pressure at larger schools
BY JANE MEGGITT
UPPER FREEHOLD — Was it a coincidence, or divine intervention?
Dawn Fossnes, Donna Torres and Jae H. Shinn all came together this year to provide a new educational choice for teens in Cream Ridge.
In 2003, Fossnes and Torres founded the United Christian Academy in Wrightstown, to develop Christian leadership among teens. Dr. Shinn, the owner of Shinn’s Nursery in Cream Ridge, heard about their school and offered to partner with them.
Together they formed the New Jersey United Christian Academy (NJUCA), a nonprofit high school which opened its doors this year to 22 students.
Shinn had established the New Jersey Christian Academy — a Christian retreat center — on his property, which still operates today. Shinn has now built a new facility on the 43-acre campus amid the existing tree nursery, and boarding students are expected to arrive in January.
The school’s mission statement is “to provide a solid academic program, rooted in biblical truth, with an emphasis on developing Christian leadership among students.”
Fossnes said that students all serve on committees to run various activities in the school. Some students are currently serving on the pastoral luncheon committee, for example, which will hold an event to show local clergyman the facility.
The 22 students currently at the school include seven seniors, three juniors, seven sophomores and five freshmen. The ratio of girls to boys is roughly 3-1. Although the student population is small, the school is fully staffed, with six full-time and two part-time teachers.
All requirements of the state core curriculum are fulfilled, according to Fossnes. A new computer lab with Dell equipment has been installed, and a full science lab should be up and running by
Students must provide their own transportation to and from the school, as there is no busing available.
Tuition is approximately $4,000 per year. While the school is Christian, Fossnes said, it is not affiliated with any particular denomination. About 14 churches are represented in the student body. Fossnes hopes that within five years, the school will enroll 120 students, including 20 who would live on campus. The retreat center will be converted to living space.
Sophomore Josh Miller, of Hamilton, called NJUCA “the only option and the best thing for me.” Miller said his public school, Hamilton High West, didn’t have the academic standards he needed.
“I didn’t like that public school feeling. [NJUCA] is like a big family, and very safe,” he said.
Rachel Miller, a junior from Florence, likes the student-teacher ratio and thinks the Christian atmosphere is good for her. She has attended six different schools, both public and private, and feels the most comfortable at NJUCA.
“The teachers care,” she said. “The teachers work interactively with you. The students are very nice. It’s a different opportunity.”
She said that the social atmosphere is more inclusive than it is at public or larger private schools.
“There’s not as much peer pressure to fit in,” she said. “You are accepted for who you are.”
Miller added that they do the same things that other teens do, but the NJUCA activities have a Christian foundation within them.
Melissa Woodhall of Lumberton, also a junior, agreed with Miller that peer pressure in public school was very difficult. She went to public school from grades K-9, but was home-schooled last year before coming to NJUCA.
Fossnes said that one class per day is focused on leadership training, while clubs, sports and ministries are held after school.
There are also coed racquetball, volleyball, softball, and basketball teams, which play against other Christian schools. Students are accepted based on interviews and on their performance on placement tests in math and English. Parents of prospective students are interviewed as well. All students and at least one of their parents must be Christian, according to Fossnes. Fossnes said they are looking for well-rounded kids who can function as leaders.
For more information, call the academy at (609) 758-2121.