Last in a series of articles reprinted from the Spring 2018 Inclusion magazine, highlighting the inclusiveness of the Cedar Valley.
WATERLOO — Desiring a faith-based education for their children without the budget to afford private schools has led two women to start Royal Legacy Christian Academy.
Chassidi Martin and Kendall Helmer plan to open the kindergarten through sixth-grade school with three teachers at Harvest Vineyard Church in the fall. They hope to provide an affordable, Christ-centered education that’s academically rigorous and reflects the community’s diversity.
“There’s a need for that in our city,” said Martin.
The school, which will be located at 715 E. Fourth St., will start with kindergarten through second grade and third- through sixth-grade English-speaking classrooms and a Spanish immersion program that will start as a K-1 classroom. Helmer’s degree is in teaching Spanish and English language learners.
Martin and her husband, Brion, are associate pastors at Harvest Vineyard. Helmer and her husband, Thomas, are worship and children’s ministry leaders at the downtown La Cosecha Vineyard Church. The pair will continue in those roles and serve as administrators at the school.
Helmer said a board will operate the school, which is not being sponsored by Harvest Vineyard Church. “They are basically allowing us to use their building, which is wonderful,” she said.
An effort to raise $150,000 for school operations is underway. Tuition will be sliding scale based on the income of families who enroll their children.
The intent is to attract a diverse group of students — and have diversity in the school’s teaching staff.
“Our curriculum or different resources would show different cultures in a positive light,” said Helmer. “We are going to be intentional in the books and resources we have for kids.”
“I want my girls to know you’re not just a side note in history,” said Martin, who is black. The curriculum will strive for historical accuracy that, in the case of African-Americans, would show how their work and contributions are “deeply woven into the fabric of the nation.”
“We don’t want to just include culture,” she added. “We want to make room for different cultural expressions.”
Other focal points will be science, technology, engineering and mathematics — or STEM, character development, money management, interpersonal communication, and health and wellness.
The idea of Royal Legacy Christian Academy grew out of Martin and Helmer’s friendship.
They met about seven years ago through the Vineyard leadership institute, where each completed a two-year program. After having children, the pair started meeting in each others’ living rooms for “intentional learning activities.”
Martin now has three daughters who are currently 6, 4 and 2. Helmer has two sons ages, 5 and 2, and is expecting a baby girl in June.
As kindergarten drew near for Martin’s oldest daughter, the pair started thinking about more formal educational options. After considering public and private schools in the Cedar Valley, they decided on home-schooling in an effort to continue the faith component while avoiding parochial school tuition. They met three days a week, learning in English one week and Spanish the other.
Helmer said others were interested in their group when they learned about it and there was, at points, talk about a school. “We always had that in the back of our heads,” she noted.
Last year, they learned about Joshua Christian Academy in Des Moines. The school values cultural diversity and bases its tuition on income. It started nine years ago with nine children in one K-3 classroom and now has more than 140 K-10 students.
The pair was interested in seeing such a model in Iowa and went to visit the school last year.
“That really was the point of confirmation for us,” said Helmer. Over the summer, they set up the school’s board and started meeting every Thursday last fall. “We’re basically taking an entire year to pray and plan.”
She added, “One of the biggest reasons I was interested in homeschooling was to raise my children bilingually. Then, with the school, we feel that it’s a need in our community to have a different model where language is taught” at the elementary school level.
In K-3, 90 percent of the students’ day will be in Spanish. After that, it will be divided more evenly. By sixth grade, the intent is for immersion students to be equally competent in their reading, writing and understanding of English and Spanish.
“I hope to have an equal mix of native Spanish speaking students and native English speaking students,” said Helmer.
“We have a lot of interest,” said Martin, noting enrollment is open for next fall. “We feel pretty good about the feedback we’ve got from the community. It’s really just been an organic outpouring.”
The school will only serve a limited amount of students initially with a maximum of 10 in K-2, eight in 3-6 and 10 in Spanish immersion. “We’re capping our enrollment at 28 students for the first year,” she said.
For now, they’re busy raising funds to operate the school.
“We know that our biggest task is partnering with as many individuals, churches, businesses,” said Helmer. They are seeking ongoing support to make the school affordable.
“There’s a lot of work to be done by opening day,” she added. “It seems almost like an impossible thing, but through the power of God it can happen. It’s just week-to-week waiting on the Lord.”
Noted Martin, “It’s a faith journey.”