Christian private high schools come in many varieties. Depending on your priorities, you will want to look for different things when choosing a Christian school. Below are some questions to ask and things to look for when determining whether a school fits what you are looking for.
Christian in Heritage vs. Christian in Current Belief and Practice
Is evidence of Christian faith commitment required for teachers and student-facing administrators? This is probably the single most important indicator of the type of Christian school it is. More than any other factor, the identity of a school is defined by the adults doing the teaching, coaching, and leading. If the faculty are committed Christians, then the school will most likely have Christian thought, belief, and practice woven throughout its total program.
Do they have chapel services? Are they required? Are chapel services inter-faith or are they exclusively Christian? What types of messages are delivered? By whom? Do they include singing hymns or worship songs? Is Scripture read? Is the service welcoming or alienating to non-Christians? Is the curriculum infused with a Christian worldview? How much room is there for dissenting, non-Christian voices?
Moral and Spiritual Formation
What evidence does the school have of its commitment to moral and spiritual formation? Christian schools vary greatly in how intentional they are about forming their students’ hearts and shaping their faith. Look for concrete examples of formative practices. Do they have Bible studies? Do they have a daily character formation program like the one Gravitas offers? Is discipleship or advisory a core element of their program? What happens when a student breaks the rules? Ask how the school’s discipline system works. Is it punitive or restorative?
Academic Rigor of Christian Private Schools
Christian schools vary widely in their academic rigor. There are two major factors that determine academic excellence: the curriculum and the faculty. When considering curriculum, find out what books and textbooks the school assigns. Do they have advanced courses, interesting electives, and opportunities for students to explore their passions? Keep in mind that some schools may have the appearance of rigor (AP, IB) but actually be weak academically. Some independent schools are able to provide better academic preparation by designing their own curriculum and having classes taught by experts in their fields. Even if a school has a rigorous curriculum, find out if they have the faculty needed to challenge and support the students through it. The quality of the teachers has a huge impact on the quality of the courses in the catalog. Find out from current parents and students whether the teachers at the school are excellent at making difficult concepts understandable, at making class engaging, and at supporting students when they struggle. Check also for the school’s college outcomes, performance in academic competitions, and performance on standardized tests. All of these factors will help paint a picture of how rigorous the school is.
Diversity at Christian High Schools
From the days of the early church, Christianity has included people from a wide variety of racial, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds. How well is the local Christian school reflecting the diversity of the church universal? Do most of the students come from the same background, or does the school welcome families from all backgrounds? How often do underrepresented voices appear in the curriculum? Does the faculty and administration reflect the diversity of God’s kingdom? If not, ask the school why not and what steps are taken to address their lack of diversity. How are minority students and families treated at the school? Is the environment hospitable or hostile to racial, ethnic, and socio-economic minorities? Is everyone treated fairly by the disciplinary system? How does the school handle bullying, racism, and other forms of abuse? Some Christian schools do a great job of creating a sense of belonging for all students, while others struggle in this area. Make sure to find out how your local Christian school is doing in this area before applying.
Denominational or Church Affiliation vs. Ecumenical
Some Christian schools are affiliated with a particular denomination, while others are ecumenical, meaning they draw their teachers, administrators, and board members from a variety of churches. Oftentimes, denominationally or church-affiliated schools will be governed by and/or financially supported by the denomination or local church. Schools can be denominationally or church-affiliated but be more open when it comes to admitting students. For example, a Catholic school may admit Protestant students, or an Episcopal school may admit Baptist students. When selecting a school, consider how important it is to you that a school be tied to a particular church or branch of Christianity, and make sure families that come from your church background are welcomed at the school before applying. Keep in mind, too, that schools that are governed by a church can be susceptible to influence by church politics. Sometimes what is in the best interest of the school can be superseded by other interests. There are, of course, also advantages to having a church-supported school, including shared resources, sometimes shared building space, and a congregation to draw from for financial support and for a steady stream of students.
Covenantal or Non-Covenantal
To be a covenant school means that either one or both of the parents or guardians needs to sign a statement affirming their commitment to the Christian faith. The statement of faith may be broad or it may be very specific. When considering a covenant school, make sure to ask what statements must be signed for admission. Covenant schools have advantages like general like-mindedness on issues of faith, practice, student discipline, and curriculum. They can also become insular and inhospitable to dissenting voices, however. Non-covenantal schools have the advantage of being dynamic places of open discussion, but they can suffer from disunity on issues of faith, practice, student discipline, and curriculum. Of course, there are exceptions to these generalizations in every school, but those who have taught or had their children in both types of school generally point to these differences as important to consider. Determine which kind of environment you prefer for your child when deciding between covenantal and non-covenantal schools.
Christian schools come in a wide variety. Asking questions about faith commitment, moral and spiritual formation, academic rigor, diversity, governance, and admissions policies will help you determine whether your local Christian schools have what you are looking for. If your local options fall short, you might consider looking at an online Christian school or at forming your own microschool with help from an online partner school. Gravitas is a global, online program of The Stony Brook School. With respect to faith commitment, Gravitas is thoroughly Christian in belief and practice. All of its faculty and administrators sign a statement of faith and commit themselves to living lives of biblical character. Its program is academically rigorous, built on the 100-year legacy and foundation of The Stony Brook School, a school that prepares students to access the highest rated universities in the world. Its teachers are experts in their field who inspire their students and offer them high levels of support through live instruction. The character formation program of Gravitas leads students through daily lessons and challenges that form their faith and their character. As a global, ecumenical, non-convenantal school that offers generous financial aid, Gravitas welcomes students from all backgrounds, allowing those who want to grow in their faith opportunities to flourish while winsomely introducing non-Christian students to rigorous Christian thought and intentional Christian practice. Gravitas also supports families and churches interested in starting microschools in their regions, so students can get the best of both worlds: local, in-person discipleship and global, online academics. For more information about Gravitas, email email@example.com or visit gravitas.sbs.org.
Sean A. Riley, PhD., Executive Director