In collared blue and white shirts, a group of Mesa students look like a team about to take to the court.
But then, one by one, they get on their knees and push volleyballs across the mat – with their foreheads.
Giggles and cheers abound. These Christ the King Catholic School eighth-graders clearly enjoy their physical education class and their time with one another.
Next door, sixth-graders write down the steps of that day’s science lab, “detecting chemical properties,” as they appear on the Smart Board at the front of class.
During a computer lab for fourth grade, young fingers pick and click across keyboards as students hone typing skills.
The private parochial school seems to offer it all – from Spanish at every grade level to music, band, religious studies, computers and physical education.
And for the 207 kids at the school, there’s another perk, staff say: tight, lifelong bonds.
At this small school, there’s only once class per grade – and only 22 to 23 students in each of those classes.
Mendy Bayda, coordinator of development for Christ the King, said her son, now in college, attended the school. His best friends today are the students he attended the elementary school with years ago.
“They form a really nice bond,” she said.
Students come from Mesa, as well as Gold Canyon, Fountain Hills, Chandler and Gilbert.
“It’s a very diverse population. We have Hispanics, Anglos. We have students from Africa, the Philippines. We have people of Oriental ancestry,” principal Don Graff said.
Families – not just siblings, but also cousins – as well as staff stick with Christ the King for the long run.
“You only find that in a school this size. You have that community spirit. Being a faith-based school contributes to our sense of commitment because we’re tied to the church,” Graff said.
The school recently added preschool and a before- and after-school program. It has capacity for 270 students, with kindergarten through eighth-grade classes available.
In a community with a number of educational choices, Christ the King turns to the Internet to let people know it exists – even more so because the school is tucked into a neighborhood and several blocks from a major street.
“We often refer to the school as the best-kept secret in Mesa. We’re so buried in a community. We’re not a drive-by school,” Graff said. “It’s nice to be in a close-knit community. You don’t have a lot of transit near by, but our visibility is an area of concern.”
The school opened its doors in 1964 and follows the Diocese of Phoenix curriculum, Graff said, which is being transitioned to align with the national Common Core Standards. Students take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, like other schools in the diocese.
“Standards are quite high,” he said. “Every grade level tests above the diocesan average.”
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