SHEBOYGAN — On Wednesday, Sheboygan Christian School welcomed back students for the 2021-22 school year at its new Pre-K through 12 campus.
With the elementary and high school having previously been located on opposite ends of town, this $6.7 million project will now allow for all students through the Sheboygan Christian School to be housed at the existing 929 Greenfield Avenue property on Sheboygan's south side.
"This is really the culmination of our entire organization," explained Rudi Gesch, director of marketing and enrollment. "For the last five years, we've been a P-12 Christian school essentially operating on two sides of town. So for the last several years, it's been tons and tons of planning and strategy and prayers and false starts."
Sheboygan Christian School was founded in 1898 as a Pre-K through 8th grade facility at its former Geele Avenue location on the north side. Then, five years ago, SCS merged with the former Sheboygan County Christian High School, a completely separate organization located at the 929 Greenfield property.
The massive project of merging began with several staff and parental planning committees, and even at one point included a large land donation on the northwest side of town. The school tossed around ideas of renovating each building and keeping them across town as well as leveling one of the properties entirely and beginning fresh with a new consolidated campus.
After much consideration, the community decided renovating the existing high school property and building the addition was the cost-effective route.
"Ultimately the community did coalesce around the idea of renovating the 929 Greenfield site because it really seemed to be a perfect fit and it's financially digestible," Gesch said. "We were a growing school at the time, which is great, but in order to achieve the enrollment goals that we want, and in order to better serve our students, the old facilities—as much as we all love them—had fallen far behind the sort of educational standards that we want to have for our students."
In addition to both large and small donations from the community and fundraising events, 100% of the school's Capital Campaign Steering Committee, Board of Trustees, administration, faculty and staff have financially invested in some way.
The existing footprint of the high school remains, and phase one has created a large addition to house the elementary and middle schools, expanding the facility from 48,000 sq. ft. to 88,000 sq. ft.
Another heavy focus of the project is incorporating 21st century learning spaces and technology into the school for the first time. One of the most unique features of the facility is the pod structure of the elementary.
Instead of traditional classrooms set along a long hallway, two elementary "pods" have been created. A pod forms what comes off as one very large cohesive space that is actually segmented into a common room, lockers, restrooms and regular-sized classrooms.
One pod will host Pre-K and 1st grade students while grades 2-5 will be housed in the neighboring pod.
"It's less thinking about a hallway as only a place to get through and you do your learning in your room," Gesch said. "It's more about creating a learning community and crossing those classes. So maybe the entire pod will come together in the middle and all learn together with some classes, for example. It also provides room for a lot of hands-on learning and is where we will worship together as a pod."
Another major incentive for combining the buildings was the school's philosophy of providing a complete Christian world and life view.
"It's about the idea of one full system, all educating from the same perspective and integrating a scope and sequence across the grades and allowing teacher collaboration," Gesch explained.
"We've looked at a book called 'The Third Teacher,' and it talks about your home and your parents are your first teachers, your peers and your peer groups are your second teacher, and then the third teacher is the environment," he added. "That means literally that the space you're in is playing a role in sort of the holistic education of the child, and as a Christian school, we want to focus on all of the ways we can help. One of those ways is spiritual development, so we have spaces throughout the campus that are intended to nurture that."
The school is planning to sell its Geele Avenue location and the previously donated land to re-invest into the next two phases, which will include the development of the inside of the middle school area. Gesch said the school is planning to have the second phase completed next summer. The third and final phase will include remodeling the high school and remainder of the existing campus and exterior to match the additions.