SCCS Head of School Dell Cook with Clodfelters

From left, Brian and Julianne Clodfelter, shown with Head of School Dell Cook, established the Moore County Scholarship endowment fund at Sandhills Classical Christian School in honor of longtime educator Shirley Clodfelter.

When school starts this week, Sandhills Classical Christian School will welcome two new students to its Upper School on a new scholarship program for children from low-income families.

The school has long assisted families who demonstrate financial need with up to 50 percent of tuition. Even so, Head of School Dell Cook came on board last year knowing that classical Christian education is out of reach for many.

“It doesn't necessarily reach out to those that are in the lower socioeconomic classes and even below the poverty level, so this scholarship is oriented to try to reach into that arena, as it were,” said Cook.

“I think there’s always been a heartbeat for making this education and this opportunity available to as many people as possible.”

At the time, SCCS was already working to do just that. Parents and longtime supporters Brian and Julianne Clodfelter made an initial donation last fall toward establishing an endowment fund toward the school’s new Moore County Scholarship.

In many ways, that’s been a step toward paying it forward for the couple. Rhetson Companies, which they founded and which Brian Clodfelter leads as CEO, has developed the Sandhills Classical Christian’s Whispering Pines campus from an empty field over the last several years.

The school now holds freestanding Upper and Lower School buildings. A gymnasium and performing arts center are in the works.

But the scholarship carries a more poignant legacy too. Shirley Clodfelter, Brian’s mother, gave the gift of reading to countless first- and second-grade students in her 35-year career teaching at Hillcrest Elementary in Burlington.

The endowment fund will bear her name, and pass on the gift of learning to more students who might not otherwise have access to what SCCS offers. Former students recall Shirley Clodfelter as a “pure and kind spirit” who “knew exactly how to engage the young and not-so-sure.”

“Being a teacher was the highlight of her life. That was her purpose,” Julianne Clodfelter recalled.

The Clodfelters discovered SCCS when Julianne was still working as a nurse at FirstHealth and sought out a comprehensive preschool program for their youngest daughter. Two years later, they couldn’t imagine enrolling her in kindergarten anywhere else.

“Our daughter has been here since her three-year-old preschool class, and she’s going into sixth grade now. So Shirley was with her when she was here until fourth grade. She loved the academics here. Phonetics, the way we teach to read, that’s what she believed in.”

After Shirley Clodfelter passed away suddenly two years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed a fitting opportunity to preserve her memory. SCCS and other private schools in Moore County saw enrollment spike when public schools reopened only part-time last fall.

So the Clodfelters decided to help open that door for families with financial constraints so that SCCS can reach a broader range of Moore County students.

The Moore County Scholarship will cover 95 percent of tuition for students selected. That leaves families to cover about $450 a year in tuition matching, depending on their child’s grade level.

Families will qualify based on income as evaluated by a third party financial aid assessment. From there, scholarships will be awarded based on academic and individual merit.

Once the scholarship is awarded, it will be available to students through 12th grade as long as they maintain good academic and disciplinary standing at SCCS.

For now, the school plans to bring two new students into the Moore County Scholarship Program annually –– but that could change. SCCS has reached out to area churches and religious ministries to raise awareness of the scholarship, and possibly support for it as well.

“We’ve had some days of small beginnings from the standpoint of the word going out, so applicants for the program were fairly small this year,” said Cook. “We’re looking forward, as the word gets out and as we continue to build those relationships out in the community, that we’ll have more applicants and hopefully then the capacity to build the fund and make that available to more students.”

The application process for 2022-2023 is scheduled to begin Jan. 1. For more information about Sandhills Classical Christian School and the Moore County Scholarship, visit sandhillsccs.org/give/mcsf/.

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