Enrollment at Religious Schools Increased

( [email protected] ) Jan 28, 2004 12:22 PM EST

Fayetteville, NC – Religious schools are facing the great need of accommodating a growing number of students while maintaining small classes. The enrollment rate of religious schools exceeded the rate of public schools in Cumberland County by more than nine times from 1998 to 2002, Fayetteville Online reported. While enrollment of religious schools in Cumberland County grew 1.2 percent from 1998 to 2002, state statistics show a jump of 11.3 percent in enrollment at the county's religious schools during that time period.

The increase rate reflects statewide. Over the decade, the enrollment at religious schools increased by 54 percent where as public school enrollment has increased 17 percent.

Some schools, such as Liberty Christian Academy and Village Christian Academy, started with a few grades and have added a grade each year.

"When we started, we had a very clear idea that we wanted a school of excellence," Manuel Salazer, founder of Liberty Christian Academy, said. "I didn't know we'd grow as quickly as we have."

In many cases, principals say, enrollment is growing because families no longer want a separation between church and education. It is apparent that more parents want to have religion as part of their children’s education.

"I believe that families are increasingly becoming concerned about the moral and character development of their kids and want to instill Christian values," said Tammi Peters, director of Fayetteville Christian School on Ireland Drive.

Parents and students say religious schools offer smaller classes, better discipline, a faith-centered curriculum and an emphasis on morals. Some believe public schools are more prone to the problems of violence, gangs, and a lack of respect for teachers.

Wendy Gerace, a mother of two daughters who attend Village Christian Academy said public schools have good teachers, but they spend too much time disciplining students, which keeps them from teaching.

"I found when I went to look at them the teachers are struggling," Gerace said. "They're having to be parents to these children and teaching them how to behave, things they should have been taught before they went to school."

Lynn Winebarger sent all of her three children to Fayetteville Christian School. She was head of the elementary school's parent-teacher organization for two years. She will be a part of a committee that organizes the school's coming fund-raising drive.

"The most important thing for us is our children being taught the same thing they're taught in the home, in terms of biblical values and for that not to be undermined in the school setting," Winebarger said.

She said she and her husband, Garry, agreed to send their children to a Christian school acknowledging that the similar school problems happening at public school could happen in private schools as well. "It was how we felt led when we prayed about it," she said. "We felt the Lord was telling us that's where we needed to send our kids."

In order to provide sufficient socialization opportunities for her children she has made sure her children are involved in other activities outside school. They play sports with the YMCA and the Fayetteville Soccer Association. Her children are actively involved with Lafayette Baptist Church, where she thinks is culturally diverse.

Peters, the principal at Fayetteville Christian School, said school teachers also tend to prefer the religious environment despite the smaller salary compare to what they could earn in public schools.

"In this environment, you can teach," she said. "You're not distracted by the problems with discipline and respect."

Even students recognize the difference in education at religious schools because of its small size and the chance to form close relationships with their teachers.

"If you're behind, you get more help," said Adam Ruiz, a 10th-grader and the school's student president. "When you're here, you're tight-knit."

According to Fayetteville Online, private schools, religious and nonreligious, are required by the state to administer nationally standardized tests to students in third, sixth, ninth and 11th grades every year. In the lower grades, the students are tested on English grammar, reading, spelling and math. Eleventh-graders are tested in other verbal and quantitative areas. Because each school takes a different test, there are no means of comparing the schools.

Religious school students typically outperform public school students on the Scholastic Assessment Test, a college entrance exam. The average score for public school students in the United States in 2003 was 1,020. The average for religious school students was 1,065. Only 12 percent of the test-takers attended religious schools, compared to 83 percent from public schools.

Peters, the principal at Fayetteville Christian School, said her school has tried to remain competitive by offering the same Advanced Placement classes that are offered in public schools.

"We're really trying to maintain that academic rigor and that academic standard so our kids don't miss out what they could get academically if they were in the public schools," Peters said.

On the other hand, Cumberland County School officials encourage parents to take more interests in public school education, saying public schools provide a quality education.

Bill Harrison, Cumber County schools Superintendent, said Cumberland County schools are performing better than ever on state accountability tests. Now they offer choice program where parents can send their children to schools that focus on the arts, math, science, and more.

"I think parents have choices to make relative to the education of their children that they didn't have five, 10, 15 years ago," Bill Harrison, Cumber County schools Superintendent, said. "That's part of the reason behind our choice program. We want choice in public schools."

"I think our record is pretty solid," Harrison said. "I would encourage parents to come and look rather than to base a decision on a fear that is not reality."

Public schools also emphasize about the broad socialization opportunities that public schools could offer.

Mac Williams, chairman of the Cumberland school board, said public schools offer a wide range of socialization opportunities that will prepare students for a diverse work force.

"In life, you're associated with all cultures and beliefs," said Williams, "That's the most important part."

"You can't pick and choose who you work with in life," Harrison also agreed. "You'll have to work side by side with people."