Children grab books and find a place to read in the kindergarten class at Tempe’s Bethany Christian School. It’s quiet reading time in the class.
“This one’s cool,” a little boy says as he shows off a “Wibbly Wobble” book.
A few kids gather around a little table. One little girl finds a spot on a small green stool. Another snags a rocking chair.
Principal Barbara Hunsaker listens as the children show off their treasures. In her 13th year at the school, Hunsaker seems to relish every moment.
The school was once part of an adjacent church. But several years ago the board decided to make it an independent Christian campus. Several spots in a strip mall along Price Road were renovated for the kindergarten through eighth-grade campus. Just four years ago the campus expanded, adding additional space for a library and two classrooms.
The former parking lot is now a playground. During recess, kids have access to basketball courts.
A few years ago, the campus was near capacity with more than 250 children. But when the economy went south, the private school saw a drop in enrollment. There are now about 162 children — 35 new students enrolled over the summer — and the school is planning for a big push in the spring.
“We’re smaller. That’s what parents want,” Hunsaker said. And with the kindergarten through eighth-grade classes, “It allows parents to keep students at one school longer.”
Students come from Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Scottsdale, and of course, Tempe.
The school picks and chooses curriculum by what’s best available, with the science and history books by a Christian publisher and reading and math books from secular groups, including Saxon phonics.
Students are grouped by skill level in reading and math, rather than with their grade group.
“It allows us to meet the needs of kids who are accelerated or who need more help,” Hunsaker said.
All students in kindergarten through fifth grade have a music course. In middle school, students pick their electives, from worship team to choir to Spanish, yearbook, discipleship, band, speech and debate and life skills.
Every Friday, the students wear their school shirts and attend chapel together. Guest speakers from nonprofit groups and church pastors offer advice and lessons.
The school keeps its focus on three areas, Hunsaker said: academics, spiritual discipleship and school community.
That last piece is something the school continues to grow.
“There’s a sense of family. The kids have known each other since they were young,” Jordan Whitlach, the school’s advancement director, said.
The school invites the community in for its annual turtle races and “county fair.” After fall break, older students will be partnered with younger ones, “to intentionally build those relationships. We’re excited about doing that. We’ve been doing it, but this is much, much more,” Hunsaker said.
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