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Committed to Education

Posted April 17, 2013 in Ankeny

In 1992, Ankeny Christian Academy (ACA) opened its doors to 26 students for its first year of operation. The school began as a result of several committed and like-minded parents who were concerned about the schooling options for their children and who were looking for an alternative. The one thing they had in common was that they were all Christians.

Kelly Appell teaches fourth graders at Ankeny Christian Academy.

Kelly Appell teaches fourth graders at Ankeny Christian Academy.

After a lot of hard work and dedication, ACA opened its doors, and 20 years later the school has grown to accommodate more than 320 students in developmental kindergarten through high school. The school represents more than 220 families who worship at more than 75 churches. Students come from communities across central Iowa including Bondurant, Carlisle, Colfax, Des Moines, Kelley, Maxwell, Mitchellville, Pleasant Hill, Polk City and more. Read on to learn more about ACA’s beginnings, its current successes and its plans for the future.

Humble beginnings
As that small group of parents who first formed the school started exploring the idea, they soon realized that starting a school was no small task.

“That is such a huge undertaking, but one of the women had a passion to get this ministry going,” says the school’s first administrator Carolyn Cole. “This woman, Jane McWilliams, contacted the Association of Christian Schools International to find out if they knew of someone in the area who could give this group of about six parents guidance, and they referred her to me.”

Cole had coincidentally not only moved to Iowa from Ohio, where she had been at a Christian school for 12 years, but she actually was living in Ankeny. Her husband had just been transferred to the area from Akron, Ohio.

“I wasn’t working at the time, and they knew they needed someone strong in curriculum,” she says. “I couldn’t believe that these people who didn’t have an education background wanted to get this going. But they were so committed and wanted something better for their kids and to be such a big part of their education.”

McWilliams was planning to visit a Christian school in northern Iowa, and she invited Cole to accompany her.

The parents and Cole formed a steering committee and started meeting in McWilliams’ home. The committee was a diverse one, with its members having backgrounds business, education, counseling, technology, facilities management and stay-at-home parents.

“It just meshed together,” Cole says. “They had a community meeting to let people know, and other educators volunteered to work on a curriculum committee. Before the school even started, people were meeting. Ankeny is like that. They have such commitment to family and kids and a quality education and wholesome activities and doing everything excellently.”

Despite the passion, some were skeptical they could pull it off.

Ankeny Christian Academy secondary principal Aaron Pals and administrator Joyce Hansen.

Ankeny Christian Academy secondary principal Aaron Pals and administrator Joyce Hansen.

But McWilliams was relentless, and soon she decided it was time to start promoting the school. She and Cole went on KWKY 1150 AM and told people about the school, and things slowly started to come together. One parent who is still involved with ACA says her child was just 3 when she heard the interview, but she decided that day that her kids would attend ACA.

ACA opened its doors to 26 students that first year in 1992-93. When the move was made to the old movie theater in town, everyone lent a hand to get the building ready to open.

“It was all volunteer labor,” Cole says. “There was an ER nurse gentleman who dabbled in construction, and he took a six-month leave of absence and was the foreman. The electrician was another parent who took a week’s vacation to help. Every night at 5:30, one of the moms from the school brought supper for the workers. We even had a sixth grader who would sweep and do things for the foreman. He never missed a day.”

ACA today
Today, ACA is thriving. The school has more than 320 students, and it continues its commitment to a Christian education.

The school welcomed a new administrator in 2006. The school board hired Joyce because they wanted someone who would focus on the heart of the child and the pulse of the family, and also because she had public education background. Hansen had been in public schools and state universities in two different states.

“ACA has three focuses,” Hansen says. “The parent and the home is the very best teacher any child can have. The church that the parent chooses to affiliate with is the No. 2 instructor, and school is third. ACA is a non-denominational school. Our statements of faith are what we major in, and that unites us and brings us together. At ACA, we look to instruct students in a biblically integrated way.”

ACA is also a discipleship school, meaning that one parent or guardian needs to have a Christian testimony and would like to have a Christian education for his or her child. The school has kids who come from divided homes, but that’s something that the school hasn’t shied away from. When parents interview with ACA, they are told what God’s word is and how it is used in the classroom.

“Then they are comfortable, and we’re not overstepping our boundaries,” Hansen says.

ACA earned its special accreditation, a college preparatory accreditation, with State of Iowa in 2008 for grades 7-12. In 2009, it also earned its accreditation for elementary programming K-6.

Dave and Kate Leever say Ankeny Christian Academy is the best choice for their kids Madison, Ella, Cale and Peyton.

Dave and Kate Leever say Ankeny Christian Academy is the best choice for their kids Madison, Ella, Cale and Peyton.

When it comes to athletics, ACA is a Class 1A school in athletics. It supports its own teams in junior varsity and varsity volleyball for girls, girls basketball and boys basketball. It also has teams for boys and girls golf in high school.

“If we don’t have enough students or coaches, we partner with other Christian schools so we have Iowa Christian Academy partner for football,” Hansen says. “For track, they hire the coach and find the fields, and we travel to them. Next year we’ll partner with Grandview for softball. If we want to partner with tennis or wrestling or swimming, then we can go to Ankeny, and we would be absorbed at Ankeny High School.”

The also school offers high school and online classes and has partnerships with DMACC. Students can get involved in the drama department, and vocal and instrumental music classes are offered.

ACA also offers activities through Association of Christian School International including a spelling bee, math olympics, speech meet, ACSI science fair and a creative writing contest. They also have students from other countries who visit for studies.

ACA is also in the middle of a capital campaign. The school owns the strip mall adjacent to its current building where Daylight Donuts is located. The plan is to build more classrooms and enlarge its junior and senior high area.

“We offer childcare, and we’re open all year long,” Hansen says. “Even when our school is inclement weather, we stay open and even offer up to sixth grade level because our families need that service. We need more room for them, so we’d like to move the high schoolers out.”

The board also wants to increase its faculty and staff salaries. Though ACA charges tuition, it does not receive any state or federal funds. Hansen says if the school can raise monies that can go to improving curriculum and facilities and activities, then it alleviates funds in the general budget to put towards teacher salaries.

“We have an expansion project and a lot of renovations planned,” she says. “We’re praising God because we had a couple of anonymous donors put money toward bleachers and another toward technology. We’ve just had godly people helping us to make sure God’s school will continue.”

A parent’s perspective
Dave and Kate Leever made the decision to give ACA a try last year. The family had been homeschooling their three oldest children — Madison, 16, Peyton, 13, Cale, 10 — but placed Madison at ACA for her freshman year. This is now her second year there, and her brothers also joined her this year. Next year their youngest child, Ella, 4, will start kindergarten there as well.

“We chose ACA for a couple of reasons,” says Dave Leever. “First is the Christ-centered education they would have at ACA and small class sizes and the relationships they’d develop with other students. Also, going to a smaller school, with extra-curriculars they are able to participate in no matter how good they are.”

Leever says the family has been extremely happy with the choice.

“The teachers and staff and administration has done a great job helping the kids make the transition from homeschooling to a more traditional school schedule,” Leever says. “The relationships the kids have developed with like-minded kids and families has been nice.

“The administration responds to any concerns immediately, and is involved in student life as much as they are in administration. Our kids know them really well, and that’s not necessarily like other schools. Our kids have been accepted well. They’ve gotten into sports and having school pride. They wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.”

For parents considering ACA, Leever says the expectation is that if they want that kind of education, they need to get involved.

“A lot of things are volunteer, and we’ve found the more that we can integrate ourselves not only in the workings of the school but the activities, we’re involved with our kids, too,” he says. “There’s a vested interest. My wife helps on the lunch line, and I volunteer on the facilities committee.”

Most of all, he feels that the teachers, coaches and administration truly know and care about the kids. They want them to grow and learn and succeed. And there is no better feeling for a parent.

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