.There was only one choice for the Soderstroms when it came to their children’s education.
“Private school was the only option for our sons. Smaller class sizes, accessible teachers and staff, and a safe environment were critical. Modesto Christian School has exceeded our expectations,” said Peter Soderstrom.
As California’s public schools continue to struggle with funding, academic performance and safety issues, parents such as the Soderstroms are turning to private schools as an alternative.
According to Private School Review (www.privateschoolreview.com), an online tool that helps parents to research and select schools, there are 65 private schools serving 9,360 students in San Joaquin County. Stanislaus County is home to 49 private schools with an enrollment of 6,685 students.
Compared to public school enrollment of 135,000 students in San Joaquin County and 104,552 students in Stanislaus County, private school enrollment is low, but that is one of the key advantages parents seek.
“With the growing class sizes in public schools, counselors and administrators are becoming less available to meet with students and parents. Our class size limits and overall school enrollment allows us to meet the needs of families quickly and effectively,” said Marisa Meeks, Modesto Christian School’s development director.
Founded in 1962, Modesto Christian School is a nondenominational community Christian school that operates three campuses on 55 acres in northwest Modesto and serves students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Modesto Christian administrators believe its religious affiliation is an advantage the school offers.
“A Christian school setting provides guidelines for student ethics and morals based on biblical principles. Public schools cannot provide this level of teaching because of rules and regulations,” Meeks said.
In fact, some of the area’s Christian schools began as a ministry of an existing church. Big Valley Christian School, founded as a preschool program in 1974, was an outreach of Big Valley Grace Community Church. It has since grown into a preschool through 12th-grade school with an enrollment of 760 students.
“Big Valley Christian School is a place where you will find a unique blend of academic excellence with a strong spiritual foundation. Our teachers and staff are committed to providing students with a college preparatory curriculum integrated with biblical teaching, all in a loving and caring environment,” said Big Valley Christian’s Development Coordinator Julie Lundsford.
Along with a religious foundation, parents select Big Valley because it offers a safe and secure campus.
“We are so happy we chose Big Valley Christian School. The administration provides great leadership and caring teachers provide quality academics that are individualized to each student’s talents and needs,” said parent Diane Wentworth.
The Wentworths said that specialized instruction in reading, music, computer and physical education are other pluses that Big Valley offers.
“All of this within a Bible-based environment that fosters Christian values by starting each day in prayer, having weekly chapel, and regular outreach opportunities writing the community,” Wentworth said.
Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton is also a Christian-based private school based on the Catholic faith. Founded in 1876, the college preparatory school has 970 students enrolled in grades 9 through 12.
The school prides itself on providing academic excellence within a spiritually rich culture while stressing service to others in the surrounding community.
“Parents generally send their children to private schools for the learning environment. Saint Mary’s has educated generations of Stocktonians, and it is the education and the foundation which many parents have received that they wish their own children to experience and benefit from,” said Saint Mary’s Development Director Diane Malcoun.
The fact that the Saint Mary’s program is built on a tradition that includes respect for and service to others is a key advantage of the school, according to parent Janet Sanders.
“If your student is interested in music, debate, acting or athletics, the program does more than develop and showcase skills. Saint Mary’s creates an environment where participating in extracurricular activities goes hand in hand with lessons about character,” Sanders said.
For parents who are not interested in including religious education in their children’s school day, but still desire the other advantages private schools offer, Merryhill Schools in Stockton are an option.
Not affiliated with any religious denomination, Stockton’s Merryhill Schools enroll 350 students in preschool through 8th grade.
Founded in 1949 in the Sacramento area, the Stockton Merryhill preschool opened in the 1980s and the Stockton elementary and middle school was launched in 1996.
“Our private elementary and middle school offers small class sizes and a high degree of personalization for each student’s learning strengths and needs. In addition to our well-rounded curriculum, we have very strong communications among teachers, parents and school staff,” said Amy Valentine, executive director for the Merryhill Elementary and Middle School in Stockton.
Other advantages the school offers are specialty classes such as art, music and Spanish, along with a focus on student participation in community service projects.
The benefits private schools offer come at a cost, however. Unlike their public school counterparts, private schools charge tuition. The prolonged recession has caused a dip in enrollment.
“The recession has affected just about every business and organization in the Central Valley. Modesto Christian is no exception. Modesto Christian families have been burdened with job loss, relocation and family hardships,” said Meeks.
In response, the school has increased financial aid, grant and scholarship allotments and has frozen its tuition rates for the 2013-2014 school year.
Big Valley Christian and Saint Mary’s also have felt the pinch, but likewise have helped families by offering assistance programs.
The outlook for the future is upbeat, however, as the worst of the recession seems to be over.
“We have seen enrollment steadily increase with our biggest growth taking place during this school year,” said Big Valley’s Lundsford.