For Terri Menoche, director at Lighthouse Christian School in Dagsboro, the school’s 10-year anniversary last year had special meaning.
Ten years ago, with a son in preschool and training in elementary education, she debated home schooling or sending her children to public school before coming up with the idea to start her own school.
“I had these feelings,” she said. “I felt like the Lord was laying it on my heart. All my friends were having babies and preschool aged kids and we were all home, and we were all teachers and finally, I talked to this one lady, and she had the plans already — with the buildings shaped just like they are today, and we didn’t even know each other.”
That first year, 1997, they began with a four-year-old program, which worked for Menoche because she could still be home for most of the day in the afternoon. That first year they started with four 4-year olds and ended the year with a class of 10. At the end of the year they thought about what they would do for kindergarten and Menoche said they prayed about it with the same four people that had been there from the start and they all decided that it was their calling to have the school go to eighth grade.
“We met with the pastor and the council and now the school has its own school board,” said Menoche. “It’s amazing how far we have come since those four little 4-year-olds.”
Each year since that humble beginning, they have added a grade; and in 2006, finally were complete by adding eighth graders.
The school now has about 140 students, or an average of about 15 per classroom, and they employ approximately 17 teachers, assistants, and office staff. They are a ministry of the Dagsboro Church of God and are housed in three separate, but connected, buildings behind the church.
Centrally located in Dagsboro, they have students from 29 area churches that eventually go on to high schools like Delmarva Christian High School in Georgetown, Indian River High School in Frankford, Sussex Central in Millsboro and Sussex Tech in Georgetown.
Classes include math and science, language arts, Bible and history and reading, as well as specials like gym and computer lab and Spanish. The 5th- through 8th-graders change classes much like in public middle school and all of the grades up to 5th have recess every day. For a new healthy habits initiative, they plan to start taking all grades outside for a walk each morning to try to do their part to physically get them ready for a day of learning.
Each Wednesday, they have chapel as a school where parents and family are welcome to join in. This is one of the best parts about school according to Justin Gulab, a first grader. That, and, of course, recess. Dwight Williams, also in first grade enjoys playing games outside. The school was in session for Veteran’s Day and had a special celebration so they could teach the students of its importance, and that is something Kaitlyn Jenson, a fifth-grader, enjoyed very much.
Kyra Harmon, who has gone to the school since pre-school, enjoys yearbook, while Hannah Slacum and her sister Jenna like specials and math. “There’s so much, really,” said Jenna.
Miss Heather (Stokley), who taught public school for six years before starting at Lighthouse Christian School two years ago, enjoys the close-knit family environment and the small classes — this year she has 11 students. She also appreciates the curriculum and the “hands-on” aspect. “It’s much more flexible than with public school,” said Stokley, who as a prior third grader teacher, knows first hand about the pressures of the DSTP. “You can really focus on what the kids need.”
Jonathan, her son, who attends preschool at Lighthouse Christian, enjoys playing games and ‘Speed Racer,’ much like any pre-schooler might.
Miss Paula (Beasly) enjoys that they are free to show their faith and their love for God, and free to really bond with the children.
“You can take the time to get to know them and their families and you really love them,” she said of the children. “And you get to talk about God and you can’t do that everywhere.” She also said the age-appropriate Bible stories help with everything from math to discipline for the preschoolers.
Besides all the fun the students have and all that they learn, they also compete with other Christian schools in sports. They have soccer, softball, and baseball and compete intermurally in chess. The Boys and Girls Club comes every day after school and the playgrounds and softball and baseball fields are always in use. Also, as part of the Association of Christian Schools International, they are exposed to things like speech meets, and the Math Olympics with schools from all over.
Sending a child to Lighthouse Christian is not done without sacrifice, noted Menoche. Families pay $3,200 per year or $320 per month. And while some on the outside might see that as something only families of means can afford, Menoche knows different. “The tuition is an extreme sacrifice,” she said. “And some people think, it’s only for people with a lot of expendable income, but really it’s because there are other things they make the choice to do without. People see it as an investment in their kids.”
She said the teachers make a similar sacrifice because they are not paid on par with what some public school teachers might make, but they see it as a calling.
“They feel called by God to use their gifts to educate with the Word of God,” she said.
Eventually, Menoche would like to see the school that started out with four little four year olds build a gym, and she envisions classrooms all around it and a cafeteria — a school ‘under one roof,’ but like with all things for Menoche and her team, timing and God’s plan will work into it.
“We are really blessed and fortunate with the space that we have. God willing, when the time is right, that would be the next step. We’d like to have as many classrooms as we can.”
Lighthouse Christian School is located in Dagsboro behind the Dagsboro Church of God off of Route 113 South. For more information, visit www.lighthousechristianschool.com online or call (302) 732-3309.