The grounds sprawl out comfortably along the drive to the heart of San Marcos Baptist Academy (SMBA).
Downtown is just minutes away, east on Ranch Road 12 and Hopkins Street. Yet, in the nearby city, there’s a mix of misunderstanding about this 220-acre campus and the activities that go on here.
Some are fooled because the school is called an “academy”. They think it’s a military prep facility. It isn’t-although participation in the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) is required for first-semester high school boys and is optional for all high school students of any grade.
Others may be misled by “Baptist” in the name. While the school was started by Baptists, and they still share in the funding, SMBA is open to students of all backgrounds.
The Baptist reference, however, accurately hints at the faith-component that is a major focus of the SMBA experience. A full-time campus minister serves the students. Monday morning devotions, Wednesday morning chapel, discipleship training, and other opportunities for missions and spiritual development are provided. And graduation requirements include 2 semesters of Bible classes.
SMBA’s Learning Skills Program for those diagnosed with learning differences-along with a structured academic and behavior focus-has led others to think of the school in remedial terms, with limited outcomes. This is hardly accurate because 95% of graduates go on to higher education. Apparently something is working well-including the Skills Program.
Communications Director Shelley Henry says the school has to deal with the ironic circumstance of being part of San Marcos for a hundred years and yet being misunderstood by many who live here. She calls it their “best kept secret”. She wants to set the record straight.
She says, “SMBA is a coeducational, college-preparatory, private Christian school” with lots of options for students of various needs and interests.
With the variety of all that happens at SMBA, it’s easy to understand why there are misunderstandings, and it’s hard to describe the place in a few words. The most efficient description is in terms of student provisions and outcomes.
SMBA has 250 students. All but 60 of these are housed in campus dorms. Internationals make up about 1/3 of the student body. In the midst of this variety, several characteristics of the school stand out.
First, structure is big here.
Average class size is 12. Evening study halls are provided for language-specific groups and dorm students. A faculty mentor/advocate tracks each student’s academic and general behavior and is available for daily interaction. Every 3 weeks, grade reports are sent to parents.
For “at-risk-of-failing” students, a special evening study hall is required, with individualized tutoring at a 1:5 tutor-to-student ratio. A Learning Skills Center is available for those with mild to moderate learning differences.
There is an English-as-a-Second-Language Program, accommodating Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish and other language-groups.
Dormitory supervision includes 2 directors and, on each dorm hallway, 3 resident assistants. Supervision is configured at a 1:8 staff-to-student ratio.
Disciplinary policies are built on a responsibility-building format that emphasizes rewards and recognition for good and improving behavior.
Second, quality is big here.
The faculty includes 3 PhDs and 16 MAs. The Leadership Education and Development Program (LEAD) gives students focused opportunities for service and leadership. Besides standard Advance Placement classes, the “Dual Credit Program” allows students to build college credit through hours earned toward high school graduation. To accommodate this ground-breaking program, some SMBA faculty members function as adjunct professors of Austin Community College, San Antonio College and St. Philip’s College (San Antonio).
On the social side, special holiday dinners, parties and fine arts programs offer training and practice in social interaction and etiquette.
Third, wholeness is big here.
Students are exposed to a menu of options that allows them to develop in a number of ways that are not so obvious-or are nonexistent-in many school settings.
The military and faith components were mentioned above. In addition, walk-ons are welcome for the 10 athletic teams, from football to golf to power-lifting.
Many intramural sports are also available, with unexpected offerings like marksmanship and orienteering (competition in navigating a challenging terrain, using a map and compass).
There is an active, honored 4-H program, with facilities on campus (or off campus for those who have the resources) and opportunities to show and compete. There is an equestrian team.
Other campus clubs include National Honor Society and a Boy Scout troop.
Broad experience of music and other performing and visual arts is also encouraged.
Numerous student activities, on and off campus, fill out the active student’s schedule.
Finally we observe that, as SMBA enters its second hundred years, the newly installed president, John Garrison, personifies the high goals and hopes of staff, faculty and supporters.
Garrison is former Associate Vice President and Dean of Students at Texas State University. He is billed as “a veteran educator with administrative and teaching experience in the public and private sectors”-and he has lived in San Marcos for the past 32 years. With these credentials and ties to San Marcos, perhaps a new era of community understanding has begun.
By BOB GARRINGER
Photos viewed from top left, clockwise: (1) Anastasia Parish and Aaron Abugaber after class, ready to begin afternoon activities (2) The Administration and Academic buildings at the Alumni Plaza entrance (3) John Garrison, new SMBA president (4), Tom Rhodes and Natalie Lynn at the Learning Skills Center (5) The academy as it appeared in the past
Alyssa Shallenberger, Michael Young and Kristi Allison in biology class
SMBA equine students at the 2007 Veterans Day parade