Teacher Jayme Ellis gets her kindergarten class ready for a little math project at their desks. CHRISTINA TASCON PHOTO
Academy teaches students how to master spirituality and SATs
BY CHRISTINA TASCON
At Master’s Academy in Vero Beach, students’ souls are just as important as their SAT scores. When its students graduate, they will be armed with a Christian worldview and the tools to follow God’s plan using reading, writing, arithmetic and faith.
When First Church of God decided there was a need for a Christian-based school for their children in 1998, it opened Master’s Academy with a class of just 14 kindergarten students, never expecting that its numbers would grow to more than 270 students from pre-K to 12th grade.
In 1995, the Elder Board, parents and ministry of First Church of God saw the need for a private school that not only had classes about religion but one that fulfilled their desires to connect every class to God through The Principle Approach, a program using biblical reasoning in every subject.
The school’s mission is to teach its students how to impact the world in a positive way as they prepare for their futures, knowing that God is their Creator and has purpose for their lives. Using the Bible as a base to all learning, MA provides its students with a safe, caring environment balanced with a stellar education plan.
BIBLE GUIDES LESSON PLANS
Although the church and the academy are separate 501(C) 3 entities and have separate boards and budgets, both teach that God is the Creator. In the required STEM classes, teachers use the Bible to guide their lesson plans. Their highest purpose is to teach students that the universe was designed by God and his plan should guide their home life, businesses and relationships in a direction to make the world a better place.
Academic excellence is almost guaranteed considering most classes have one teacher, an assistant and fewer than 20 students. SAT and college-level placement test scores are high, but it is the student demeanor that really exemplifies the lessons they have been taught. They call everything off campus The Mission Field, indicating that what they learn on campus should be shared with the community by word and example as students are held to strict behavioral and moral standards.
“Other schools which may have religious classes do not use scripture and Bible teachings to bring curriculum back to scripture so Master’s Academy is the only completely Christian school in the county,” said Phil De Lange, who was the founding board chairman and its current board secretary.
EXCITING PLACE TO BE
Originally, its kindergarten began in 1998 and grew to include fourth grade in First Church of God’s sanctuary on 27th Avenue. Two years later the school moved to a new building on 58th Avenue and continually added grades until it reached the 12th grade. The first graduates earned their diplomas in 2009 with a class of just five. This year’s graduating class numbers 20.
“It’s a fun and exciting place to raise your children. We teach a biblical worldview in all that we do while giving our children a great education — it’s not a wimp when it comes to education, either. We are getting top scores in SATs and sending our kids to top schools of their choice, so academically it is a solid school, but it is also a great place spiritually,” DeLange said. “I have had five kids go through the school and the lifelong relationships that my kids have built with their peers is amazing.”
Small class sizes and teachers who take a personal interest in every student create an atmosphere of family-style caring and give them a fun outlet. The students are just as involved in extracurricular activities as other schools including sports, music groups, academic clubs and a well-known Fife and Drum Corps, which plays at many events around town.
Headmaster Wayne Smith is originally from South Africa, where he was a pastor, and earned his doctorate at the University of South Africa. He and his wife Claire and daughter Tatum, moved from North Carolina 2 1/2 years ago, where his grown son Daniel still lives. He occasionally teaches classes as well as preaches when asked by Pastor Greg Sempsrott.
“I was in Christian education for 15 years in North Carolina before I found this position. I grew up in a tropical climate so I love Florida’s hot weather,” Smith said. “When I was a young pastor, God clearly showed me that I would one day be in Christian education and that was where my gifts lay. I have had the best years of my Christian ministry helping kids learn and get into college.”
MEETING ALL REQUIREMENTS
Smith said belief in God is not an addendum tacked onto the end of the school day. Everything they do incorporates faith, yet the teachers never forget they are entrusted to make sure each child satisfies federal and state educational guidelines.
“Our upper school dean, Lori VanValkenburg, is very mindful of setting certain standards to make sure our children qualify for scholarships,” Smith said.
“One of the things that thrills me is walking down the hall and some of the students will jump up and give me a high-five and if I am in need of some encouragement in my day I will go sit in on the pre-K class or talk to the teenagers,” Smith added.
As Smith walked around campus, he was greeted with smiles everywhere. In Reeny Sempsrott and Becky Dixson’s pre-K class, the kids joyfully held up crayon-colored drawings of hands for Smith to see. They were making them into cards for a little boy who had been hurt in an accident.
“See what I mean?” Smith asked. “How can that not make you feel happy?”
A recent grant helped the school purchase 20 computers, upgrade existing computers and fund a new website. Future plans include building science labs, locker rooms, more restrooms, additional classrooms and a large gymnasium. The school has an enrollment goal of 500 students.
“The gym is really important. We have great sports programs,” DeLange said.
Currently the sanctuary doubles as their indoor gym so students and faculty are constantly moving things around.
“I can’t tell you how many time I have had to set up and break down that gym and enlist the students and parents to help,” DeLange said laughingly. “I will tell the kids before PE, ‘come on we have to go break down the chairs!’ ”
A testimony to how important a new gym and sports are to athletic director Bob Flaming and the students is the showcase in the academy’s front lobby that is filled with trophies. The varsity baseball team, coached by Indian River County Judge Joe Wild, just went to the state championships finishing in the final four — and that is just one of the Patriots’ many accomplishments.
The expansion will cost approximately $5 million and a capital campaign will begin in the spring with fundraising events.
When Smith came on board, he implemented a program to get students from sixth to 12th grade to volunteer at shelters, missions or a civic organization. Smith wanted the children to learn about giving back and being a part of the community and not to “live in a bubble.”
“We want our students to rise above the pressures of this culture and to stand firmly on what they believe and then leave here and go impact the world in a positive way for the Lord,” Smith said.