By Cynthia A. Lovely
We all have dreams; a vision, a passion for something to occur in our lifetime. Often, a dream starts small and those around you may not understand it. Yet you believe God has placed it in your heart and you persevere until the doors start to open… and the dream becomes a reality.
Elizabeth Villalovos, of Schenectady, wanted to make a difference in the lives of her children and in their education process. After homeschooling her four daughters and one son for a few years, she felt a desire to minister to other families and their children, in providing a solid Christian background throughout their school years.
“I fell in love with teaching while homeschooling my own children,” she said. “I loved the fact that I could include God in all that we did and teach my children valuable Biblical lessons along with regular education. I wanted to help other families have these same options in a Christian atmosphere.” Her dream came to fruition in September of 2018 with the opening of the Solid Ground Christian Academy in the urban neighborhood off Broadway in Schenectady, NY.
Villalovos studied and researched available Christian programs and she is now the School Administrator of the Academy with five regular staff members who work on a volunteer basis. The school is affiliated with Maranatha Ministries, a church pastored by Richard Frank, and located across the street from the Academy. “It’s amazing we have this perfect space so close to our church,” said Villalovos. “It is literally right across the street. We are renting the space and we are thrilled with what it offers. We have four classrooms, a library, computer room, spacious kitchen and cafeteria, a school office and a chapel. Everything we need is right here. It is definitely an answer to prayer.”
The school has classes from Pre-K to grade 12. At the start, Pre-K seems to be the larger group which proves the need for such services in this area. Villalovos is happy with the classes but looks forward to growth. “Right now we have 3 and 4 year olds in the same classroom. I would like to be at a place of enrollment where we can separate these age groups. The 4 year olds could be challenged a bit more so that they have a great foundation before they start kindergarten.”
The curriculum for Pre-K through Grade 3 is the Abeka program, a popular Christian program that began in 1972 with high academic standards. The school administrator believes the program, “is a rich, colorful, thorough curriculum. It is the perfect way to build a child’s academic foundation.”
Grades 4-12 use the ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) program. This is a PACE/Packet system, allowing the students to work independently. They are challenged to set individual goals based on their academic progress and at their own pace, all under supervision of staff. The administrator is working on a method to develop a curriculum, “to combine multiple grades so our older students are being taught more from a teacher-led standpoint and they can be challenged more socially and academically.” The revised method would allow multiple grade classrooms to interact with one another as they learn.
The school hours are 8:00 AM to 3:30 PM, Monday through Friday with normal school holidays. The classes are core subjects of English, Math, Science, Social Studies and electives for high school age. Electives include art, health, and home economics. A local musician and congregation member, Jamie Gilliland, comes in every Friday to teach music. “I work with the older students on proper techniques for choral singing and also music therapy lessons. My wife, Vickey, helps me with the class for younger students.” said Gilliland. Vickey explained their process, “We sing Christian songs with my husband playing the keyboard and I help the younger children with hand motions and using rhythm instruments. The little ones are delightful and I always feel such a sense of fulfillment after we leave the classes. We both enjoy helping out at the school.”
All of the volunteers, including the teachers, come from the church congregation and are a tremendous help to the Academy. The pastor’s wife, Susan Frank, will be teaching cooking in a Home Economics class with a final project of hosting a banquet for their families. “It is my honor and privilege to teach a Home Economics Class at SGCA,” she said. “In our fast paced society, taking care of a home and home cooked meals are something that I fear is slipping away. I hope to teach the students practical lessons and show them how to make simple and delicious meals. I couldn’t be more blessed than to share with these students my years of experience in the kitchen and home.”
The teenage students expressed appreciation for the safe Christian atmosphere at the school and they are grateful to be away from the trauma, peer pressure and bullying they have encountered in other schools. 12 year old Abby said, “I like that there are no cliques like there were at other schools I’ve attended. Everyone here is nice and we are all friends. It’s like a big family. And there is more one-on-one time with the teachers. It’s easier to get help and more guidance with my work.”
Another student, 13 year old Julissa, expressed appreciation for the safe Christian environment and the ability to influence others. “At SGCA we are able to reach other children that come into our school and help guide their families to the Lord. We help develop relationships and lasting friendships.” she said. “I was homeschooled before so I enjoy being out of the house while still learning Christian curriculum in a good setting.”
One of the younger students, 4 year old Jazzlyn, has her priorities lined up in proper order. When asked what her favorite part of SGCA was, she had a short answer “Lunch.”
She was encouraged to elaborate and added, “Naptime.”
She did admit she liked music class and the “dancing and worshipping Jesus” part. The testimonies of the students, older and younger, speak highly of the growing success of this new Academy.
Villalovo’s advice to anyone interested in starting up a Christian school is two fold: don’t come into it with preconceived ideas and pray for a solid staff and willing volunteers. She has learned it is best to be affiliated with a religious organization (which they are) and if space is available through your own church, it is easier to use that space rather than a rental. Since they needed to rent the space, there were more administrative details to work through including safety precautions and code regulations. In a church building situation, most of that would already be in place. However, they are moving forward in their ideal rental space, grateful for what God has provided and excited about the bright future for Solid Ground Christian Academy.
Pastor Richard Frank is pleased with the success of the school. “As the pastor of Maranatha Ministries for many years, this school is truly a dream come true for all of us. I am so pleased to see that we now have the opportunity to teach and train our children on several levels, beyond our church programs with a full time Christian School where our children are being taught fundamental truths of God’s Word in particular and life in general. School Administrator Elisabeth Villalovos has made it cost effective so many children who otherwise would not have access to private school now have that opportunity.”
Villalovos is determined to keep the tuition rates affordable so the option remains open to many families. At this point the rates are about half of what other private schools are charging locally. “My burden is educating children from a Godly standpoint and giving them a solid foundation starting at a young age. So I don’t want to limit people with high costs of tuition.” she said.
Her enthusiasm is contagious and her appreciation of all God has done to fulfill this dream shines throughout her conversation. “It has been the work of God from beginning to end. We had furniture donated to us for all the classrooms including desks, chairs, a conference table, and even a kitchen island. It continually amazes me how the doors kept opening before us. It truly confirmed this school was in God’s plan and we are grateful for all He has done. We look forward to the continued growth of the school and a bright future for all the enrolled students. We give God all the glory!”