The Light of Education

Published June 1, 2005

There wasn’t much money or structure in Faye Capers’ home life while she was growing up in the projects of Texarkana, Texas in the 1950s.

Both her parents were alcoholics, and they didn’t have a high school education between them. But they did one thing right: They made sure Capers and her two sisters never missed a day of school.

It was her teachers that made the difference in Faye Capers’ life, caring not only for her education, but also for her. “That’s where the light came from,” she says today. “That’s where my structure came from.”

Shedding Light

That light is now being shed through Capers to nearly 50 students in South Carolina. Two years ago, after a 25-year career teaching in public and private schools, she founded the academy that bears her name: the Capers Preparatory Christian Academy (CPCA) on Jones Island. The school opened its doors to just 12 students in grades 1 through 5; today, 43 first- through ninth-graders cram into a leased suite, while another 25 are on the waiting list.

In founding CPCA, Capers knew she couldn’t help every student. But like her own teachers, she was determined to help those who needed it. And if that meant a little extra something from her … well, that was fine. That’s what she does, because that’s what her teachers did for her.

It was Capers’ teachers who inspired her to get out of bed when she was their student, and over the next three decades their inspiration helped her earn a bachelor’s degree, two masters degrees, and an Ed.S. She will receive her Ph.D. in educational leadership this fall.

Long Road

After high school, Capers’ teachers helped her get a scholarship to a small college in Dallas. Four years later she had a B.A. in business and moved to South Carolina, where she worked in an accounting office.

But Capers knew she wanted to instill the same light in children as her teachers had instilled in her. So she enrolled in an education program and began teaching at an elementary school in Charleston in 1979. For the past 25 years, she has taught in various elementary and middle schools throughout the Charleston area.

The longer she has taught, Capers says now, the more she understands how individualized education needs to be. Classroom sizes fluctuate, with no concern for how that fluctuation might affect students. Because bureaucrats and elected officials dictate curriculum in public schools, she and her colleagues had little control over how long they could dwell on a given subject. With all this rigidity, she says, “a child could easily fall through the cracks.”

Having spent all that time in the classroom, both as a graduate student and as a schoolteacher, Capers was determined to prove that something could be done to end the academic failure that claims so many students.

Sense of Belonging

When Capers opened CPCA, some of her students were failing in public schools; others struggled with behavior problems. One student had been suspended 27 times before coming to CPCA.

To help identify their needs, each student takes diagnostic tests in reading, writing. and math. For Capers, the most important part of the admission process is the personal interview, where she watches the student’s eyes and body language, to see whether he or she really wants to be at CPCA.

“I can help them,” she says. “I want someone that wants to be here. They have a choice. And when they come, they know this is where they are wanted.

“And I know this is where they want to be.”

Royce van Tassell ([email protected]) is executive director of Education Excellence Utah.