Historic church new home for Christian school in downtown York City

Asbury Church, at 340 E. Market St., in York City, will house Keystone Christian Academy in the 2018-19 school year.

A church in York City's historic district will soon be filled again with students on a daily basis.

Keystone Christian Academy had formerly operated out of Praise Community Church in Spring Garden Township, but that congregation is growing and now needs full use of its facilities, according to Gary Hiller, the school's director of development.

This meant the school had to find a new home.

Asbury Church in downtown York City heard about the school's plight from a student's parent and reached out in January.

For the church, housing a school is not new. Asbury formerly opened its doors to Logos Academy in 1999, giving the school time to become self-sufficient, Hiller said.

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"They knew what it was like to have a school," said Pat Eger, head of Keystone Christian Academy. "They wanted to bring that back into their setting."

And partnerships such as these are typical when Christian schools are starting out, Eger said.

Keystone, which started in 2014, does not yet have the resources to build its own space, she said, and there aren't a lot of existing buildings in the area that do not need a lot of renovations.

The move will not be permanent, Eger said, but it will give the school a home for the next couple of years as it expands beyond early and elementary education to high school, adding one grade each year.

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Benefit for both: The partnership will be a benefit to both, Hiller said, as the school will have use of the second floor as well as the social hall and auditorium for only the cost of utilities.

In turn, Asbury will have the opportunity to utilize its space and draw in more children and families to the church.

"We hope we can do that for them and help them along the way," Eger said.

The location, at 340 E. Market St., also puts the school in the heart of York City's historic district.

Eger say it will be a chance to expose kids to the history and culture of the community, which is very much in line with the school's identity.

Being community-minded is "part of who we are," she said, and the church shares this focus.

In its present location since 1925, "the church clearly identifies itself as part of York City and is committed to serving its neighborhood," Hiller wrote in an email.

Eger said the school plans to get involved in giving back to the area by partnering with the church on service projects, such as its community breakfast.

Keystone will also help the church practically by adding additional security measures, such as cameras, to the building.

And the partnership has the opportunity to evolve over time, Hiller said.

"I'm sure the relationship will grow with people in the congregation," he said, noting that having the school in the building is similar to having another type of ministry.

Asbury Church, at 340 E. Market St., in York City, will house Keystone Christian Academy in the 2018-19 school year.

Return to mission: Partnering with a church also allows the school to follow a business model that is a return to mission for faith-based institutions.

Hiller, a former marketing and communications director for Lancaster Mennonite School, said as enrollment has dropped in private and Christian schools nationwide, the focus has been on keeping schools smaller and more financially viable.

National organizations have advised, from a business standpoint, for schools to be more selective, and some have chosen to do so based on academics, socioeconomic situations or safety — excluding those with behavioral problems or certain backgrounds, he said.

"But if you look at the church, as a ministry, the church lets people in," he said, and Keystone wants to return to a ministry model for the school.

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In the early days of Christian schools, Hiller said they were seen more as ministries, keeping tuition low for families.

"That's one of the things that the founders wanted — to operate more as a ministry and less as a business," he said.

What makes sense for a church is a little more risky for a business, he explained. Churches don't always know what contributions they will get to support their operations, yet they keep their doors open — so it's a balance between logic and faith, he said.

Keystone is a nonprofit that charges for tuition, but all other expenses are covered by donations.

The school is for pre-K to eighth-grade students with an open enrollment model that has no faith-based requirements, and it is able to keep tuition low and offer many need-based scholarships.

“From a business standpoint, helping lower-income families is a challenge,” stated Eger in a news release, “but as a Christian ministry, it seems to be essential to be relevant and to make a real difference in the community."

And it's a mission it shares with the church.

“Our current church programs involve providing clothing, bus passes, IDs, and food to those with physical needs and to welcome those who are searching and spiritually hungry," stated the Rev. Donald Slaybaugh Jr., pastor at Asbury Church, in the release.

"The school’s philosophy is consistent with our idea of Christian ministry," he continued, "and we are happy to partner with them in reaching out.”

Looking ahead: The transition to a new location will not be without its challenges.

The school's regular enrollment of about 60 students is now at 37 heading into the 2018-19 school year, as some families moved out of the area and others did not want to make the drive further into the city.

But Eger said she's already heard from new families who are interested, and she expects building enrollment up again will not be a problem.

Keystone offers a flexible learning model that caters to students' individual learning styles with small class sizes and options for homeschooled students to attend for morning academics or afternoon co-curriculars, such as physical education or art.

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Keystone will welcome students on Aug. 22, and church council chairwoman Diane McElwain is looking forward to seeing the Sunday school used for teaching.

“We are happy to see (the Sunday school rooms) used for that purpose five days per week throughout the school year,” she stated in the release. “It will be good to have our church full of children."