By AMANDA GREENE
Since his days as a Wilmington city councilman, Ron Sparks has been working diligently on a project very close to his heart – the reopening of Ephesus Junior Academy.
The kindergarten through eighth grade school is located on two floors of the brick L-shaped side of Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church at 1002 Castle Street. In its 100 years, the multi-racial school hosted thousands of students before it was closed because of its low class sizes in late 2010.
Because it did not have the required minimum of 12 students enrolled, the school’s accrediting organization, Adventist Education, temporarily closed Ephesus Junior Academy just before its 100th birthday.
“My mother went here, I went here, my aunt when here,” Sparks said. He’s on the school’s board. “The church stands behind the school. To say we were not happy when it closed is not even close to describing it.”
Ephesus alum Carl Newton said his heart broke when he heard the academy had closed.
“Especially now, kids need a school like that. That kind of attention,” he said, now a graduation coach at Hoggard High School. “Everybody can’t go to the same school. At that point in my life, that school met my needs.”
At one time, the church was so dedicated to keeping the school open, it subsidized tuition, sending up to $3,700 each month (the amount due for 12 students) to its parent organization, even though it only had four students enrolled. Tuition at the private school was one of the lowest in Wilmington at $250 per month.
But it wasn’t enough.
Adventist Education challenged Ephesus to boost its enrollment to at least 12 students and raise $60,000 in payroll balances for its teachers before re-opening. There are other Seventh-day schools in the area including Wilmington SDA School, Carolina Adventist Academy in Whiteville and Myrtle Beach SDA Christian School.
Sparks blamed the school’s sagging enrollment on the closing of a daycare linked to the school six years ago and the lack of community recruitment.
But he said the school has had a lasting impact on children in downtown Wilmington. In its history, the school was located in Castle Hayne and off Beasley Road.
The school once held fundraising education banquets with invited speakers talking about the state of American education. In 2002, one banquet theme was “The Role of the Home, the Church and the Community in the Education of the Child.” In 1985, an Ephesus school fundraiser featured Kennedy Center and Crystal Cathedral performer Wintley Phipps.
Sparks hopes the school can return to being a vibrant part of the downtown community again.
To prepare for a re-opening, Ephesus replaced all of the school’s windows, installed a handicapped stair access to its second floor and bought all new laptop computers.
There aren’t any electronic smartboards at Ephesus, as there are in
many local public schools. But Sparks says the school has something more substantial – small class sizes and one-on-one teacher attention.
“We have a long history of being able to turn children around, children who have been in distress in the public school system,” he added. “When issues break out in the classroom, what the public schools can’t do is pray with the children. Our children can pray together.”
Ephesus Academy’s curriculum includes a bible class at each grade level along with art, computers, language arts, math, music, physical education, science and health and social studies.
But “turning children into Adventists isn’t the mission,” Sparks said. “We want to develop moral children to survive in the modern world.”
Newton took away many life lessons from his time at Ephesus Academy.
“Teachers then were more concerned with you learning the lesson versus preparing for a test,” he said. “And just being honest and always thinking about your fellow man, having integrity, always trying to do what was right and acknowledging the fact that you knew right from wrong. We were taught to acknowledge that.”
Amanda Greene: 910-520-3958 or on Twitter @WilmFAVS