PROFLIE: A life of faith

Published 11:02 am Monday, March 1, 2010

UPPER TOWNSHIP — Think Christian school and what comes to mind? Students seeking asylum from peer pressure? Parents concerned about society’s penchant for leaving God out of the classroom? Church members intent on keeping alive their Christian heritage?

Sugar Creek Christian Academy on State Route 141 in Upper Township is meant to be all of those things to the people who walk through its doors seeking a different educational experience. But students and staff will tell you, in addition to Bible basics, the children are getting a superb education.

“This is more than just a place to come to get away from public school,” SCCA Principal the Rev. Mike Long said. “This isn’t just an education that is equal to public school, it’s an education that is better.”

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A good education

Private schools do not have the pressure of meeting state-set standards and scoring well on state testing in the spring.

But that doesn’t mean they’re off the hook entirely. Long said private schools must still adhere to some of the basic standards that public schools do, such as length of the school year (182 days), the length of the school day (at least five hours excluding recess), staff qualifications and courses of study. The core subjects in public school are also required in private school, such as math, social studies, physical education and language arts.

The high school program — SCCA now offers 9th and 10th grade studies — is similar to public school. Freshmen and sophomores get the same core subjects — math, English, history and even Spanish just as their counterparts in public school. Some of the higher level courses such as algebra I and II are taught by a DVD academy through the Pensacola Bible College. It is the same system used by home schoolers as well as other Christian schools.

Ronda Justice is in the middle of her first year at SCCA. A freshman, Justice said she enjoys the academic challenge at her new school, though she never cared much about studying when she went to public school.

“I’ve found I can be motivated and I’m getting better grades,” she said.

Thomas Scott transferred from Russell High School in Russell, Ky., four years ago.

“I’ve got to do a lot more work,” he conceded. “But it’s a lot better here.”

Most of the classwork is the Abeka curriculum, considered the gold standard for home schoolers and Christian schools across the country. Long said the Abeka curriculum is extremely effective and is more advanced than systems used in public schools, starting with kindergarten. At a time when students in public school are often just learning their ABCs, SCCA kids are mastering sentences, Long said.

“Our kindergarten kids are reading books by Christmas time,” he said.

Long said SCCA students score an average of 1 to 2 grade levels ahead of students the same age in other schools. For instance, kindergarten children typically work at a second grade level.

While the Abeka curriculum is credited for some of SCCA’s academic success, Long agreed part of the reason for SCCA’s academic success is the classroom size and the commitment of his dedicated staff. Smaller groups allow for more one-on-one with students. Learning problems are detected early on and can be resolved quickly.

Long said transfers from public school are given after-school tutoring to bring them up to speed.

SCCA uses the nationally accepted Stanford Achievement Test, the same testing system used by private schools all over the country.

Kindergarten students are scoring in the 99th percentile in reading — the highest possible — among those who take the Stanford Achievement Test and score above the 90th percentile in math and science. Students in other grades score similarly.

Ninety percent of the graduates from CSO schools go to college.

“There is no problem whatsoever for kids from these schools to go on (to higher learning),” Long said.

Freshman Megan Roach concedes the classes are harder but the teachers help them through it.

Academics are more challenging than what she encountered in public school.

“When I came here, I saw things I had never seen in my life,” she recalled.

But now that she’s here, she’s hooked: Megan likes SCCA so much she someday plans to return — as a teacher.

Faith based and proud of it

SCCA belongs to the Christian Schools of Ohio (CSO), which is part of the American Association of Christian Schools.

“We are unabashedly Baptist,” Long said. “Families must sign a statement of faith.”

There are 72 kids enrolled at SCCA this year in grades K-10. Since it opened in 2005, SCCA has experienced a 300 percent growth rate.

Madison Nelson used to go to public school but hated the bullying, the fights and bad influences. A Christian, SCCA offered a place where, “I feel I can be myself.”

Emily Pancake transferred from Symmes Valley and found the Christian emphasis a genuine oasis.

“You get to be around other Christian friends,” she said. “If you have a problem you can go to a teacher and they will help you out.”