By Michelle Love
Photos by Indian Springs School & contributed
In its 70 years of existence, Indian Springs School has proven it is not a typical institution.
The campus hides beyond the trees of its titular town outside of Pelham with a campus that spans across 350 acres. The building looks more like a museum than what you would think of as a school. The students are able to walk grounds and behold the sight of a picturesque lake that’s home to two swans and other animal life.
“Since the school’s founding, Indian Springs has been dedicated to inspiring intellectual curiosity and individual thought,” Indian Springs Head of School Scott Schamberger says. “The school’s motto of ‘Learning through Living’ and the fundamental value of participatory citizenship foster the culture that Indian Springs students are actively engaged in a unique and individualized educational journey.”
The boarding and day-school was founded in 1952 after Harvey G. Woodward, a Birmingham industrialist who attended MIT, left $6 million after his death to go towards the school’s creation. What began as a small boys school of roughly 62 students and 10 faculty has grown to more than 4,000 alums, representing 50 countries and six continents.
Currently, the school has 326 students in grades 8-12, representing nine states and 12 countries. Eighty-two of the students are boarding students who live on campus. In any given year, the school has 20-to-25 languages being spoken on campus.
The school has been ranked the number one private high school in Alabama for eight consecutive years and is currently ranked the number one high school in Alabama for both college prep and STEM. It is also in the top 50 best boarding schools in the U.S. and among only a handful in the South.
Indian Springs also offers more than 120 courses, including 18 AP classes, dozens of electives and numerous independent study options.
“Indian Springs is unapologetically different in the educational world,” Scott says. “Our campus is more reminiscent of a small liberal arts college rather than a high school. With 325 students in grades 8-12, we are a small school community with big school resources and opportunities. We celebrate individual and collective successes as a community. Students explore a variety of interests. One moment they are competing with their classmates in a math competition, and then the next, they are on stage together or on the soccer field. Oftentimes, high school students are defined by others as the academic, the athlete or the artist. Indian Springs students have the freedom to explore interests and develop new passions. They can choose to be involved in all areas of school life and fluidly move between different peer groups. This creates a more interconnected community and more enduring, meaningful friendships.”
Scott emphasizes that students are encouraged to have the freedom to create and own their experience at Indian Springs School, which in turn leads to a deep love and respect for the school that continues even after graduation.
The Indian Springs alumni stay deeply involved in the life of the school. The school hosts several events for alumni throughout the year, including its alumni weekend in April and the alumni holiday party before Christmas. The school currently has six alumni that are current members of the faculty and staff.
It would seem that being an Indian Springs student almost instills a drive for success in its students. Several alumni have gone on to make names for themselves, including authors John Green and Daniel Alarcon; film directors John Badham, Hanelle Culpepper and Michael McCullers; ambassador Mark Gitenstein; congresswoman Elaine Luria; and NASA flight director David Oh.
“The Indian Springs curriculum is designed to inspire students to be lifelong learners,” Scott says. “The Indian Springs faculty is comprised of content-area experts whose love of their discipline is only surpassed by their desire to teach this age group of students and ignite that same love of learning that they enjoy.”
Scott adds that he himself is drawn to the school because of the strength and diversity of the students and alums he has met.
“Indian Springs is not a typical neighborhood school,” he says. “Our students matriculate from across Birmingham, Alabama, the U.S. and the world. Relationships are at the heart of the Indian Springs experience, and the connections students make stay with them for a lifetime. Indian Springs students have a much stronger sense of self than most high school-age students. They learn to think more boldly and dig deeper as learners here. Those habits stick with them in college and beyond.”
Due to the students’ freedom to explore multiple interests, the campus feels more like a family-unit than what one would expect from a typical high school environment. There are no cliques, no stereotypes and students and faculty have mutual respect that benefits the learning experience as well as teaching students how to engage with those in a higher position than they’re currently in. Overall, Scott says Indian Springs teaches students how to unapologetically be themselves in a safe and open environment.
“The person a student wakes up as at home every day—I love the fact that they get to be that person on our campus,” Scott explains. “Young people far too often feel like they have to conform to someone else’s perception of them. Indian Springs students can be themselves and are respected and celebrated by each other. This is so simple yet profound in the growth and development of young people.”
At the 2022 Indian Springs graduation, there were no traditional formalities of a typical graduation such as a cap and gown or a valedictorian, and that is once again because Indian Springs is not a typical school.
“Indian Springs is unapologetically different,” Scott says. “Our students have the freedom to be themselves, the opportunity to explore intellectual and extracurricular interests, the space and time to engage with the natural world on our 350-acre campus and the responsibility to own their education. Magical things happen when motivated and curious students from across the state of Alabama, the U.S. and the world engage together inside and outside classrooms with passionate and talented teachers, coaches and mentors.”
Scott adds he is impressed on a regular basis by the Indian Springs students.
“I am inspired by the energy and enthusiasm that Indian Springs students flood our campus with on a daily basis,” he says. “They demand more of our faculty and push us to be the best educators we can be.”
What started as the dream of a man who sought a higher form of learning be available to those who value it, has evolved into the “Indian Springs way.” As long as the doors of Indian Springs School are open, those seeking knowledge and a safe place to garner it will always have a home.