Clover's smallest elementary school has received a top award for the academic progress students have made.
At a conference in Myrtle Beach on Tuesday, Bethany Elementary was named a Distinguished Title 1 School for Overall Achievement, an honor that comes with $15,000 and a shot at winning a national competition.
"It has been a lot of hard work, and the teachers deserve every bit of the glory and deserve the credit for the award," Principal Calub Courtwright said.
State officials reviewed standardized test scores from South Carolina's 525 Title 1 schools, which get extra federal money because they have a large share of students from low-income homes.
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They narrowed the field to six schools in two categories - exceptional achievement over two years and narrowing the achievement gap between student groups.
Belleview Elementary in Rock Hill was named a Distinguished Title 1 School for closing the achievement gap in 2010 for educators' successful efforts to push students of all races and income to achieve at higher levels.
Bethany students have been posting gains for several years. The school's growth rating, which measures how well students improve year to year, jumped from "at-risk" in 2006 to "excellent" - the state's highest rating - in 2010.
A significant share of students improved on the English/language and math portions of the state's annual PASS test over the past two years.
"They're very caring and concerned about students," said Tammy McGill, whose three children attended Bethany. "They would bend over backward to help the kids. It's prepared all of my kids for higher learning."
When Bethany was named a finalist in September, the news "was a complete surprise," Courtwright said. "All we had to do basically was do our jobs."
Courtwright - in his second year as principal of the school of 290 students, six miles west of downtown Clover - contacted parents on Tuesday to thank them for their help.
At Bethany, where more than half the students receive free or reduced-price lunch, a common indicator of poverty, educators credit their success to a child-centered approach.
"It's about meeting the needs of students," said Kelly Hodges, who has taught third grade at Bethany for 28 years. "It's not a cookie-cutter approach. Just because it worked last year, we don't assume it will work this year."
The staff aims to engage children beyond academics.
Students can take part in an array of clubs before and after school, such as science, sports, safety patrol, recycling, fitness and office helpers.
"The students get there at 6:50 a.m. because they can't wait to get in the school," Courtwright said. It "gives them a sense of ownership. We really try to hammer home the message that our kids our leaders."
Having a small student body helps.
"The teachers not only know the students in their class, they know the students in other classes," Hodges said. "We work very hard and have very high expectations for our students.
"It's not unusual to see our teachers eating lunch and having a group of students around, helping them with school work."
The atmosphere on campus has a lot to do with Bethany's success, fourth-grade teacher Elizabeth Sain said.
"When you walk in, you feel like you have entered into a community," she said. "It's not just a school. Our staff is very intent on giving personalized instruction to students and to make it meaningful. ... There isn't anybody in the building that doesn't contribute in some way.
"You know the saying, 'It takes a village to raise a child?' Bethany is a great village."