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Tyrone sees increase in school choice

King’s Academy, Tyrone Christian Academy to open for classes Aug. 23

Head of School Sarah Lauder (left) and Founder and Guide Tracey Verilla categorize books at the school at Christ United Methodist Church at 1359 Pennsylvania Avenue in Tyrone. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

TYRONE — With the opening of two new schools, Tyrone area parents have additional choices as children head back to school this month.

Both King’s Academy, a homeschool hybrid, and Tyrone Christian Academy, a nondenominational Christian school, will open for classes Aug. 23, with King’s Academy welcoming about 50 students and Tyrone Christian, more than 40.

Although the Tyrone Area School District and St. Matthew’s Catholic School will be losing some students, officials said they are supportive of the new schools.

“Each of these programs are offering something different from one another and from a public school setting, giving parents the chance to choose what they believe is the best option for their children, whatever those reasons may be,” said Leslie Estep, superintendent at Tyrone Area.

“I am happy that people want a Christian education for their children,” said the Rev. Jozef Kovacik, pastor at St. Matthew’s. “I am sure we will lose a few students, but as long as they receive the education they want, I am happy.”

The new schools will have an economic impact on the existing schools, though the extent is unknown.

“We will have to raise tuition,” Kovacik said of St. Matthew’s. Parents will pay what they can afford, he said, noting scholarships are available.

Estep said the public school system could be impacted, too, but it’s too early to tell what if any economic effects the new schools will have.

“There are a number of factors that would come into play,” Estep said. If the district loses too many students to other educational options, there could be an adverse effect on the district’s average daily membership, which is used in the calculation of various state subsidies, she said.

Both new schools aim to educate students in a Christian setting.

King’s Academy

King’s Academy is in the Christ United Methodist Church, 1359 Pennsylvania Ave., which school founders Nathan and Tracy Verilla recently purchased.

Nathan Verilla said he had a vision about 15 years ago to start the school and once the pandemic hit, it became a reality.

“There was more at home time with kids,” Tracy Verilla said.

The Verillas had been home-schooling their children for about two years and last year, they attended Access Hybrid Co-op in State College, a Christian homeschool cooperative.

Because the Verillas knew other families who were home-schooling their children, “We thought this would benefit their families,” Tracy said.

Sarah Lauder, a family friend who wanted to home-school her own children, will serve as head of the school.

As a home-school hybrid, King’s Academy students will meet 3.5 days a week to focus on academics and have 1.5 days at home.

It’s a partnership between parents and the school, Lauder said.

“The parents and Tracy and I work together to make sure students get what they need,” they said.

Because of the flexible schedule, it may work out that some kids will have three full days at school and two at home.

“We are flexible,” Lauder said. “It is an amazing concept, and we are excited about the idea.”

Lauder and Tracy Verilla, both former teachers in the Tyrone school district, will serve as “guides,” the name they prefer over teachers. There will be two apprentice guides and support from various members of the community for other activities such as drama and art.

“We want to create lifelong learners who can creatively think things out and problem solve,” Lauder said. “We want to create lifelong learners who love to learn — learn how to do things hands-on and dive deep into every topic.”

The school’s enrollment includes children 4 years old through sixth grade, with students coming from not only Tyrone and Bellwood but Portage, Roaring Spring, Huntingdon, State College and the Altoona area.

The school is not divided by grade.

“We have multi-age classrooms,” Lauder said. “There are many benefits to learning from your peers. It is a learner-driven environment.”

In addition, the school uses some of the Montessori philosophies, a method of education that is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play.

King’s Academy will offer six different sessions during the school year. All students will learn business skills and there will be a number of vocational options, such as music lessons, cooking, baking, sewing, drama and theater.

The school offered sports camps this summer and students will receive training in various sports and other activities. Students can participate in sports and extracurricular activities in the district in which they reside, Lauder said.

Funding for the school comes from tuition — set at $250 a month per student — and parents are responsible for transporting their children

As opening day nears, Lauder and the Verillas said they are excited about the new venture.

“We want this to feel like home and like family,” Lauder said. “I always told the kids we are a family, that is the heart for the entire school. We want them to be excited to be here and be safe and loved and can’t wait to go to school every day.”

Plans are in the works to expand the school into both middle and high school grades for the next academic year.

Tyrone Christian Academy

Located in the Community Worship Center building on Bald Eagle Avenue, the Tyrone Christian Academy will put a heavy emphasis on academic excellence and spiritual training, said Headmaster Brandon Hartman.

Several years ago, church officials felt there was a need for a Christian school, he said, and “we felt this was the time it needed to happen.”

With Christian families looking for a Christian school option, plans were put together less than a year ago for the school that will offer classes for kindergarten through 12th grade.

“We will be biblically based in everything we do,” Hartman said. “Every curriculum we present is biblically based and tied to academics. Students will be able to be open about their faith.”

The school is also focusing on life skills, offering a special course that all students will take every week to tie to the educational program, he said.

Hartman said organizers expected a small turnout for the first year, with the students coming from the Tyrone, Altoona, State College and Huntingdon areas. About 40 students are enrolled this year, a number he thinks shows how many people want a Christian education for their children.

“For the first year, that is impressive from how small of an area we are in,” he said. “We are still taking enrollment. … People are still finding out about us.”

Hartman said kindergarten students will be in one classroom, while first and second grades will be combined, as will third and fourth and then fifth and sixth grades.

The school expects to have nine teachers. Elementary teachers will have specific grades in kindergarten through sixth grade. Middle school and high school students will have specialized teachers, Hartman said.

“We will also offer online classes through Liberty University,” Hartman said, though less than half of the classes will be on that platform.

The school is privately funded from tuition from families, donations from the church and various fundraising events, Hartman said.

The school has three levels of tuition — $4,992 per year for kindergarten through fifth grade; $5,400 per year for sixth through eighth grade and $6,000 for ninth through 12th grade.

“Not everyone pays that, there are scholarships and grants available,” Hartman said. “We don’t want to exclude any people because of finances.”

Because the school will sponsor a rifle team, it has been granted membership into the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

“To join the PIAA we had to sponsor at least one sport,” he said, noting that the school hopes to expand its offerings in the future.

In addition, transportation is available for students coming from the Tyrone, Bellwood-Antis and Juniata Valley school districts, while families outside that area will need to provide transportation, Hartman said.

The long-term goal is to grow enrollment and staff so there are independent grade levels and no need for supplemental, online courses, he said.

Eventually, the school will need a permanent location, either through large renovations to the current space or a new venue.

In the end, the goal is to create an environment for students that has them wanting to show up for school.

“If they want to be here, they will learn,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.

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