Nothing could be finer

Comfy couches, reading lamps and other cozy furniture bring touches of home to the school. Principal Jeaneen Tucker reads to, clockwise: Reilly Lewis (pink boots), Aiden Henderson, Anderson Butler, Olivia Douglass, Dre’ylen Perry’Brooks, Gavin Bridges, Celine Shalabi, Santiago Castro and Tucker. Lady, laying on the floor, patiently listens.

Blythewood’s Round Top Elementary School has been awarded a “Palmetto’s Finest” designation by the S.C. Association of School Administrators – one of only five schools in the state to receive that honor this year. According to the SCASA website, the award recognizes schools that offer “excellent instruction, outstanding leaders, strong family and community involvement and a supportive business community.”
“We’re thrilled and honored,” said Jeaneen Tucker, who has served as principal of Round Top since the school opened in 2003 for grades K-5. “This is completely a community award – our students, teachers and parents are a super strong team.”
After the school was named as one of nine finalists, Tucker said the students were very excited about watching the March 21 announcement of the awards on ETV.
“The entire school gathered in the multi-purpose room to watch the live feed – except the fourth graders, who were on a field trip to the zoo,” she said. “But the teachers and parents with them even got some video footage of their cheering when they heard the news!”
Celebrations began right away with a cookie party at lunch the following day, and Tucker said she anticipates lots of little things to mark the occasion, along with a big event such as an outdoor dance party with a DJ.
So what does it take for a school to be named one of Palmetto’s Finest?
Well, having a dog helps! For the past five years, a friendly yellow Labrador Retriever named Lady has been a favorite of students on the days she accompanies her owner, teacher Holly Threatt, to school. Lady is a former seeing-eye dog and a certified therapy dog with an easygoing personality that encourages the children’s affection and supports their good work habits. Tucker said that Lady’s presence helps students develop the compassion and humanity that is kindled through fun, friendly relationships with animals.
“She’s a gentle spirit – you can see it in her eyes,” Tucker said, adding that Lady is especially gifted at comforting children who might be having a bad day. “She has added a wonderful element to our school.”
And Lady’s even started a trend – this year, two more dogs started coming for school day visits, adding to the companionable atmosphere.
The school’s outdoor environment provides another distinctive component – the architecturally stylish building is nestled into a bucolic wooded setting, complete with a winding nature trail through the pines. Tucker said there are many elements that foster a warm atmosphere both outside and inside the building.
“The environment is very rich, aesthetically and academically, which is something we were very intentional about,” she said. “We have tons of murals throughout the building, low lights in the classrooms, lots of greenery and pleasant muted colors.”
She said the school’s focus on art, technology and cultural awareness is another big part of what makes it special. Round Top is an “Arts in the Basic Curriculum” school, one of only two at the elementary level in Richland 2.
“Our arts program is phenomenal, and I think it truly sets us apart,” she said. “For instance, we have artists-in-residence through a grant from the S.C. Arts Commission, and this year we were delighted to have the West African Drum Corps. We also do a major stage production every other year – this year it was Peter Pan, Jr., which involved about 60 of our students and was amazing.”
But Tucker added that there’s also just an overall quality that differentiates Round Top.
“What I think sets us apart the most is the inherent character of our school, which you can feel, hear and see when you’re in the building,” she said. “We opened Round Top with a vision for raising responsible citizens, and we are doing that in many ways. For instance, we focus on 19 life skills throughout the school year – things like Courage, Effort, Responsibility, Perseverance and Caring – and this is built into the culture and the climate of our school.”
The Palmetto’s Finest award will be presented during a ceremony at the Innovative Ideas Institute in Myrtle Beach in June.