Beginning with the 2005-06 academic year, the Waldorf Christian Academy on Old Washington Road will offer high school classes. It will start with ninth grade and expand one grade level each year until it has a full high school curriculum for students through grade 12.
Pastor Ron Harris of the Waldorf New Hope Church of God, the principal and founder of the school, said he has continually fielded inquiries in recent years from the parents of enrolled students and others in the community about adding a high school curriculum.
Of the about 20 Christian schools in Charles, St. Mary's and Calvert counties, about eight go beyond the eighth grade. Meanwhile, most of those schools have steady or growing enrollments.
Waldorf Christian will add a grade a year, Harris said, "unless there's a flood of enrollment that causes us to add two grades. We're open to do that."
"I'm relieved," said Karen Babka of Hughesville. Her daughter, Kaitlin, is in the eighth grade at the academy. "I don't have to worry, and she doesn't have to leave." She said that her daughter's academic performance has improved a lot under the close attention she has had since starting at the academy in the sixth grade.
"Two or three times a week, the teachers stay after school to help with homework," Babka said.
Linda Randall, a teacher for 20 years, has spent the past seven teaching second grade at Waldorf Christian. "It's a nurturing environment here," she said.
Mandy Grer teaches fourth grade, with four years at the school. She said the students support each other and encourage everyone to do well.
"There is a correlation between academic excellence, personal growth and expression," Harris wrote in a recent report that addressed the feasibility of expanding the academy. He cited a June 2004 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, which found that private school students score above average in reading, writing and math.
"Test scores at WCA is evidence of that," Harris said. "About 72 percent of our students score in the top third, nationally, on the standard achievement tests in reading and math."
Public school officials say similarities and differences between the two systems are difficult to measure.
"I don't know how they're comparing," said Katie O'Malley-Simpson, spokesman for the Charles County public school system, "since we don't take the same tests. Public school children take the MSAs, the Maryland State Assessments, which are the state-required tests."
Cindy Jenkins of Waldorf, the mother of 12-year-old twin girls who just completed sixth grade at Waldorf Christian, said the private school's class sizes allow much more individualized attention than do the public schools.
"We like to keep our classroom [size] around 15 students," Harris said. "Some will exceed that, but that's the ideal ratio."
On a recent afternoon as the school year wound down toward summer break, Ajah Batts, 6, strolled into the school's main office. The diabetic child, who was finishing first grade, had come to the right place for a pick-me-up snack.
"My son's been a diabetic since he was 5," said Joan Harris, Harris's wife. "He's 26 now, and I know just about all there is to know about diabetes, which is good."
Without fanfare, Ajah plopped down in an oversized burgundy office chair. A quick self-check of her insulin level confirmed that she needed a snack. Looking through the principal's snack drawer, Ajah smiled as she settled on a tiny packet of sugary treats. Joan Harris said that kind of personal care is extended to every student. "They're all my kids," she said with a smile.
In the fall, her kids will include high school students for the first time.
Washington Christian started seven years ago with nine kindergarten students, Ron Harris said. This past school year, the school enrolled 175 students and is considering expanding its property and number of buildings. "That's pretty good growth, I think," he said.