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Plans to expand



Published: Sat, August 24, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



A school for fatherless children has merged into Youngstown Christian School.

By RON COLE

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- With space tight and prospects for more growth on the way, Youngstown Christian School will soon launch a $1.5 million fund-raising campaign to build an addition to its South Side school building.

The Rev. Gary Johnston, school superintendent, said the possibility of tuition vouchers' being introduced to the Youngstown area also could spark an upswing in enrollment, and the school wants to be ready to handle the influx.

"If our state Legislature was to implement vouchers in a form that we would find acceptable in our school, that could build explosive growth in a very short period of time," Johnston said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that a program in Cleveland that provides tax dollars, or vouchers, to send children to private, religious schools passes constitutional muster.

The ruling has produced much speculation across the nation, and particularly in Ohio, about the spread of vouchers to other areas. With its proximity to Cleveland, Youngstown could be a prime target.

"We're watching that very intently," Johnston said.

Bought building in '75

Highway Tabernacle in Austintown bought the old Bancroft Elementary School on Southern Boulevard in 1975 for $77,000 and opened Youngstown Christian School.

It has since grown into the largest, non-Catholic Christian school in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.

The school, which opens the new academic year Monday, enrolls about 500 preschool-to-12th-grade pupils at three locations: the main school on Southern Boulevard, a preschool at Highway Tabernacle and a preschool and kindergarten program at New Life Assembly of God in Poland.

Enrollment, which includes pupils from throughout the region, has increased about 30 percent in the last five years.

"We have pretty much maxed out at this present building," Johnston said this week from the two-story, 76-year-old school that sits a stone's throw from the Boardman Township line.

"We've made a conscious decision to limit the student/teacher ratio. We could stuff more students in, but we won't do that."

So, school leaders hope to begin construction next summer on an addition that includes 12 classrooms for high school students and a full-size, 800-seat gymnasium.

That would give the school enough room to boost enrollment from 500 to about 700, Johnston said.

Taking in North Side school

Meanwhile, Father's Heart Elementary School at Fifth Avenue Community Church on the city's North Side will relocate to YCS this year.

The private school, under the direction of Christian missionary Anthony Agresta, opened in fall 2000 to provide tuition-free education to fatherless, inner-city children in kindergarten through third grade.

The school expanded to fourth grade last year and enrolled about 40 pupils. "We wanted to grow even more, but I was running out of space and personnel," Agresta said.

So, the school and Agresta hooked up with YCS. Agresta is YCS' new principal, replacing James Coy. The Father's Heart program will transfer to YCS.

Johnston said YCS will develop a scholarship fund to pay the tuition of the children in the Father's Heart program.

"We consider this as more than just adding a little something to what we're doing," Johnston said.

"We're seeing this as one more important arm of our ministry here to the community, and as times go on we expect to see more arms extend out in various ways."

cole@vindy.com




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