- Grove City, Pennsylvania

March 20, 2013

Mercer Christian school gets creative to get ahead

By Lauren Mylo/Herald Staff Writer

MERCER — When a group of parents in the Mercer area started thinking of ways to give their children more opportunities for a good, Christian education, Jillian Morgan took off with the idea.

Morgan, who did her undergraduate work at Grove City College and has a master's degree from Slippery Rock University, decided she'd take the helm of the Creative Learning Christian School. She's previously taught in Germany, Ohio, Kentucky and North Carolina and has had plenty of opportunities to observe what works and what doesn't.

"Parents were looking for something different and couldn't find it," said Morgan, a Greenville native who is finishing her state administrator certification and is already certified as a Christian school administrator.

"Traditionally Christian schools don't have the resources to accept children who aren't traditional learners," she said. "We accept kids with special needs, attention deficit disorder (and) autism. But it's not a school just for special needs."

Morgan also noted it's not just for Christian families, but the curriculum is Christian-based.

She said the easiest thing to compare the nontraditional atmosphere to is a Montessori school, which typically allows students more free from learning with mixed-age classrooms.

Christian Learning Christian School combines its 25 students into about three grade levels per classroom.

The school initially started as a nonprofit, the Center for Creative Learning, and Morgan said it focused on tutoring and offered summer camps.

The school, housed in a former church on Grant Street, met state standards and opened in August.

At first it was, "A lot of talking, just people at the coffee shop saying we need to do something," Morgan said, noting she jumped in after "watching their struggle and watching how it was affecting their child's life.

"They tried cyber school, they tried homeschooling. It's not easy to make those work when you don't have a typical learner.

"Everyone will tell you you're crazy starting a K-12 school ... but we had kids in each age group who needed it, so we did it."

The school has seen a show of support recently from a local business, which constructed a classroom and decorative silhouettes and helped with many other renovations in less than two months.

"What really motivated them (the employees) was they saw what we were doing," said Jeremiah Wann, president of Imperial Systems Inc. in Jackson Center, who decided to help the school about 5 miles from the business.

Wann said he feels a certain responsibility to the community as a local business owner. The trouble with owning a medium-sized manufacturing company - the business designs and installs dust-collection systems - is there aren't many neighbors with which to build a community.

He got the idea to help the school because he attends Grove City Alliance Church with Morgan and knew there was a need.

"Just like with any small business starting out, they were struggling, so she gave us a laundry list of things we could do," Wann said, noting the list contained items such as lighting, classroom work, painting and gardening.

"We looked at the list and said, with everyone's help and creativity we could do all these things," he said.

They redid electrical work with the help of Mount Construction, updated a bathroom to become kid-sized, built shelves, and installed decorative silhouettes around the school with the help of Keystone Ridge Design in Butler. Wann said the response from the school has been very positive, and he found out some of the parents heard what they were doing and came to help with the painting and other loose ends.

"They've been helping to make things that would have been three or four years down the road for us a possibility much faster," Morgan said.

Some of the work was done with money that would have gone toward Imperial Systems' Christmas party - Wann noted they scaled things back significantly this year. Instead, employees met for a small party and talked about the work they had done.

"It was a really nice, pleasant time," Wann said. "I think it was nice to reflect for everyone, to think about the things we've done."

The company also provided funding for three students to go to the private school on scholarship for one year.

"We are pushing to do more community building," Wann said, noting the company's 45 employees would like to put together a 5K race next year and is interested in any other projects that may come along.

One of the employees, Joseph Altenor, said he started working at the company seven months ago and instantly knew he and Wann were on the same page.

"In my experience, people usually focus on growing the business and don't even think about other people," Altenor said. "Jeremiah's always shown an interest in helping people. He not just talked the talk, he walked the walk.

"If you're in business, you're helping people every day. And he extends that."

Altenor said he fully supported the school project because he saw a need there.

"Finding someone who couldn't pay the tuition and stepping up to do that - that's big," he said. "You're making it possible for children to go to school. Our children are the future, you can't go wrong there.

"This is a beginning."

For more information on Creative Learning Christian School, call 724-234-2345. To suggest projects for Imperial Systems Inc. or aid its efforts, call 800-918-3013.

Published March 9, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.