LEWISTON, Maine — In their SAT prep class Wednesday, students sat with heads down, focused on taking a test.
It’s spirit week at the Vineyard Christian School on Foss Road and students were dressed as characters. Teacher Susan Daggett sat in the front of the room, overseeing her 15 students. The room was quiet.
It isn’t always that way, Daggett said. “Normally, we do vocabulary games, spelling bees.”
“She squirts us with a squirt gun,” one boy joked.
Next year, the room will be completely quiet. The school is closing in June, the victim of a tough economy, said Allen Austin, executive pastor of the Pathway Vineyard Church, which runs the school. The economic climate has made it increasingly difficult for families to afford private education, he said.
Parents were informed of the school’s closing Wednesday night. Details will be shared with the congregation in church Sunday.
The school opened in 2000. It has 12 teachers and an enrollment of 93 in prekindergarten through grade 12.
“We had a high enrollment of 145 a few years back. It’s been a steady decline,” Austin said.
The cost to send a child to the school is about $3,400 a year.
“That’s not the true cost. It’s grossly under market,” Austin said. “It needs to be double that” to make the school sustainable. But doubling the tuition to $7,000 per child is not a realistic cost parents could pay, he said.
One of the benefits of the school has been small class sizes.
“But now it’s at a point where the student-to-cost ratio is impossible for us to continue,” Austin said.
In the school hall are the typical lockers and murals, as well as frequent references to the Christian faith. One quote painted on a wall reads: “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
In addition to traditional subjects, students study religion every day.
“The Bible is a course they all have,” Austin said. “We have chapel days. The whole value of our Christian faith is woven into every classroom. Service to the community has been a part of their education.”
While the school’s enrollment has decreased, Pathway Vineyard Church enjoys healthy attendance. On any given Sunday, 1,100 people attend services, Austin said.
“If everybody who calls the Pathway Vineyard their church came, [attendance] would be around 1,500,” he said. “We’ve seen steady growth over the past few years.”
Most of the Vineyard students are from the Lewiston-Auburn-Lisbon area. Some parents are looking into sending their children to Catholic schools next year; others, to public schools.
“We’ll help them however we can,” Austin said.
Knowing the school has to close is heartbreaking, the pastor said. “There’s emotion tied to it. I helped found the school.”
The church’s Sunday school will continue, with a morning session for students up to grade six. A youth service for teenagers is held Sunday night.
“We have over 200 kids on this campus every Sunday,” Austin said. “Our commitment to ministering to kids does not change with the school closing. It’s just a matter of a vehicle in which we deliver our ministry will look different.”
After getting through this week’s announcements, Austin said, “Our real desire is to finish this year on a positive note, celebrate everything that has been accomplished in the last 12 years.”
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