School prepares our young people for the world they will one day face on their own.
Decisions we make every day affect or even determine our experience—shouldn’t our educational system reflect this?
That is precisely the concept behind May River High School, with enrollment of 950 students and approximately 85 faculty and personnel. Not only will it be the first time there is a choice of high schools in Bluffton, but those who attend will have increased ability to start driving their future in the direction they want it to go.
The facility in the New Riverside area of Pritchardville contains a grand auditorium and college-style lecture halls. The entire student body goes to lunch at the same time. During an hour-long period, they have access to faculty the way college students would. All these carefully considered details are intended to take students beyond traditional schooling into a style of education that is being called Acceleration Academy.
“The idea is that students will be exposed to more than they normally would,” said principal Todd Bornscheuer.
“Through partnerships with industry and the community, we can offer things like internships and mentoring. So these high school-aged students will have some pretty amazing opportunities that we may not have had, or that we would have had to travel to.”
Bornscheuer, formerly the principal of Bluffton’s H.E. McCracken Middle School, brings over two decades of education experience to his position at May River. But, perhaps more importantly, he has fresh enthusiasm and a passion for ingenuity that enliven his work. His hope is that from the first day students enter the doors of May River High School they will be engaged, excited and encouraged to take an active role in their experience.
“What find when students choose their own focus and goals, they are more likely to succeed,” said Bornscheuer.
May River will not only offer the full complement of advanced placement courses and college dual-enrollment options, but also technical training, as part of Project Lead the Way. This means a four-year curriculum in areas like welding, engineering, automotive, nursing, law enforcement, cyber security and the new field of mechatronics, which combines electronics and mechanical engineering. May River staff members have even been “talking intensively” with Savannah College of Art & Design about potential partnerships. No matter what aptitudes and future dreams a student may have, May River facilitates their choices.
“So often we, as adults, tell kids what programs they should do,” said Bornscheuer.
“But one of the things that makes May River unique is our focus on giving students a voice. They have some ownership of their school.”
“We want students to be responsible academically for their decisions and for creating a positive climate. Be Supportive means we want academic risk-takers who will raise their hands with innovative new ideas. And Be Present means be a part of this new culture and really find your niche.”
Bornscheuer says he was a good student in high school but had no idea what he wanted to do in life. In college, he changed his major three times and “wandered aimlessly” for two years before dropping out. Then he joined the military, and four years later returned to college with a much better sense of direction—but it doesn’t have to be like that, he insists.
The alternative allows students to discover what they like and don’t like, while still in high school.
“Let’s say you enroll in a nursing program,” he posits, “and find out, OK, this is not how I thought it would be, I don’t like this at all. You have gained just as valuable an experience as the one where you become entrenched in what you really like, because it’s equally important to know what you don’t want to do, as what you do.”
Families districtwide have the ability to apply for School Choice, or be automatically enrolled where they are zoned. “Ultimately the vision of the superintendent is not only school choice, but also shared programming,” he says.
“For example, public safety: I have law enforcement at May River, but Bluffton High has firefighters. If a student is interested in firefighting, they can be bussed to Bluffton High for those classes. And same with someone from Bluffton High who wants to come to May River.”
Another forward-thinking approach is the Ambassador Program.
Community ambassadors experience the school from the inside. They participate and extend the reach of Acceleration Academy through their involvement, like by mentoring.
“Our mantra is Tradition Starts Today,” said Bornscheuer. “We focus our attention on establishing this culture, and now it’s time to become a part of it. Our students, faculty, parents and the community at large all participate. Once you get involved it’s easy to see how having responsible students instead of drop-outs benefits us all.”
Written by Michele Rodán-Shaw