Last year, Phoenix Charter High celebrated "the Fabulous Five."
This year, it celebrated "the Tenacious 13," its graduating Class of 2016, on June 2 at Weldon Auditorium.
"Nothing has been given to these students, except a quality education," said Principal Elease Fulton. "What they didn't work for, they didn't get. They earned that high school diploma like anyone else, and that's what they will get on this evening."
Phoenix High was founded nearly two decades ago at the former Alcolu Elementary School, offering a high school education to "divergent learners who have struggled to succeed in a traditional school setting," Fulton said.
A smaller student body allows students who perform better in a individualized environment and a lower student-teacher ratio to have more "personalized learning, build camaraderie with classmates and receive motivation to be successful," Fulton said.
"Students come here with low self-esteem," she said. "They begin to build their academic self-esteem back when they start performing well and believing that they can achieve success and work hard."
Fulton stresses frequently that Phoenix is not an "alternative school" for students who have been barred from Clarendon's other public and private institutions.
"When students come to Phoenix, it's like some people are putting them down," she said. "From the time they get here until they are graduates, the staff and I spend time letting them know that they are important, that they are just like any other students in any other high school in the state of South Carolina."
She said the school's curriculum follows all state requirements for the basic high school diploma, and includes all standardized testing required by other public schools.
"Everything that is required for any student of any South Carolina high school is required of you at Phoenix," she said. "This isn't a quick fix. Students don't fly through Pheonix. They still have to do the work. They have to have 24 credits."
Retired educator Moses Levy said in a file story on Phoenix that the curriculum is taught through "instruction, collaborative learning and project-based learning."
Its classification as a charter school allows it more flexibility with class schedules than typical public schools. Fulton said that 24 minutes is set aside each morning for "enrichment," where students can be tutored in any subject area. Class days are also shorter than those of Clarendon's other schools.
Phoenix students are also allowed to take electives at Manning High and participate in the school's sports, ROTC, band and social programs.
"They can also take classes at the FE DuBose Center and earn dual-enrollment college credit at Central Carolina," Fulton said.
Phoenix started the 2015-16 school year with about 40 students in ninth through 12th grades, with four full-time teachers who all retired from the public school system.
"One thing that makes Phoenix so unique is that with small class sizes, these students build strong bonds with their teachers," Fulton said. "The bonds are stronger than if they went to a regular high school where the teacher might have 25 or 30 students per class."
She said the school is open to all students, who must go through an application process to be accepted.
"We operate on a combination of state and local funding," said Fulton, who noted that the school comes under Clarendon School District 2. Money is awarded on a per-pupil basis through the Education Finance Act.