Illinois school makes Christian education accessible for low income families

South Side Christian Academy opened its doors in Peoria, Ill. in 2016 with the goal of offering Christian education to families in one of the poorest zip codes in Illinois. This was a neighborhood where families desired more educational choices, but could not afford it. Today, South Side Christian Academy has an enrollment of 77 students in grades K-5, and donations make it possible to support every student through scholarships.

“Our goal was to make Christian education available for those who couldn’t afford it,” Cassie Meiss, South Side business director, told The Lion. “The 61605 zip code has some statistics that we don’t want it to be defined by. We think Jesus is the way to change that.”

The south side of Peoria, where the school is located and where the majority of its students live, has high rates of unemployment, teen pregnancy, poverty, crime, and underperforming schools. 

While the school’s current capacity is Kindergarten through 5th grade, South Side recently completed a $2 million capital campaign that will add five additional classrooms and a gymnasium. The improvements will be completed by late 2022, and will allow the school to add classes through 8th grade.

“We’re very thankful that God has provided in this way,” Meiss said.

Academically, the school is also excelling, reporting 85% of their students are meeting or exceeding grade-level standards.

“We believe that individual change comes through Christ, and we do all we can to share that love of Christ with (our students),” Meiss said. “We want them to come back and be leaders here at school, here in the community. Doctors, nurses, lawyers, we want the south side of Peoria to be a good place to live, and we think that these students can help make it that.”