A Different Planet

What’s the benefit of attending a tiny classical Christian school? We had a graduate interview the headmaster to find out.

“You’re joking.” That’s how most people react when I tell them I graduated high school in a class of 10. But at the school I’d attended since kindergarten, a commencement ceremony for 10 or more is actually considered large. In 1996, just 27 students began their first day at Mars Hill Academy, a classical and Christian school housed in a rented space in southeast Cincinnati. Nearly two decades later, the school has grown to a lean 345-student K–12 program based in Mason. As one of its graduates, I know the value of attending such a small school, and I have watched the independent private school expand organically over the years (though the high school still isn’t large enough to field a football team). James Albritton, headmaster, says that’s just part of being Mars Hill.

Mars Hill models a very interactive brand of education—lots of chanting and singing in the grammar school, class debates in the logic school, and presentations in the rhetoric classes. Does a classical education necessitate a small setting? I think a smaller classroom and student-teacher ratio is very important. If we had the means and the interest and the budget, we could grow Mars Hill, but the priority would always be to keep a small classroom.

So as an independent school, you accept no government funds? There are some private schools that take advantage of busing or meal programs, but Mars Hill does not. There’s really not an allure to taking those different programs from the government, and part of the reason for that is it’s unclear to me what the price is for accepting those funds. We know that if we don’t accept the government funds then we don’t have to teach the Common Core, and we’re fine with that because we’re looking at a model of education that goes back way before the Common Core and has stood the test of time over thousands of years.

I know that when I was a student, I was always hoping a girls’ soccer program would be added. We just can’t offer as many electives or co-curriculars as I think our student body would like. There was a cross country team that competed during the fall, but men’s soccer cannibalized cross country, so we don’t have a cross country team anymore. In one sense it was good because we had more interest in soccer, but those are the kinds of limitations you have.

I remember some of my classmates leaving to attend bigger schools where there were more extracurriculars. What do you say to parents whose kids want to switch? I try to present the long-term benefits of our education. The classical education, with the tools of learning and having that grammar, logic, and rhetoric system as part of your tool belt when you go off to college—that’s a life-long skill set. Our students are going to read things and study things at Mars Hill that they probably won’t have the opportunity to do at other schools. All of that working together to produce an 18- or 19-year-old graduate who is confident in their Christian faith and is able to eloquently defend it—those are the long-term benefits, and I try to get them to compare that to the short-term benefits of being a part of a certain athletic team.

How large do you see Mars Hill growing over the years? Quite honestly, I don’t see us making major growth a priority. My hope is that there would be steady and consistent growth. We are at 345 students now, so if by five years from now we could make it to 400, I would be pleased with that. But I think more important than growth in numbers is going to be that we continue to protect our mission and our vision for producing students who think well and are able to present the Gospel.

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