Monday, November 21, 2005

Reading, Writing and Religion...

Reading, Writing and Religion...
Christian School to Celebrate 30 Years of Service
By Karen Nolan/Staff Writer

Whenever Steve and Erin Hankins set foot on the Vacaville Christian Schools campus, they feel right at home.

As they enter the driveway off Davis Street, they pass by the preschool that Steve's mother helped start three decades ago. They spot the high school where they themselves met in the 1980s, back when it was called the Vacaville Christian Academy. Nowadays, they usually stop at the elementary or middle schools, where their own three children are enrolled. On the way into the classrooms, they may spot Steve's sister, Tracy Castelli, another VCS graduate who now works at their alma mater as a teacher's assistant. Her children are also among its students, as are several other cousins.

"We like how it teaches the same values that we teach at home," Erin Hankins said, explaining why she and her husband, who live in Fairfield, chose to send their children to Vacaville Christian Schools. "We love the whole family atmosphere. Everyone is on a first-name basis. And the teachers have been extremely kind to our children. ... Where else do they get hugged every time they stop and talk to someone?"

Members of the extended Hankins family will be among the 800 guests expected to turn out Dec. 3 as the school celebrates its 30th anniversary. A gala dinner party under a big tent on the school grounds will feature former Apollo astronaut Alan Bean as the guest speaker.

The schools' choirs and its award-winning jazz band, which recently put out a CD, will provide music. A ventriloquist will entertain, and Bud's of Dixon will cater. "We're going to be celebrating all of the great things that have happened in our school in 30 years, and we'll be launching our future," said Karen Winter, school superintendent for 16 years. "We're hoping to have a special announcement that evening about our future."

Winter wouldn't even hint about what that announcement will entail, but no doubt it will have to do with growth. Vacaville Christian Schools currently offers programs for 1,700 youngsters in preschool through high school. Last year it opened a West Campus at Crossroads Christian Church on Butcher Road. That campus now houses preschool and kindergarten classes and plans to add a first-grade next fall. Within five years, Winter said, the school hopes to have 1,950 students at both sites.

She isn't daunted by reports that enrollment at area public schools has flattened or declined. "Our school has continued to grow at a steady pace each year," Winter said, attributing the school's academic reputation and expanded extracurricular activities as contributing factors. "We have a lot of people who want a strong Christian education for their children," she added. "They want that focused attention of having character education and positive discipline in the classroom."

Steve Hankins, a member of Valley Church, would agree. His main reason for wanting his children to attend Vacaville Christian Schools "is the 'Christian' part of it," he said. "I think kids can get a good education anywhere, but I want reinforcement of the Christian values during the day."

It's the same reinforcement he received when he was a student there. "It backed up what my mom and dad impressed on me," he said. Steve Hankins began attending the Christian school as a third-grader. He tried public school in the eighth-grade, but returned the following year after his hopes of playing football were dashed. Then the Christian Academy "was a smaller school, with a little more one-on-one with the teachers," the 1986 graduate said. "There are still teachers I had in high school who I still associate with."

That sort of bond was no doubt helped by the fact that his mother was a staff member. Joan Hankins launched the early kindergarten class in November 1975, two months after the school opened. "It was the first one in Northern California, I believe," she said in a telephone interview from her current home in Lincoln. "I started with 12 students and by the end of the year I had 19."

Joan Hankins had moved to Vacaville from Martinez a few years earlier and was surprised to find few Christian preschools. She approached her pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church and he gave her the go-ahead to start one. "I wasn't interested in teaching, but I agreed to organize it," she said. Bethany Lutheran Preschool opened in 1974.

A secretary at Bethany was among a group of parents who had decided to start a non-denominational Christian school rather than continue with Vaca Valley Christian School, which had decided to affiliate with the Assembly of God church. When the new school began looking for a pre-kindergarten teacher, she suggested Joan Hankins.

Hankins taught the class for six years. When she realized that parents were dropping off their older children and taking their younger ones to preschools that had begun springing up, "I went to Mr. (Jerome) Barrett, who was principal at the time, and asked if he though this school would like to have a preschool."

Barrett and the board approved of the idea, and the preschool opened to 2- to 4-year-olds in October 1982. Joan Hankins was its administrator, a job she held until illness forced her retirement in 1991.

Both Joan Hankins and the school survived a crisis triggered by a loss of enrollment, blamed in part on the Catholic Church's opening of Notre Dame Elementary School in 1987. About the same time, a disagreement between faculty and administrators led to the dismissal of three teachers and caused a rift. Joan Hankins and several other administrators were laid off, although she continued to work at the school as a volunteer. School trustees closed the high school in 1988 and began focusing on building up the younger grades. The strategy paid off and the high school was reopened in 1995. "I am so excited about what has happened there," Joan Hankins said, crediting Winter's leadership with much of the school's current success. "My greatest fear was that the school would be closed. "I now have five grandchildren who attend that school and five great nieces and nephews," she continued. "I'm still tied to that school. ... And I'm grateful every day that my grandchildren and nieces and nephews have a place to go and become the people the Lord wants them to be."

Graduates, former students and the general public are welcome to attend the 30th Anniversary Gala Dinner on Dec. 3. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased through the Development Office by calling 446-1776 ext. 22 or e-mailing AT A GLANCE:
Name: Vacaville Christian School
Opened: 1975, as the Vacaville Christian Academy at 1117 Davis St.
Enrollment on opening day: 33
Enrollment at the end of the first year: 95
Current enrollment: 1,700, in preschool-high school, on two campuses and representing 160 churches throughout the Bay Area. First graduating class: 1980, with 10 graduating seniors.
Mascot: Falcons
School colors: Blue, white, and red
Motto: The Choice for Excellence
Mission Statement: "Vacaville Christian Schools, in partnership with home and church, exists to provide a distinctive Christ-Centered education in a nurturing environment which equips young people excel in life and service to Jesus Christ."
Bible verse: 'For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." - Jeremiah 29:11
Most-tenured teacher: First grade teacher Ella Blair, who started August 24, 1976
Senior staff member: Arlene Siebert, who started Jan. 1, 1980, as a preschool aide/teacher and now is the Preschool and Infant Director

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