Christian school’s growth in first year provides essential options for community

A Christian school in Casper, Wyo. opened its doors in September with a few dozen students, teachers, and administrators that barely knew each other. Less than one year in, Casper Christian School…

A Christian school in Casper, Wyo. opened its doors in September with a few dozen students, teachers, and administrators that barely knew each other. Less than one year in, Casper Christian School (CCS) has already hit its first-year growth target, setting its sights on further growth and new programs.

“We started off just as a collection of individuals. No one knew each other. That includes the teachers and the administration,” said Mark Earwood, the school’s administrator.

“I think one of the most successful things that’s happened over the course of the last six months is we’ve become a family.” The school started as a dream in the heart of its founder, Jack Olsen, about 17 years ago. Olsen began making plans and forming the board around three years ago, eyeing a possible launch in the 2020-21 school year. After the pandemic slowed those plans, the school opened one year later with 34 students and has already reached its goal of 40 students.

Last week, CCS held an open house for enrollment for the fall. “It’s absolutely incredible. I can hardly believe we’re already here,” Deanna Cotten, the Outreach Coordinator for the school said. “That we’re already in the second semester of our first year, but it’s really happening.”

The school hopes to sustain its growth by offering fine arts, music, and sports in the next school year. “We’ve got a wide range of ideas. We also are learning things we can improve, things we want to see, and we’re excited to be taking those next steps,” said Earwood. 

CCS has provided another choice for parents in Casper, a city with few options for private education at the middle and high school levels. Laura Milne, whose daughter is part of the school’s inaugural class, expressed excitement about the more focused attention her daughter will receive.

“This school district is just getting bigger, classes are getting bigger, and what it boils down to is my kids just don’t get enough individual instruction,” she said. “There just aren’t a lot of options.”

It’s not just parents who value the CCS option. Jaidyn Prunell is a sophomore at CCS who made the switch from a public school. “I feel like everyone can get closer with other students and teachers,” she said. “I feel like you have more of a bonding relationship with everyone.”

Stories like Prunell’s are becoming increasingly common, as private Christian education is on the rise nationally. As the New York Times recently reported, “The median member school in the Association of Christian Schools International, one of the country’s largest networks of evangelical schools, grew its K-12 enrollment by 12 percent between 2019-20 and 2020-21.” Experts say that growth is due to multiple factors, including conflicts related to mask mandates, CRT and related curriculum concerns, school closures, and sex education agendas. These pain points have created an appetite for choice among many parents.

Ironically, two decades before leading Casper Christian, Earwood was staunchly opposed to sending his fourth-grade son to a private Christian school in their small rural Texas town. Earwood’s wife wanted to send their son to a Christian school that had just opened its doors nearby, but Mark was opposed to the cost.

“I was the one that was going, ‘My tax dollars are going to the public school. I’m not paying anything for private education.’ So I successfully stymied that, and we put our son in the public school,” he said. His son eventually attended the Christian school after the Earwoods became displeased with the negative impact of the public school on their son, who even asked for the transfer. Once the family was in, the school asked Mark to teach a class, and the rest is history.

As for Casper Christian School, Earwood says, “We’re seeing growth happen and support from the Casper community, so we’re looking forward to what God has next.”