Attending a public high school was an “overwhelming” and “drastic change” for Olivia Johanson. Before her freshman year at Vintage, Johanson’s social circle was mostly limited to her peers at First Christian School.
“I realized there were more people in this world than what I thought,” Johanson said. “Thankfully, I’m blessed with good social skills, so it was easy to make friends.”
Johanson attended First Christian from the day it opened. Now 16, Johanson said she still considers First Christian her “second family.”
First Christian, located at 2659 First St., is an independent and private, non-denominational Christian school that offers preschool through the eighth grade. This year marks the school’s 15th anniversary.
First Christian began with 54 preschool students when it opened its doors in 1998. Starting in 1999, the school began adding a new grade level each year. The school has since grown to include elementary and middle school grades, and now has an enrollment of more than 230 students.
Faith is integrated throughout the academic and co-curricular programs, which include technology, foreign language, physical education and art at every grade.
The school follows the grade level standards set by the Association of Christian Schools International, which provides student assessments and other services. Second-grade teacher Karen Hollabaugh said these standards are about one grade level ahead of California state standards.
Hollabaugh said one of the things she appreciates most about First Christian is the freedom she has as an educator. While she still must meet standards, she’s able to use a mixture of teaching styles to meet the needs of each of her students.
While she doesn’t get paid as much as her public school colleagues, Hollabaugh said she feels “paid” in the benefits of being part of the First Christian School family.
Dawnelle Ellis took over as school administrator in 2007, following the most challenging period in First Christian’s history. The previous administrator left abruptly, and the economy took a sharp downturn. Many families left First Christian, and enrollment declined significantly, Ellis said.
“There was a debate on whether the school would close,” Ellis said. “But God pulled us out. Now, we’re bigger than we’ve ever been.”
Ellis strongly credits the faith of the First Christian community with getting them through a difficult time. Keeping the school up and running was nothing short of “a miracle,” she said.
“It’s my personal belief that God wasn’t ready for our school to close,” she said.
Ellis also credited Dianna Messenger, the school’s admissions and marketing coordinator, with helping the school become more well-known.
Ellis, the previous preschool director, has led First Christian through significant growth and expansion. The school now has a teacher for every grade level, so classes are no longer combined. Ellis helped to bring in specialized instructors to teach the co-curricular classes, such as for technology, physical education and art.
Annual tuition for kindergarten through third grade is $5,250; for grades four through eight, $5,775.
Last July, construction was completed on a new middle school building. The 3,000-square-foot space accommodates up to 24 students per middle school grade. The new building also includes a small science lab, where students use microscopes and perform experiments.
The average K-5 class size at First Christian is 16 students. At the middle school level, the average class size is 18.
Johanson said one of the things she enjoyed most about First Christian was the one-on-one time with teachers. She credits that early, personal attention with helping her to become an above-average student in high school.