For families who have decided on an independent school education for their children, the private school choices seem endless. Options range from religious to secular, co-ed to single sex, day or boarding. One especially important consideration for families is the school’s organization – the grades/school levels offered. Schools vary from solely primary or secondary offerings to a combination of preschool through high school. For families choosing one school for their children’s entire academic experience, the benefits are many.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A "LIFER"
At K-12 schools like Mount Paran Christian School, a college-preparatory school, students who attend from preschool/Kindergarten through grade 12 are fondly referred to as “lifers.” While each of the 1,255 students on the MPCS campus is known and loved, the 27 seniors in the class of 2022 who have spent their entire academic careers at MPCS feel this to be especially true.
Ella Akins ‘22 shares, “Mount Paran has been such a special place for me to grow up. I will forever cherish the friendships I have made and am beyond thankful for the teachers, staff, and parents who have poured into my life. I have been encouraged along each step and am well-prepared for where God leads me next.”
The Akins family has been a part of the MPCS community for more than 17 years, as Ella’s older brother Davis Akins ‘19 is an alumnus. Parents Michael and Holly Akins share that, because of their many years at one school, a true partnership between home and school developed. “Countless numbers of teachers, administrators, coaches, friends, parents of other students, Bible study leaders, and classmates have played a special role in the lives of Davis and Ella,” says Holly. “They have all had a hand in molding them into the young adults that they are today. When we began our time at MPCS, surrounding our kids with like-minded Christian families was important to us as young parents, and it holds true today.”
Of the 102 seniors in the class of 2022, 27 are lifers. Similarly, in the class of 2021, 25 of the 104 graduates were lifers. The fact that each graduating class is comprised of approximately 25-percent lifelong K-12 students is a huge testament to the MPCS experience for students and their families. MPCS parent Kathy Reeves is grateful for the lifelong experience for her son Milo Reeves ‘21 at the school. “I am very thankful for Milo being at MPCS for the last 13 years. I am grateful for the blessing it has been for him and myself and am grateful for the partnership I have with the staff and teachers.”
“I wouldn’t change it,” says Matthew Buchan ‘21. “I’m thankful I’ve had the chance to grow up at Mount Paran.” For Matthew, the benefits of attending MPCS for the entirety of the early years of schooling have been immeasurable. “One of the greatest benefits has been the sense of family that develops over the years with staff, teachers, and students,” he says. “I believe the teachers look out for students and provide great guidance, both in class progression and general life lessons and advice. The support system that I’ve built at Mount Paran has been a tremendous benefit. Being in an environment where you feel comfortable and can build up a strong trust based on experience is probably the biggest benefit that I’ve seen.”
“I’ve been able to form lifelong friendships with people across my grade," says Matthew's sister, Ana Buchan '22. "Growing up with people who become like family members creates such a strong bond that we will never lose. God blessed us with an incredible school and the best teachers to grow up with. The strong foundation in faith and friendship that Mount Paran cultivates has been amazing for me, and I will be forever thankful for that.”
"JUST RIGHT" ACADEMICS
Offering one large PK-12 community eases school transitions between division levels, easing student anxiety. It “feels” like the same school to students as they move from lower to middle school and from middle to high school. Faculty get to know each student and his or her individual needs long before arriving in their classrooms.
For Mallory Jordan ‘21 and her sisters Claire Jordan ‘23 and Riley Jordan ‘23, there are strong academic benefits to being a part of one school for 13 years. “Being at the same school has helped me academically and athletically. Teachers at every level are familiar with what is required at the next level, so they prepare you accordingly for success,” Mallory shares. “Sometimes students transfer from public schools [and] have gaps in their learning. Attending one school eliminates this issue, and you can better understand the expectations and curriculum of your teachers and school.”
Matthew Buchan also discovered that because teachers and administrators really knew him, he was able to advance through the curriculum at a “just-right” pace. “In middle school, I was not restricted from taking advanced classes, even though I wasn’t yet in the high school,” he says. “I think that really set me up for success. Teachers are familiar with my work ethic and gave me the benefit of the doubt that I could handle it and be successful.”
BUILDING BONDS FOR EXTRACURRICULAR SUCCESS
The long-term bond of a school partnership extends beyond the classroom to extracurriculars, such as within the arts, in leadership and community service, and with athletics. Parent Holly Akins says that by being part of a team for several years with the same fellow students, her children have developed a special bond and trust with their coaches and teammates. “The baseball team has been working towards the same goal since middle school, same with cheer and robotics too! The kids understand the MPC Way from an early age, and it carries with them into their high school sports and clubs.” By pouring into student-athletes year-after-year, coaches build trusting relationships. The result is sometimes a State title, such as the titles MPC baseball, cheer, and robotics teams have won in recent years, but it is always building character, resilience, and confidence.
“I have developed more as an athlete through attending Mount Paran all my life,” says Mallory Jordan. “Unlike public schools, the middle and high school coaches interact with their future players and, therefore, take time to develop them. Students that are ‘lifers’ have had the opportunity to lift weights and train at an earlier age in a smaller and controlled setting. This allows for athletes to start developing earlier and be ready to participate in varsity sports once they reach high school. I would not be the same student or athlete without the foundation I had in lower and middle school, which I was able to attain because of the intimate environment and invested teachers and coaches.”
Audrey Weaver ‘21 cannot imagine what her school experience would have been like if not at MPCS. “Everyone I have met and built relationships with has helped me so much while I've been at Mount Paran. The teachers at MPCS are truly outstanding, and I am so thankful that they are so willing to invest in their students' lives. Every teacher that I've had at MPCS has left me with something to cherish, whether it was a piece of advice or an encouraging smile. All of my teachers at Mount Paran have gone beyond what it says in their job description. They pour into all of their students, and they invest so much time and energy into helping everyone around them.”
The sense of sharing knowledge, kindness, and encouragement that students experience from their teachers overflows to other students. There is a real benefit of offering multiple grades on one campus. Parent Holly Akins says, “You often hear of the opportunities at a high school, but what are the opportunities for kids at each level leading up to high school. What prepares your child for what awaits them in high school? Our kids have been part of drama productions, sports teams, academic and service clubs, and leadership opportunities, and many of these activities began in lower school! As lower and middle school students, our kids looked up to the high school athletes, artists, and performers. As high school students, our kids have enjoyed giving back by serving as role models through their sports, as well as serving as mentors to the younger kids on campus.”
FEELING KNOWN AND LOVED
Perhaps the top reason families choose to remain at a K-12 school for all thirteen years is that students are truly known. Debra Buchan, mother to lifers Matthew and Ana, shares, "We are forever thankful for the Mount Paran community of staff, students, and parents that have made this a home for our family for so many years. Knowing that our children spend their days learning in a Christ-centered environment has been a blessing."
Caroline Bradford ‘03 is not only a parent of two young children at MPCS, but also an alumna herself. As a legacy family, Caroline has experienced an MPCS education first-hand and knew it was the sort of opportunity she wanted her children to experience. “Seeing the school grow into what it has become over the past 20 years has exceeded my wildest dreams, and that is largely in part [due to] the teachers, administrators, and parents who were and are devoted to Christian education,” she shares. “When it came time to choose a school [for] our boys, MPCS was at the top of the list. We knew a high-quality education was important to us, but being able to participate in sports, clubs, and arts opportunities and having an overall sense of community is what we desire for our children. MPCS has all of this. Knowing my children are surrounded by teachers who love them the way Christ loves is why I loved being a student at MPCS, and why I am thankful my children get to experience this as well.”
Mallory Jordan echoes that sentiment: “One of the greatest advantages of attending the same school from kindergarten to twelfth grade is the relationships you are able to build with the staff. My high school principal was my lower school principal first, and I’ve been able to form a close relationship with her. I’ve talked to many students who came to Mount Paran from a public school, and they always mention how different the community is. None of them had close relationships with their teachers or staff, but at Mount Paran, teachers are willing to be mentors and influences in your life outside of the classroom. I have experienced these relationships with many of my teachers, and, because I have gone to Mount Paran for thirteen years, I’ve been able to do this at every stage of life.”
For Stephanie Dunn, director of admission at MPCS, the impact long-term families make on a school's culture is powerful. She says, "It is so rewarding to walk the halls with prospective families and share the traditions and, more so, the loyalty and commitment of our families. It speaks volumes about how much the Christian culture, the academics, and, most of all, the family environment is truly lived out in the classroom, on the playing fields, at the churches, and in one another's homes. The families at MPCS choose to return year after year, as lifers or newcomers, because they feel their worth here in so many areas."
Lifers have the unique experience of being a part of a long-term partnership, experiencing first-hand for 13 years the benefits of right-fit academics, athletic development, cross-divisional mentoring, and being known as an important and valued member of the community. Certainly, circumstances change for families such that it is not possible for a student to belong at one school for all K-12 years. Whether or not a student is a "lifer" at a K-12 school, there are benefits to all families who belong to an independent school community. And, at a Christian school like Mount Paran Christian School, whether families are celebrating their first "Eagle-versary" or their thirteenth, each student is truly known, loved, prayed for, and valued for the unique and special way God made them.
Amber Irizarry is the communications content specialist for Mount Paran Christian School.
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