. Kelley Waldron

“It’s exciting for me to see the growth of the school from the place of being a really nurturing, warm, kind community,” says Waldron. “That’s always been in the DNA of St. Andrew’s. We’re able to educate our students well because of the relationships we’re able to form.”

Scott Searcy, director of public relations, points to the way older students partner with and mentor younger students. Some current students are also legacies of those who went to the original Independent Presbyterian Day School. “We’re still connected to that founding from 75 years ago,” he says.

Waldron says one of the best parts about her job is spending potentially a span of 15 years with any given family. “The amount of change that happens over that period of time in a child’s life, in a family’s life,” she says. “We get to partner with them, to see the whole scope rather than one bad moment, to help raise people from young kids into young adults.”

To wit, she recalls one recent encounter with an incoming senior.

“Our parents welcome our senior class every year with posters and collages of their times at St. Andrew’s. I walked up to a family, and their kid is a great kid, but he was an eighth-grade boy once, and eighth-grade boys can be challenging, you know? And I said to him, “You’re here! We made it!” His mom got really teary-eyed, and I got teary-eyed, because this is the work of educating students — to raise them into young adults,” she says. “It’s really a very special thing.”