For the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS), 30 years of hard work is starting to pay off.
Dr. Timothy Dernlan, vice president of member services and advancement at ACCS, told The Lion that 100 new ACCS schools opened in the past year.
“In previous years, we would have 20 or 30 a year, but last year and this year we’ve seen 100 schools each of those years,” says Dernlan, who is also a former teacher and head of school.
Although enrollment growth increased during the pandemic, families new to classical Christian education found more than just an alternative to ineffective public schools.
“What we seek to do is create a whole Christian culture, and we’re seeing because we’ve onboarded families well and told them that upfront of what the Christian culture is like in our schools…families are staying,” Dernlan says. “They’re falling in love with the beauty of the education that they’re seeing.”
He attributes this renaissance both to the cultural climate and “30 years of hard work from classical Christian schools.”
And having the president of ACCS publish a best-selling book about classical Christian education also helps.
ACCS was formally founded in 1994 “to promote, establish, and equip member schools that are committed to a classical approach in the light of a Christian worldview.” It boasts of schools in all 50 states and over a dozen international schools.
The movement was inspired by Dorothy Sayers, a prolific writer and one of the first female graduates of Oxford University, who wrote an influential essay mourning the loss of classical education.
“Is it not the great defect of our education to-day that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils ‘subjects,’ we fail lamentably on the whole in teacher them how to think?” Sayers wrote. “They learn everything except the art of learning.”
The goal of ACCS is to do exactly that: give students the tools to learn.
It’s especially vital given the current state of public education, Dernlan believes.
“The academic standards are weaker and getting weaker. The indoctrination is strong and getting stronger,” he says. “We shouldn’t want to bring the bar down and make things as easy as possible because life’s hard! We want to prepare them for life, especially the Christian life.”
Dernlan cited a study conducted by the University of Notre Dame which compared long-term life outcomes of alumni from various K-12 institutions – public, private and religious.
ACCS alumni “tend to have more friends, be more committed to attending church each week, commitment to marriage, they’re having more children, just all these unique benefits that you don’t think of when you talk about academics,” said Dernlan.
Nonetheless, ACCS students do excel in academics.
The study also showed 90% of ACCS alumni completed college, 83% attend a small group at least once a week and 70% read their Bibles independently.
“We’re not preparing kids for college,” said Dernlan. “We’re preparing them for life.”
Although private education can seem inaccessible, schools work hard to ease potential financial burdens.
“Almost 100% of the schools have financial aid,” said Dernlan. “It’s worth it. There’s no better place to invest your worldly resources than in your children.”
Although ACCS continues to experience record growth, they know their work isn’t done yet.
“We would love to have a Christian school within 30 minutes of every Christian in America. And we think we can do it,” Dernlan said.
“We have a big, grand vision. We’re going to keep working toward that to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ through classical Christian education to every town in America, to every subdivision in America, to every Christian parent because we believe that it has great value in affecting the culture of families, but also affecting the culture of this country.”