116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — A small Christian school in Iowa City is celebrating a decade of educating students, growing from offering only kindergarten and first-grade classes to now serving 91 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, representing 12 countries.
As part of its growing enrollment, the school — Faith Academy — installed a new playground in September after raising $140,000 for the project, a reflection of continued community support.
Fourth-graders Kodjl Landkoukpl and Yayra Aivyvy — both age 9 — have since taken it upon themselves to launch a “trash initiative” for the school. Every Monday, they clean up the trash around their playground and school campus and sanitize the equipment.
“We just got this new playground, and we want it to be neat,” Kodjl said.
A second phase of the playground project is to “beautify the landscape” to make it be a place for families and community members, development director Brett Erickson said.
The school — previously known as The Spot at 1030 Crosspark Ave. — was opened in 2013 by Parkview Church. Since then, the school has become a 503(c) 3 nonprofit. The Spot, which still operates at that site, is an after-school program for elementary, junior high and high school students, primarily for low-income families.
Faith Academy predominantly serves students of color, and Erickson said literacy and education is a “social justice issue.” Many students at the school also speak English as a second language.
Ensuring teachers and staff reflect the student population is an “area we can grow in,” said Doug Fern, the Faith Academy head of school.
Leigh Ann Erickson, director of professional development and student support and Brett Erickson’s wife, said one of the school’s goals is to make sure student experiences is reflected in the staff and curriculum.
“As we create goals for the next 10 years, we are ensuring many people have a seat at the table — families, teachers, students, community partners — to ensure this isn’t a school happening within the confines of a building. It’s really something that happens within the community.”
Another of those goals is figuring out the future of the school as the Iowa City Community School District transitions from a junior high to middle school model. By fall 2024, Iowa City sixth-graders will be moved from the district’s elementary schools in to middle schools. Faith Academy is considering its options, including also moving to the middle school model or adding more grade levels.
The cost of tuition is $8,000 a year. However, families pay based on their income and transportation is provided to those who need it. “We want to eliminate any financial barrier that would prohibit them from sending their kids to school here,” Brett Erickson said.
Only 10 percent of the school’s operating costs are funded through tuition. The other 90 percent is raised through “generous supportive donors who see how critical the ministry is here and how lives are being changed and transformed,” Erickson said.
Erickson attributes the success of Faith Academy students to the smaller class sizes — 15 students to every one teacher — and relationships between students, teachers and parents.
“It’s all working together to pay huge dividends in students’ academic success,” Erickson said.
Music teacher Laura Ankrum began sending her son to Faith Academy when he was in first grade for the 2020-21 school year. When the pandemic struck, Ankrum said she “didn’t know what that would look like in public school.”
“We never looked back,” Ankrum said, praising the size of the school and quality of friendships with his teachers and peers.
The school is slowly growing its collection of musical instruments. Most recently, it acquired tubano drums, which are based on the djembe drum originally from West Africa.
Ankrum said as music teacher, she “basically gets to watch these kids grow up.” She has students from kindergarten to sixth grade. “I teach them every year. It’s really special.”
In addition to teaching traditional subjects like math, reading, science and Language Arts, the school also teaches Bible. Faith Academy became a member of Christian Schools International about two years ago, which verifies that schools adhere to a Christian mission and vision, high academic standards and helps schools meet local, state and national standards of education.
Mahogany White grew up going to The Spot before it became a school. Now, because of the “huge impact” The Spot had on her life, she sends her three kids in kindergarten and second and fourth grade to Faith Academy. She loves that it’s a place they learn about the Bible, she said.
“I can think of few things that bring me greater joy than watching kids come alive to the reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Fern said. “It’s a privilege being a part of what God’s doing here.
“Raising kids is hard,” Fern said, adding that he wants the school to walk “alongside parents.”
“We’re doing this together,” he said.
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