A Miracle Factory

The Barclay School in North Columbia S.C. doesn’t look like a budding entrepreneurial center. The one-story brick building gives off more of an artsy communal vibe – and when you step through its doors its obvious you’re walking into a school, not a business. But behind the proudly displayed artwork,…

The Barclay School in North Columbia S.C. doesn’t look like a budding entrepreneurial center. The one-story brick building gives off more of an artsy communal vibe – and when you step through its doors its obvious you’re walking into a school, not a business.

But behind the proudly displayed artwork, crafts, science projects and living history exhibits is the beating heart of what’s left of American capitalism – a venture into the free market the school’s founders hope will one day make its operations self-sufficient.

The kids call it “Bunnies’ Brew” – and are quick to point out it is non-alcoholic and non-toxic. But also “non-tasty.” Very “non-tasty.”

“You can drink it … but you won’t like it,” one of the students tells us.

“Plants love to drink it, though,” another adds.

“Bunnies’ Brew” is billed by its young manufacturers as “nature’s best organic fertilizer,” and there are plenty of thriving plants in and around the Barclay schoolhouse attesting to its prowess. How is it made? Well, there’s no Discovery Channel feature on it (yet), but the process seems to be fairly straightforward. Once the school’s two rescue bunnies – Toby and Ginny – have done their thing, Barclay’s students begin the process of transforming the bunny manure into “rabbit tea.” This concoction is then bottled, labeled (with its vintage) and prepared for distribution.

Barclay students handle every step of the process – from caring for the bunnies to “quality control” over the manufacturing process. They even manage the finances for Barclay’s Green Goods, the company they formed to sell and distribute their product.

At this point it should be fairly obvious The Barclay School – founded in 2008 by longtime educators Gillian Barclay-Smith and Edith Bailey – is making more than just “Bunnie’s Brew.” This inventive academic center – which exclusively serves special needs children – is creating the sort of positive outcomes in the lives of children that government-run programs spend millions of dollars seeking to replicate.

The school is making miracles – every day. And making them on a shoestring budget with exclusively donated books, computers, furniture and supplies. Oh … and two ingredients money can’t buy.

“You do it on passion and you do it on hope,” Dr. Barclay-Smith (a.k.a. “Dr. G”) told FITS.

The Barclay School is home to ten full-time students. Tuition averages $6,000 annually (roughly half of what government-run schools spend per each “normal” child), although the school’s founders do their best to work with parents on what they can afford. Both Barclay-Smith and Bailey tell FITS they work for less than minimum wage.

“Dr. G” is a Birkenstocks-wearing green Democrat – not your typical parental choice supporter. But she’s been leading the fight to improve educational outcomes in the Palmetto State by aggressively challenging the way government-run schools deal with disabled children. Or fail to deal with them, as is more often the case …

According to Barclay-Smith, government-run schools spend so much time classifying disabilities and attempting to “remediate” them (via a set of arbitrary standards) they neglect to consider the best interests of each individual child – or identify/ develop the gifts special needs children have. As a result these children are removed from beneficial activities and are instead forced to show “progress” on legally binding “individualized education programs” – a.k.a. an “IEP,” government’s one size fits all approach to “fixing” their disability.

“It’s the environment we are operating in that’s disabled, not the child,” Barclay-Smith says, repeatedly referencing Hans Christian Anderson’s tale The Emperor’s New Clothes.

A former public school administrator readily acknowledges the state’s process isn’t working.

“As with so much else within our public education system, the intent is good, the design is terribly flawed,” the former administrator told FITS. “Lots of jargon, useless process, red tape.”

There is no red tape at The Barclay School – but enabling more students to take advantage of the inventive programs offered there (and at dozens of other privately run facilities in South Carolina) has been problematic. Hopefully special needs choice legislation passed this year by the S.C. General Assembly will help expand these outcomes, but there remains considerable institutional opposition to the notion of providing tax credits for special needs children.

“Some people shut down and won’t listen,” Barclay-Smith says. “It’s too much like vouchers for them.”

That’s too bad … because what’s happening at The Barclay School is truly something to behold. As the strains of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony rise and fall in the background, the students focus intently on a science-themed art project – scouring through the school’s library for information on owls (they’re reading the book Hoot).

I asked eleven-year-old Joshua what he liked best about The Barclay School.

“I love science,” he tells me. “Dr. G makes it fun.”

Barclay’s students are as diverse a mix as you’ll find anywhere – different ages, races and yes, disabilities. But at a morning meeting they answer in unison when asked whether their disabilities can keep them from accomplishing their dreams.


The school’s slogan – “As Unique As Your Child” – truly fits. It also goes right to the heart of the education debate in this country, which we have long engaged on behalf of market-based reforms aimed at raising academic achievement for all students (especially those with disabilities).

Every year the state of South Carolina spends tens of millions of dollars seeking to address the special needs of its disabled student population – which accounts for roughly five percent of all students in the state. The vast majority of those children – between 85-90 percent of them – attend government-run schools.

The Barclay School is one of dozens of private schools with specialized programs for disabled children ready to meet the needs of thousands of children who are being failed by the government-run status quo. It is profiled on the website, which includes a searchable database of schools for parents and educators in South Carolina.

To view some images from our visit to The Barclay School, click on the thumbnails below …

(Click to enlarge)

Pics: Will Folks

To learn more about The Barclay School and Independent Ed, click on the links below …


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LD Parent September 18, 2013 at 12:22 pm

Pull up their form 990. The two teachers make virtually no money and the whole operation runs on little more than a prayer. These people are saints.

energydonk September 18, 2013 at 1:10 pm

why are her pants unzipped? perhaps you have a different photo.

Smirks September 18, 2013 at 1:50 pm

why are her pants unzipped?

[insert joke here]

sage old bird September 18, 2013 at 1:32 pm


Sam September 18, 2013 at 1:42 pm

That’s the kind of news I enjoy reading! Thank you.

Roseanne September 18, 2013 at 2:36 pm

They do wonderful work. But she is lucky to be able to work for “less than minimum wage.” Most of the people making minimum wage struggle to get by because they didn’t have a previous career that paid enough to both live on and have a decent retirement, and they don’t have a spouse like hers with a job that pays a real salary.

Fact Check September 18, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Roseanne, I can assure from personal knowledge that there are no rich husbands and no previous lucrative careers here. The sacrafice these women are making is real, not a “luxory.”

I don’t know why you think this assumption is justified, but you are absolutely wrong.

Roseanne September 18, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Well, she does has a husband who is paid real money to teach at USC and she did teach for a number of years for a real salary.

duckhunter September 18, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Certainly would be one of the more useful tax laws written if it provides support for a school like this.

MashPotato September 18, 2013 at 7:41 pm

This would be a disaster. The school is successful precisely because politics hasn’t gotten its destructive paws on it.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

duckhunter September 19, 2013 at 2:35 pm

The tax bill has passed and funds will become available in January for schools that qualify. Imagine that, close to 100% of tax incentivized donations going to educate LD kids who if handled by public education would be lost.

Jim September 20, 2013 at 1:11 pm

If it is so great why does it need additional tax incentives to get donations? Donations are already deductible. Should we allow tax credits for all charitable contributions?

9" September 18, 2013 at 3:28 pm

As sweet as this story is,these kids are victims of American capitalism,not what’s left.Perverse analogy.

MashPotato September 18, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Eyes are no longer dry. Way to go, Sic.

Amused Observer September 19, 2013 at 6:33 am

This is certainly a nice “feel good” story. Every school in South Carolina, public and private, can tell warm, fuzzy stories. What hard data shows this is a successful school? Public schools are held accountable to cold, hard data. Voucher folks want public support for private schools, but want the accountability limited to anecdotes. What a deal!

nitrat September 19, 2013 at 9:13 am

Back in the 90s, in good economic times, the Small Business Administration told potential small business owners that 90%+ of small businesses fail in the first year.
Has that improved now that we call small business owners ‘entrepreneurs’ ?
I do see they don’t accept kids with ‘severe emotional and behavioral problems’. I guess we just need to dump that kind in the ditch once the kill-public-education types put an end to the schools that do take them.

Modest Proposal September 19, 2013 at 1:47 pm

So the solution is to get all teachers to work for free or nearly free. Great idea. Then next solution is to get all state and local workers to also work for free.

We can institute conscription and involuntary servitude so that those people deemed to be worthy of being slaves can toil for the greater good of the (tea)party. (illegal immigrants or welfare recipients maybe?) Of course, we arent actually bad people so we will pay them $3/hr. After all, our great grandparents made do on less than that, so how dare they be ungrateful.

Also, we will pay them that $3/hr “wage” so that we can deny with plausibility that they are enslaved.

Of course, we will still demand that the newly minted bureaucratic slaves must live personal lives subject to our political review and carry out their servitude …err..”service” with a happy and cheerful demeanor , because after all, they work for us. No bathroom breaks or lunch breaks. And heaven help if they are seen eating out a restaurant.

To be able to do that can only mean that they are stealing from the people.

duckhunter September 19, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Or raise the minimum wage to a middle class income level and lets have a worker’s paradise

Hey Debbie Downer September 19, 2013 at 3:50 pm

It’s amazing that you have found some way to not only crap on a wonderful story, but interject the politics of a struggling public education system.

If you represent the average teacher in the public school system, God help our kids.

Why not just say, “nice story” and be on your way? Are a couple of people that are helping kids for not a lot of money that much a threat to the education establishment?

Modest Proposal September 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Are you so biased that you fail to see that is exactly what folks is trying to dow ith the supposed “feel good” story in the first place? It is 100% supposed to be an indictment of “government run” education. period.

spare us the histrionic boo hoo. His goal is to slant a story and leave out enough facts to make it a wonderful example of how great education will be. if we just fund private schools with tax dollars.


Jackie Chiles October 15, 2013 at 2:41 pm

People are mean on the INTERNET? Stop the presses.

Reality Check October 20, 2013 at 7:04 am

Just an observation, but the private and public systems have one major difference… if a child is “problem”, the private school can simply kick him out. The public system can’t do that, and often is forced to deal with children who have no interest in learning (and have parent(s) who see no value in education). One has supportive parents, the other may have many students whose parents are AWOL from the learning and discipline process. Those students actually COST more to educate than “good” students.
That said, I applaud what is being done here.

CL September 20, 2013 at 7:58 am

On a related note for those living in Greenville County, I just went to an event for a non-profit organization that helps children with developmental delays in Greenville. They help kids who are starting out at such a disadvantage, whether it be from abuse, neglect or poverty, and helping put them on equal footing with their peers.

A Child’s Haven is working to complete its capital campaign to complete its new facility, which will nearly double the number of children they can accept to the program. They are at 91% of their goal (the website is a little behind the pledges), and are going to break ground next month. A wonderful organization if anyone is moved to give.

Taxpayer September 20, 2013 at 7:42 pm

I’d like to make one thing clear. We are not talking about vouchers here.


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