Forty years ago, a group of parents established Shawnee Country Day School to offer a more robust education for their children than was found in the public school system. They wanted a program that would challenge their children and focus on the individual student's interests and what they needed to thrive. The school began with 43 students in a former Pauline public elementary school building.
That small school became Topeka Collegiate, now located off West 21st Street on SW Eveningside Drive. Children come from 14 different zip codes to attend. Almost 2,000 students and more than 600 graduates have started their educational journey there, with classes from Pre-K to eighth grade. The school still strives for the high level of academic excellence imagined
by its founders, and the recently launched Sustain Campaign hopes to extend that mission well into the future.
"We don't want to compete with the public schools," says Dr. Lyn Rantz, Head of School. "We want to feed them. That's one of the reasons we only go to the eighth grade. We believe during those foundational years, many kids need smaller classes, more personalized education, and more rigor at a younger age, which helps them thrive and gain confidence. Going into the public schools from Collegiate is a perfect segue because of their advanced placement classes, honors classes, and the International Baccalaureate program at Washburn Rural. We prepare our kids so when they get to high school, they're ready to take those advanced courses with the focus, skills, and confidence to do it."
Topeka Collegiate is the city's only independent school. It is not tied to any government funding, curriculum, or religious doctrine. The school is also a 501(c) (3) non-profit not connected to any other outside agency. This allows them to establish a curriculum based on their values of academic excellence, active citizenship, and humanitarian ideals that adapt to the student's needs.
Dr. Rantz notes, "I think sometimes the misconception is we only raise the smartest kids. We bring out the smartest in each kid. We bring out the creativity of each child. We bring out the researcher of each child. Every child will get a well-rounded science curriculum and Spanish program every year. They will learn to communicate with all types of people and be out in the community with service learning every year. We're not just doing bookwork."
Greg Schwerdt, the founder of Schwerdt Design Group, is not only an alumni parent of Topeka Collegiate, but he's also the grandparent to a current student. He says, "At Topeka Collegiate, children are encouraged to embrace their unique individuality and explore their interests while achieving academic success. As a father and grandfather of Topeka Collegiate students, seeing them flourish as students and individuals has been among my life's greatest pleasures."
Anyone who thinks their family must be wealthy for the kids to attend Topeka Collegiate would be greatly mistaken. Forty-eight percent of the school's families receive some financial assistance thanks to the school's endowment fund.
"We are quite affordable for families interested in a private school education," Dr. Rantz explains. "What we find is alumni will come back and talk about how their education paid back because they were able to go on and have success with scholarships or through taking advanced college classes in high school. It saved them money, in the long run, being able to complete those dual credits courses, which allowed them to enter Washburn University as a college sophomore."
The school recently announced The Sustain Campaign to help continue its educational mission. The goal is to raise $6 million to enhance the school in two key areas: the campus and the school's endowment. While the endeavor was announced in September, the campaign steering committee raised $3.4 million during the campaign's silent phase, which is 57- percent of the total goal.
One million dollars will go into the endowment fund to secure teacher salaries, student financial assistance, and the financial future. The remainder will go to upgrade the HVAC systems, windows, and roof. A new secure front entry and office area will also be built, along with new art, music, and science classrooms and student collaboration spaces. Outdoor education areas will also be created on the eight-acre campus. Schwerdt's company was named the architect for the project. "We are honored to work with a learning institution that challenges children to reach their potential while encouraging joy and commitment to their community," he says.
Dr. Rantz points out, "The generosity of our community is really strong. You see that when they choose to give for tuition, but then they also choose to invest in other children beyond their own. When you think about it, we don't get any government funding. We can't go out for a bond. We don't get any tax revenue. It is truly a group of folks that believe in a purpose."
For anyone interested in The Sustain Campaign, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website topekacollegiate.org for information.
"Everyone is welcome if they want to come check us out. Our doors are open to all families interested in an independent school education," Dr. Rantz says.