A Love of LearningFounded by the Rev. George Whitefield as a home for 61 orphans, Bethesda has the distinction of being the oldest childcare facility in the United States. In its earliest days, Bethesda was visited by many of America’s founding fathers, and Benjamin Franklin was one of the institution’s earliest supporters. Over the past three centuries, Bethesda has upheld Whitefield’s founding mission to teach “a love for God, a love of learning and a strong work ethic.” The Bethesda Home for Boys provided young men with a stable alternative to their home environment through 1991, adding an on-site academic program the following year. In 2011, the school was re-branded as Bethesda Academy, linking the institution back to Whitefield's original vision that Bethesda always be “a seat of sound learning.” Over the years, Bethesda has evolved into an award-winning middle and high school serving a diverse student population—and focused on helping boys succeed in the classroom and beyond. Today, the school has a deep commitment to college preparatory learning and high-quality instruction. With an emphasis on integrated learning and spiritual development, the academy tailors its academic and hands-on educational opportunities to the developing minds of young men. “We make learning dynamic,” the school’s long-time president, David Tribble, explains. “Bethesda is a unique culture with traditional classrooms as well as out door living laboratories.” “Our boys are a living expression of Bethesda’s core values,”adds T. Mills Fleming, a partner at HunterMaclean who serves as the chairman of the Board of Governors. “Bethesda provides the infrastructure within which the boys cangrow and prosper. They know we care, that they matter and that we will give them the necessary tools to succeed.”
A Living LaboratoryToday, Bethesda Academy is a school for more than 100 young men, with a curriculum designed specifically around the ways boys learn most effectively. With residential and day school options, Bethesda is home to a wildlife management program, an organic farm and garden (complete with Dwarf Nigerian Goats, egg-laying hens and grass-fed cattle) and a nationally ranked chess team. Instead of lugging expensive books, each student receives a laptop loaded with the necessary texts, as well as interactive games and activities designed to engage and stretch his attention span. “We teach the boys the value of discipline, responsibility and hard work in the classroom, on the playing field, and through our popular farm and garden work-study program,” Fleming says. “The boys can also earn credit towards their tuition by working on the farm (and other programs), and this makes them more appreciative of what it means to be a part of Bethesda’s rich heritage and culture.” The school’s lush campus boasts stunning waterfront views, picturesque moss-draped live oaks and an informative visitor center that is open to the public, sharing Bethesda’s incredible story through multi-media exhibits and rare artifacts. “There is no place like Bethesda in the United States,” Fleming declares. “We do not receive any state funding, so we have to raise close to $3.4 million per year to operate. Every dollar raised is a dollar well spent to give the boys a second chance to succeed.” During the past 275 years, one constant has remained: a commitment to Whitfield’s founding values. “Traditional values create a sense of brotherhood among our students,” Tribble explains. “They’re classmates, workmates and teammates who share a bond in a very unique learning culture.”
The Power of PlaceBethesda Academy is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and offers students a wide range of academic, athletic, vocational and spiritual development opportunities. “Bethesda is a powerful place, with carefully designed curriculum, programs and work study, producing boys and outcomes that are beginning to gain national recognition,” raves board vice-chairman John C. Helmken II, South State Bank regional executive and executive vice president. More than 85 percent of the school’s graduates attend college after graduation. Bethesda alumni have gone on to become acclaimed business leaders, scientists, teachers, doctors and professional athletes. Many institutions have come and gone over the past 275 years. So, what is the secret to Bethesda’s longevity? “We have learned that as the needs of our youth change, we need to change as well, while keeping our connection to traditional values,” Tribble muses. “You have to adapt and grow and learn and re-invent yourself.” That versatility has been key to Bethesda’s impact over nearly three centuries. With strong leadership, committed teachers and a clear mission, this is one Savannah institution with an illustrious past—and a bright future. “We will do everything we can,” Helmken promises, “to make sure that those who come after us are able to celebrate thousands of additional success stories.” That’s a promise for the next 275 years.
Beyond the ArchAllison Hersh takes notes at Georgia’s oldest—and, arguably, most breathtaking—educational institution. Practical Values: Bethesda’s founder, the Rev. George Whitfield, wanted the institution to be a place of strong Calvinist influence defined by a wholesome atmosphere and strong discipline. Boys were taught a variety of trades so they could earn a living as adults. Family Friendly: Although Bethesda was founded as an orphanage in 1740, its mission and focus have evolved over the years to include students of all backgrounds. Approximately half of the school’s students participate in the boarding program, while the other half live at home and attend Bethesda as a day school. Smart Moves: Bethesda is home to one of the nation’s top competitive chess teams. In 2014, Bethesda’s chess team competed in an intense three-day tournament in San Diego, California, ranking ninth in the nation in the Under 800 Division. Fighting Spirit: Reverend Whitefield’s legacy has a proud military history. A brave Bethesda boy has fought and died in every war in which the U.S. has been involved, dating all the way back to the American Revolutionary War. Historical Romance: The school’s Whitfield Chapel is one of the South’s most romantic places to tie the knot. With herringbone brick floors and vintage wooden pews, this historic chapel has hosted dreamy weddings for celebrities such as Paula Deen, actress Mandy Moore and country singer Joe Nichols.
Editor's LetterApparently, I can’t say it enough in this era of blurred lines: There is no pay to play in Savannah magazine.
Our advertisers support ethical content and choose to align their brand messages with our authentic cultural identity. That’s something worth considering—if, like many Savannahians, you tend to let your values influence your purchasing decisions.Thanks to the support of many wonderful locals, the editorial pages in your hands are the product of curiosity and community spirit, not bribery or backscratching. That includes this issue’s Best of Savannah™ reader poll, a straightforward popularity contest that depends entirely on your choices. No one on our staff may influence the outcome. We simply eliminate duplicate ballots and tally up your votes. This year, we’ve added editors’ picks in an effort to highlight the movements and makers that are enhancing the Savannah lifestyle. Those choices were influenced by our own observations, enthusiasm and educated guesses about what impassions our community of invested Savannahians. Nothing more. To round out this Best of Savannah™ issue, we started out by looking at the concept of “the best” from many different story angles, among them competition and pursuit of excellence. In particular, the city’s traditions of hunting, automobile racing and artistry captured our imaginations—you’ll see why—and we explored those topics thoughtfully, by unraveling the stories of numerous local characters. I’m proud of the work we do at Savannah magazine, and I see us getting better at it every day. Nothing makes us happier than a good story. And nothing crushes us like the assumption that our stewardship can be bought or sold. Your trust is important to us, and we work hard to earn it. That’s why ideas are the only editorial currency. Shady streets and squares: yes, please. Shady transactions: no, thank you. Now, what’s your story? —Annabelle Carr
In an open letter, a local artist urges city leaders to embrace our creative spirit.
Vote for your local favorites and WIN in Savannah magazine's 14th annual BEST OF SAVANNAH readers' poll.No one knows Savannah like Savannah magazine's readers ... and that's why we are asking you, the most invested Savannahians, to tell us who's the best in dining, nightlife, shopping, community, services and personalities in our 14th annual Best of Savannah Readers' Survey.
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For most of us, there’s a clear line between a novel and an author. The most we ever experience of the person behind the book is the bio on the back cover and maybe a carefully posed headshot. Not so for John Freeman. He makes his living interviewing writers the world over, from Nobel laureates to New York Times Best Sellers. For his new book, How to Read a Novelist, he pulls together several dozen of his most interesting and illuminating interviews, ranging from Salman Rushdie to Margaret Atwood to David Foster Wallace. The book reveals that there is no one definition of the writer’s life. Each author seems to have a focus and a process as unique as the works they create.