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A new classical Christian school in Rhinelander sees strong interest amid pandemic

Learning in a classroom
Erin Gottsacker
/
WXPR
Bekka Codere teaches a group of students at Armis Dei Academy in Rhinelander.

A new Christian school in Rhinelander is attracting families based on a model of rigorous, classical education. Its success is part of a nationwide boom in Christian education since the pandemic began.

Clustered in a classroom in the basement of Rhinelander’s Pine Grove Community Church, a group of first and second graders snap their fingers to the beat of a bible verse.

“In every place where I record my name,” they recite from Exodus 20:24, “I will come to you and I will bless you.”

The students are finishing a day of learning at Armis Dei Academy, a school founded on the principles of classical Christian education.

Classical Christian education is a biblical education with a focus on classical literature and Latin. It incorporates the phases of childhood development to facilitate learning.

“We have logic classes, so how to think well, how to reason well, how to spot my own errors in my thinking and in others,” Jeremy Vander Galien, one of the school’s founders, explains. “Along with that then, as a companion, is rhetoric, how to speak well, how to persuade, how to get my point across, but our curriculum is called rhetoric of love. It’s not just using speech to persuade somebody, but using speech in a loving way to care for others.”

Vander Galien says the school holds its students to high standards, and one way it ensures students meet those standards is by working closely with parents.

“In the younger grades, we think it’s very important that parents are more involved with their kids,” he says. “And that’s why we ask families – it’s typically going to be the mom – to co-teach with us.”

On Mondays and Wednesdays, students learn material in the classroom, and on the other days they review that material at home, with their parents. It’s a hybrid of classroom learning and homeschooling.

When the school started this fall, Vander Galien expected just a handful of families to enroll their children.

“When we started this school, we were in contact with other schools that were two years in, and almost all of them started with 10 or 15 students,” he says. “So that’s what we were thinking, we’re in Rhinelander, 10 would be awesome. We set our goal at 20.”

But double that number enrolled.

About half were previously homeschooled. The rest switched from other parochial or public schools.

Vander Galien says he thinks part of the reason for the school’s popularity is linked to the pandemic, when many parents suddenly found themselves more intensely involved in their children’s education.

“I think one of the blessings of the pandemic was families got a lot more time together,” he says. “Some parents looked at that and said okay, we want to keep that going. So the kind of model we’re doing here was very attractive to them.”

Additionally, as they became more involved in their children’s learning, Vander Galien says some parents found themselves dissatisfied with the curriculum.

Armis Dei Academy offered a more transparent, bible-based alternative.

So the school started its inaugural year with full classes.

And it’s not the only Christian school to see strong interest.

The Association of Christian Schools International is one of the largest networks of evangelical schools in the country.

Between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, the median member school in the network grew its enrollment by 12 percent.

And classical Christian schools, specifically, added thousands of students to their rosters, growing from about 50,000 students in 2018 to 59,000 students in 2021.

For parents like Bekka Codere, pursuing classical education for her children at Armis Dei Academy makes sense.

“We really wanted to have personal responsibility in their education and wanted to make sure they had a biblical worldview in what they were learning,” she says.

Codere homeschooled her children for years, and she really enjoyed it.

“But there’s only so much I felt like we could do at home,” she says. “I could tell, we wanted to do Latin with our oldest, and I wasn’t giving that as much attention as I could. So I was very, very thankful to have someone that I trusted, a godly woman, to take over for planning that. And I am so happy to be a co-teacher for her. I think that’s really good for her education.”

As the school year progresses, Codere is excited to watch her children – and their school – grow together.

Erin Gottsacker joined WXPR in December 2020. As a morning edition host and reporter, Erin reports on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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