May 18, 2001 11:00 pm
FINAL LESSONS: Art teacher Mary DeViney helps La Grande Christian Grade School students Jackie Kennicott, left, and Leilani Poeling with a project. (The Observer/DICK MASON).
FINAL LESSONS: Art teacher Mary DeViney helps La Grande Christian Grade School students Jackie Kennicott, left, and Leilani Poeling with a project. (The Observer/DICK MASON).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

La Grande Christian Grade School, owned and operated by the First Baptist Church of

La Grande, will close Thursday at the conclusion of its school year, but students will continue to have a Christian school available to them.

First Baptists board of deacons decided to disaffiliate itself from the school only after working to make sure that the students had an alternative.

The board reached a verbal agreement with another school, the Christian Community School, to offer a full-time program next fall for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. Christian Community is housed at Valley Fellowship (the old National Guard armory building).

The new program would meet the needs of the students who have been attending the Baptist school. Christian Community Schools administrators Cally Goss and Mary Acquistapace said they would offer a five-day grade school program if there is enough enrollment.

Goss and Acquistapace also are planning a half-day kindergarten three days a week.

We met over a four-to-five- month period. It was a long, long process, Acquistapace said. The church (First Baptist) thoroughly researched all the options. It was not a quick decision on any partys part.

First Baptist leaders believed that La Grande Christian Grade School would better flourish if it was not under the administrative constraints of the church and the present facility limitations.

Wayne Pickens, senior pastor of the church, said the change will help Christian Community School because students from the Baptist school can move there now. Pickens said a strong independent Christ-centered school would ultimately flourish better than a church-connected school.

The minister said the board of deacons is impressed with what Goss and Acquistapace are trying to build.

They have a dream and we believe they can make it a reality, he said.

Pickens pointed out that the La Grande Christian Grade School and Christian Community School are not merging.

We are giving Christian Community School our endorsement, he said. We will make every effort to help it succeed.

Acquistapace said her school is

making changes to meet the needs of the entire community.

The board of deacons consulted with First Baptists congregation before closing the school.

It was a difficult decision which we wrestled with a long time, Pickens said.

First Baptist Churchs Heidi Ho preschool and kindergarten programs will be retained by the church. Pickens said the church is better equipped to administer the kindergarten and preschool than the grade school. He noted that the school, confined to the church building on Sixth Street, does not have a playground, something that is important for a grade school.

Christian Community School is close to Pioneer Park.

The Heidi Ho kindergarten was started 28 years ago by Doris Eakin, the programs director for 25 years. La Grande Christian Grade School eventually evolved out of Heidi Ho.

Today Heidi Hos preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds has 92 students, its kindergarten has 37 and La Grande Christian Grade School, 43, said Kim Kennicott, administrator of all three programs.

La Grande Christian Grade School has three teachers. At least one of the teachers had not planned to return for the next school year.

A public information meeting for parents interested in enrolling their children at Christian Community School will begin at 7 p.m. Monday at 507 Palmer St., site of Valley Fellowship church.

Christian Community School is located in the Valley Fellowship building. But the school is not connected to the church. The independent, interdenominational school is completing its first year of operation.

Christian Community School serves students in kindergarten through the sixth grade. Beginning in September, the school will offer a full-time, five-day schedule for students in grades 1-6. Its kindergarten program will provide a half day of instruction on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

In addition to the five-day schedule, the school will offer two other options:

A half-time program in which elementary students attend school for 2 days a week and then are home-schooled for 2 days with materials provided by the school. The homework papers the children take home are corrected by teachers the next week.

A Friday program in which children who are being home-schooled by parents on their own are provided with services. Children will receive Bible-based, spiritual teaching, and music and art instruction. Field trips will also be provided every nine weeks.

We want to meet the social and spiritual needs of home-school students, said Mary Acquistapace,

co-administrator of the school.

Christian Community School now has 10 students and two teachers. The school will hire more teachers if enrollment increases. Anyone interested in applying for a teaching position should call 663-9729.