By Pat Shea
There’s a lot to admire about Wayne County, New York. There’s the abundance of apple orchards, unique museums, stunning lakes and according to Reid Robbins, the best kept secret in the county: The East Palmyra Christian School (EPCS).
EPCS is a non-profit Pre-K through 12th grade school that offers a Christian biblical worldview education balanced with a strong curriculum, in accordance with New York State educational law. In additional to biblical teaching, the school offers traditional subjects such as reading, language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music and physical education. For its high school students, the school also offers non-Regents and Regents level courses in the sciences, mathematics, English-language arts, Spanish, and history, music, art and physical education.
Robbins has good reason to be proud of the school; he was appointed principal of EPCS in July 2018.
“I love the school,” stated Robbins in a recent interview. “It has a real family environment. Everyone does their fair share and we have an amazing staff, wonderful students and dedicated parents.”
Robbins is also proud of the school’s vibrant arts program. Students of all grades participate in choir; students in third grade can take musical instrument lessons and students in fourth grade and up can perform in band and jazz band concerts. Throughout the year there are several school and community events to showcase a student’s ability in art, music and dance, as well as their spelling and geography smarts.
As a member of the Western New York Christian Athletic Association (WNYCAA) EPCS students grades 5-8 participate with, and against, students from other area private schools in soccer, basketball, volleyball, and track and field.
For the home school student, EPCS offers the opportunity to take single courses, trade classes such as mechanics, drafting or home economics, music or physical education classes. Home school students can also attend workshops and field trips. “We partner very closely with the homeschooling community,” explained Robbins. “We understand that parents today are more concerned than ever regarding the values and morals their children are raised with. We offer a wonderful solution for home school students to gain additional knowledge and socialization in a Christian environment.”
And all of this is done with some full-time and some half-time staff, but most significantly with a huge network of parent volunteers. “Our school is 100% parent-run,” stated Robbins proudly. “Our board is made up of parents, and the families that support the school take care of every person there. If there is a need they fulfill it. If there’s a problem, they flock to help.”
No one knows this better than Robbins himself. “Shortly after I became principal, I had a heart attack. The school community wrapped itself around my family and offered blessing after blessing. I didn’t realize before what it meant to be part of a family of God. Now I know. It’s this environment that helps build character and helps families grow in Christ and become better disciples.”
Finding a job while searching for a school
Robbins became affiliated with EPCS while searching for educational opportunities for his own two children, Ruth 3, and Miriam,1. “My wife Lauren and I were considering homeschooling and Pre-K options and we looked into EPCS,” explained Robbins. “We were concerned with what was happening to the younger generation, with so many of them leaving the church. And with what is happening in the world today, I didn’t always approve as a parent with [events happening] in the public-school setting. Having the chance to raise a child in God’s loving environment is important to me as a parent, and it’s important to other parents as well.”
Prior to accepting the position as principal at EPCS, Robbins was a math teacher at Rochester Academy Charter School in Rochester. While teaching at the school, Robbins was nominated by his students and awarded the News 8 Golden Apple Award for his efforts in creating a learning environment where students thrived. Robbins was not only honored to receive the award, but he was grateful to have the opportunity to encourage students to improve their lives and take their God-given talents to help others in the world.
While looking into EPCS as an option, Robbins was told there was an opening for a principal and he was encouraged to apply.
“My goal as a teacher was to always be a light to my students in a dark world,” stated Robbins. And now as principal of EPCS, Robbins helps light the way for over 70 EPCS students, daily.
Educating the whole child
According to Robbins, the goal of EPCS is to educate the whole child and foster spiritual, physical, aesthetic and intellectual development in order to help students discover their God-given gifts. “We don’t just want to educate; we want to nurture and encourage students to celebrate God’s work in all areas of their life. We want to help equip them to be Jesus to others in the secular world,” stated Robbins.
Although not affiliated with a specific church, Robbins states the school’s values align with the Reformed Christian Church’s tradition. “We operate as one large family of Christ. Everyone does [his/her] fair share. We believe by working together, parents, community and staff, and that way we all grow in Christ, helping our students become better disciples and be that ‘light in a dark world’”
There are 13 staff members at ECPS. All teachers are certified with degrees in elementary and secondary education, and according to Robbins, many have attended Christian liberal arts colleges themselves. The current ratio of students to faculty is approximately 10 students to each teacher, again promoting a warmer, family-type environment.
“Our faculty are committed to Christ,” explained Robbins. “They see teaching as their ministry and work closely with each student’s parents. We see ourselves as part of a three-legged stool; the legs stand for family, church and school,” explained Robbins. “By all working together we prop a child up to become a Christ-loving citizen.”
How it all began
The concept of EPCS as a parent-run organization dates back to the school’s inception. On May 17, 1937, a group of 30 people met and organized the East Palmyra Christian School Society, with the common goal to establish a local Christian school. It took ten years before a small block building behind the East Palmyra Christian Reformed Church would open in September 1947, with just one teacher and 23 pupils in eight grades.
It was difficult as the student body grew, for The Society to pay teachers and furnish school supplies. To help raise money to meet the school’s needs, a group of 20 women formed the Christian School Circle on May 6, 1952.
In January of 1962, the East Palmyra Christian Reformed Church moved, giving the school the opportunity to purchase the church building. After remodeling the church, the school could now accommodate two additional classrooms upstairs and one downstairs for older students, while the primary grades continued to hold classes in the original block schoolhouse.
Several years later, after much discussion, land was purchased from the church and a new school building was built, which opened on September 14, 1981.
In 1996, the school erected a new gymnasium, giving students the ability to compete with other local schools in basketball, soccer and track. In the winter of 2000-2001, the school was able, through donations, to add what is now known as the Albert and Gladys Ryckbost Memorial Music Room.
Today over 80 students attend the school, which is now independent of the church. It is open to children of all races, nationality, and religion, and is governed and supported by parents dedicated to guiding students and preparing them to live a full Christian life.
“I am proud that we have a school that offers a biblical family environment,” stated Robbins. “We continue to work hard to keep the tuition affordable, and the doors open so we can always help children grow in Christ.”
For more information on East Palmyra Christian School (EPCS) call (315) 597-4400 or visit www.eastpalmyrachristianschool.com.