By Tony Hooker
This is the second part of a series of stories about Christian Alternative Schools. Last week, Dr. McCarty, from Sidell’s Faith Christian Academy was the focus. This week, we’ll hear from April Lee, the president of the board of the East Central Illinois Christian School, a new Private Religious School located in Newman, which will welcome its first class of students in September.
April, what is your role at ECICS?
I am the president of the board that has gathered together to start the school.
Are you a Newman resident?
No, I’m from Oakland.
Are you planning on building a new school west of Newman, where the sign is?
There is a plan for that, but for the immediate future, we’re using a building downtown that we’re currently renovating.
Nationwide, it seems like there’s been a real trend toward private, Christian based schools. Where do you think that’s coming from?
The research that we’ve done shows exactly what you said, that across the nation, Christian schools are popping up everywhere. I think people are tired of the government telling them what to teach their kids and how to teach it, and they’re really disgusted with public schools. Sex ed. Revisionist history. It’s honestly been going downhill since they took the bible and God out of the public schools.
Because they don’t have a school in their town. Twenty years ago, I taught in the grade school there, and in Shiloh. I was the music teacher so I went back and forth. They shut down that building and turned it into a community center. It’s a really nice community center, with a library. They have a memorial, with all their old high school pictures in one of the rooms, and the gym is a nice structure for people to rent, but not having a school hurts their businesses. I think we’re already boosting their businesses by being in town. We feed our volunteers in their restaurants, some days.
I don’t think that people realize how vital a school is to a community. Everything that occurs in a community filters through the school. Would you agree?
Do you have a target enrollment in mind?
To start off, we’re looking at 25. We can house 50 in the building we’re currently in. When we outgrow that building, which we intend to do <laughs> we’re planning on building a new building out there on the highway. The land’s been donated.
Is it scalable? If 300 people wanted their children to come to ECICS, could you accommodate them?
I’ll tell you what I do know. We have an association with Arthur Christian School. My two older boys, whom we home schooled, played athletics there, and my youngest son is now enrolled there. They moved from a very small building into a wonderful building with a large gym, and after three years, after covid and all the restrictions, they had to add on a whole wing because their enrollment had doubled.
This isn’t a fad, right? It’s not going to be a flash in the pan.
We spoke to the Classical Christian Education Association, a national association. We had a phone conversation with the man who started it in Idaho, and he told us that normally they start 10-20 Christian Schools across the United States, and that this last year, they started one hundred.
You’re offering Pre-K through 12th grade?
No, we’re starting out small. Kindergarten through 8th grade. We want to start off small so that we can be successful.
It’s my understanding that there are developed curricula that you can choose and adapt to your own needs. Is that the plan?
Oh, definitely! As a homeschool mom and educator, I’m fully aware of lots of options. As a board, we have chosen to go with Abeka, which has been around for 30 or 40 years. (Abeka was started in Pensacola, FL in 1954, by Dr. Arlin Horton and his wife, Beka, per their website) It’s a solid Christian curriculum.
Is the material delivered via video?
It can be. That’s an option if you’re a small school.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
The administration at Arthur Christian has agreed to mentor us. In fact, they offered to be a sister school, with us being a satellite Arthur Christian School, but our donors wanted the independence. We decided to take on the responsibility of being independent and took on the responsibility of getting our own 501c3 (registered nonprofit organization designation) tax exemption. We’re waiting on the state. <laughs> It’s been really slow. We are excited. We’ve started interviewing teachers. We’ve had half a dozen teachers come to us, even before we started advertising. They heard we were starting a private Christian school and they wanted to teach there. We have the interest of 16 students and their families, but we haven’t started officially taking applications, so we don’t really know how many students we’re going to have! <smiles>
When do you plan on beginning to teach?
Our first day of school will be September 6, the day after Labor Day. <Smiling> We have a lot to do in these next few months!