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Imagine an elementary school perched above a beautiful beach, not unlike a sand castle. Inside, classrooms are level with the tops of the trees, children can peek into neighboring rooms through porthole-like windows, and they can touch and closely examine water environments. Instructors are teaching more than just science and math; they delve into biology and social responsibility as well.

There’s really no need to imagine all this. It’s what reality is all about for students, parents, faculty and staff at the new Sullivan’s Island Elementary School. The 74,000-square-foot school, which will open in the fall of 2014, cost $26.5 million and will house 500 students. According to Principal Susan King, the new building lives up to the school’s mantra of “learning by the sea.” 

Because the school is located within shouting distance of the Atlantic Ocean, it had to be built on stilts, which brings classrooms to an almost treehouse-like height, King said. Windows are places on interior walls that encourage exploration and inspiration inside the building, while the unique Design and Discover Lab will teach students preliminary engineering skills.

Students will learn outside the walls of the school as well, on two second-floor decks. One deck will include a telescope and WeatherBug weather monitoring system borrowed from the Sullivan’s Island Fire Department, while another will function as a hands-on garden lab. In addition, an outdoor classroom will be built in the vacant space below the building. The curriculum will also focus on biology and environmental sciences, with one of the most unique features being the  portable touch tanks,” purchased using funds raised by the Friends of Sullivan’s Island Elementary School. Each tank  will house a different water environment and can be moved from classroom to classroom. To King, it’s the small details such as the touch tanks that will make a huge impact on the students.

“A focus on sustainability will go hand-in-hand with the nature-inspired design and curriculum. This is a partial magnet school, and we’re really taking it to heart about what that means, so we wanted to create an education platform that really honors being green and honors living in a more sustainable fashion,” commented Loren Ziff, the School Improvement Council’s rebuilding chair.