will offer another private education option for children when it opens the doors to a new half-day kindergarten class this fall in Watkinsville.
For the last five years, parents have sent their children to Mars Hill Baptist Church's Preschool Academy , hoping one day they'd be able to enroll their children in another year of faith-based instruction, according to Susanne Barfield, who directs both Mars Hill Baptist Church's preschool and kindergarten programs.
“We had some moms say, 'We love the preschool and we want to stay with you guys, can you keep going with this?'" Barfield recalled.
With the church building filled by preschool classes, Barfield asked Mars Hill Baptist council members if they would allow her to clean out a nearby home, once used as a church parsonage, to serve as a kindergarten classroom for the new Mars Hill Christian Academy.
In April, Barfield selected Jan Madden, a teacher at the preschool academy to teach the new class, and the two began the lengthy process of cleaning and fixing up the old parsonage.
For more than a decade, the parsonage had served as storage for annual church yard sales, and its rooms were packed to the brim with boxes of household items and goods, Madden said.
“It was a dump,” Madden said. “It was unbelievable.”
With the help of about 40 volunteers, they cleaned out the parsonage, re-painted its walls and rolled out new carpeting. They hired an electrician to install new light fixtures and a church member built new cabinets and cubbie holes.
Madden, a collector of books, already had dozens of reading materials, but the class needed more Christian-focused materials and activities, she said.
From the church budget, they purchased reading and literature workbooks from the Christian-based curriculum A Beka, and received dozens of donated items from other teachers and friends, Madden said.
“People have been so generous. It's overwhelming, it's just wonderful,” Madden said.
Most private and public schools in Oconee County offer full-day kindergarten classes, and some parents felt the half-day schedule would be a better fit for their children before they head off to elementary school, Madden said.
“It's really a great option for a lot of different reasons,” Madden said. “Some kids really master preschool, but may not really be socially and emotionally ready for a full day of kindergarten. For some kids, it's just hard for them to handle.”
Some parents also wanted an extra year to expose their children to Christian morals and beliefs, said Allison Hodges, a parent of a rising kindergartner at Mars Hill Christian Academy.
“It was just a great fit for us to come here,” Hodges said. “It just feels like a family and it's really close to home.”
While most public school kindergarten classes run from 7:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., classes at Mars Hill Christian Academy will run from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Students will spend the first half of each day working on literacy and phonics skills as a class and in small groups, where they may receive 15 minutes of Bible instruction, and read and write, Madden said. The second half of the day, they will study math, science and social studies. Two times a week, students will attend a physical education class, and participate in art and music.
At noon, students will eat lunch and spend a few minutes at recess before the day ends.
Unlike some full-day kindergarten classes, the half-day kindergarten class does not offer a designated rest period or second recess, Madden said.
So far, 12 students have enrolled in classes, which begins Aug. 10. Administrators are still accepting applications for four open seats, for a total class size of 16 students. Tuition costs $4,275 for a nine-month school year.
Curriculum standards are based around the state standards, called the Georgia Performance Standards, and students' academic progress will be monitored with a battery of assessments and a portfolio of their work, Madden and Barfield said.
“We're making sure the assessment follows them, so that it can be a really easy transition for them should they decide to go into the public schools,” Barfield said.
If demand for the class grows, there may be room to expand by an additional class next year, Barfield said.
“There's definitely room for expansion, if the need arises next year,” Barfield said.