By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- It may be the new high school, the implementation of the state school voucher system or some combination of factors, but Youngstown Christian School realized a 24 percent enrollment jump this year.
Mike Pecchia, school president, said 80 additional children enrolled this fall, bringing the total population -- grades kindergarten through 12 -- at the Southern Boulevard complex to 410.
Add the preschool programs at the school and in Poland, and the number jumps to 494.
Step of faith
That's substantial growth for a school that started out with just 90 pupils in 1975 when Highway Tabernacle in Austintown bought the former Bancroft Elementary School for 77,000 and opened Youngstown Christian School.
Among the 80 new pupils are 44 who are using the state voucher system to pay their tuition.
All pupils were housed in the Bancroft building until the school undertook a major building program, adding a new high school at a cost of 3.6 million, all private funding being raised in an ongoing campaign, Pecchia said.
The high school, which opened last year, is attached to the older building.
"It was a real step of faith for us," Pecchia said, explaining that the school felt it needed to offer a better, modern educational facility for its high school students.
The school had been losing about 18 percent of those students each year to other high schools. That loss has dropped significantly with the opening of the new high school.
"We've been very blessed," Pecchia said. "We have something to offer now that we didn't have before."
Youngstown Christian is a private, nondenominational school.
"Our mission is to equip young Christian kids for a life of service," said Pecchia, a former member of the school board.
Where references to God and Christ are basically banned by law in public schools outside of a religion class, YCS pupils participate in daily morning devotions and Bible classes are part of the curriculum.
The teachers meet before school every day in the second floor chapel for devotions as well.
Seniors get to hold their morning home room and devotions in the Eagles Nest, a cafe-style dining room/lounge just off the gymnasium in the new building.
Children from 22 public school districts attend.
"Besides a great education, I believe our appeal is our Christian education and Christian atmosphere," Pecchia said. "That's what sets us apart."
"We have over 120 churches represented in our school. You name the denomination, and they're here," he said.
He presented statistics from the 2006 Ohio Graduation Test that showed YCS 10th-graders scored higher in all five testing categories -- math, reading, science, writing and social studies -- than almost every surrounding school system.
As a private school, Youngstown Christian doesn't get an annual Local Report Card report from the state on pupil performance on achievement tests.
The school gets most of its funding (84 percent) through tuition. The cost is 3,600 for grades nine to 12, 2,900 for grades seven and eight, and 2,575 for kindergarten through sixth grade. There are price breaks for families with more than one child enrolled, Pecchia said, noting that 50 percent of the school families have more than one child attending.
The remaining finances come from the state and fund-raising activities conducted by the school.
Hopes to offer more
The school is increasing its interscholastic sports programs to help meet student wishes, Pecchia said.
It launched varsity football three years ago and also offers both boys and girls basketball, girls soccer, volleyball and softball, and boys baseball. There are plans to add both track and wrestling.