Providence Academy, established in 1994, opened Monday for the first day of its 20th school year. (Ron Campbell/Johnson City Press)
A record 487 students attended the first day of classes Monday at Providence Academy’s campus on the west side of Johnson City, marking the 20th school year for the private Christian school.
Administrator Jerry Williams, who was hired by Providence in 1996, two years after the school was founded, said the school has grown dramatically in size, but the message has remained the same through the years.
“I don’t think Providence Academy has really changed a whole lot over the years,” Williams said in the school’s empty cafeteria after students had been dismissed from Monday’s abbreviated session. “We were at Mountain View Baptist Church for the first nine years, and we used to say then that based upon the faculty that we had and the classical curriculum that we were utilizing that we could probably do the same thing in a barn.”
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Since its modest beginnings in 1994 with 67 students attending classes in spare space set aside by a Johnson City church, Providence has grown its student body and graduated to a free-standing 67,000-square-foot school on 30 acres of former farmland.
Williams attributed the school’s growth and academic successes to a foundation in Christian values and dedication to the time-tested classical teaching method.
Under the classical method, students receive instruction based on a three-part curriculum, first learning basic skills and rules, then logic and reasoning and finally, higher-level critical thinking.
Proponents of the classical method claim the learned skills can be applied to any subject.
“Hopefully at the end of the day, with a strong classical Christian education, the students will have developed a love for learning, because we’re teaching with the grain and they will have the ability to think for themselves,” Williams said. “With the Christian foundation, what we would say is without the Christian, we are producing Platos, with the Christian and the classical together, we are producing Pauls.”
School Director of Development Mark Koscak said the results of the academy speak to the merits of its teaching philosophy.
In 2012, Providence’s 11th graders scored an average 26.8 on the ACT, seven full points higher than the state’s average of 19.7 and higher than the national score of 21.1.
“Academically we have had excellent success,” Koscak said. “The Christ-centered and classical approach is tried and true, and we’ve seen that in our testing scores.”
Cindy Petzoldt said the faith-based education is one of the reasons she chose the school for her two daughters.
“We wanted a Christian education, and we heard that Providence is No. 1 all the way around,” she said as she and her younger daughter Alexa left campus after classes concluded. “We applied and got the girls in. They love it here, and so do we.”
Alexa said the shortened day was mostly used to get students reacclimated to school life, but said she was excited to start a new year and to see her school friends again.
“I’m excited to get to know more people,” she said.
Former students also attribute their success in life to their instruction at the small private institution.
Brandon Hecht, who graduated from Providence in 2003, said his education was a major driver toward his medical degree.
“It was a great environment for learning,” Hecht said from Augusta, Ga., where he recently began his residency in family medicine. “I appreciated the classical Christian education, from the evolution of early times all the way through British literature and learning Latin. It definitely helped me excel after graduation.”
When he transferred into Providence in the eighth grade, his class had approximately 20 kids, and got even smaller at the high school level when students transferred out in search of other athletic opportunities, Hecht said.
But the intimate class sizes afforded the students opportunities to forge lasting friendships, he said.
“We were all very close, I keep up very closely with four of them now,” he said. “We haven’t had a reunion since graduation, but I’m sure if we were to all get together, it wouldn’t take us long to dive back into things like we had never left.”
To celebrate the 20th year of instruction, Koscak said Providence will hold an open house event from 8:30-11 a.m. Aug. 27, and will host Grammy-nominated songwriter and storyteller Matthew West at 7 p.m. Aug. 24 at its annual Christian Storytelling Festival.
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