Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Pay for high school or pay for college? Why not both?

There are schools that prepare students for college. Then there are schools that treat students as if they’re already in college.

The latter describes Johnson Ferry Christian Academy , where students learn to tailor their courses, juggle their schedules and manage their schoolwork outside the classroom before ever earning their diploma.

“If your kids can make it here, they’re going to be successful in college,” says school director Kimberly Maiocco.

To be more precise, if your high schoolers are at JFCA, there’s a good chance they’re already in college. Forty-six of Maiocco’s students are enrolled in online college courses; about 90 are dual-enrolled in college via Georgia’s Move on When Ready program. Many of the school’s teachers are also adjunct professors at nearby colleges. Altogether, graduates often leave with 20 to 30 hours of college credit.

But course work is only one way JFCA mirrors the college environment. Students only come to campus two or three days a week. They spend the other days in a “satellite classroom” — that is, somewhere besides the school’s facilities at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in East Cobb. Whether that’s the library, home or elsewhere, those days include at least six hours studying, reading or doing homework. But it’s not home schooling. Teachers, not parents, set the curriculum and give grades.

“The curriculum is designed to simulate the same thing” as a normal classroom day, Maiocco says, “it’s just not in a brick and mortar building.” That helps reduce overhead costs, as classrooms and teachers can handle more kids than if every child sat in a desk every day.

One result is the kind of schedule that student Chris Gouin maintains as a senior. He’s one of two at JFCA who doesn’t even take a class at the school this year. Instead, the young man who hopes to win a place at West Point or the Naval Academy next year takes classes at Georgia Perimeter College (the Dunwoody and Alpharetta campuses) Tuesday through Thursday; serves as a Junior ROTC leader at a different school (King’s Academy in Woodstock) Monday, Wednesday and Friday; and plays football back at JFCA.

“I’m able to plan out my schedule and execute things because of the experience I’ve had at this school,” says Gouin, who can focus on college work now because he finished his high school curriculum in just three years. “They really encourage time management and leadership here.”

Another result is a lower cost than many non-public schools require. (JFCA is technically not a private school but a “non-traditional education center” under Georgia law.) Tuition ranges from $3,400 per year for middle school to $4,300 for the new elementary school, with high school in between. That’s right in line with the Education Savings Account that was proposed in Georgia last year with a range of $3,500 to $5,000 per child.

At those rates, a child with an ESA could pay for k-12 tuition and put any leftover money toward college tuition — after graduating with up to a year’s worth of college credits.

That kind of flexible and financially prudent approach is increasingly in demand, and not just by parents.

“If schools and states don’t look at how the business world has changed” they’ll be left behind, says Maiocco. “I think we’re a school of the future for kids of the future.”

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.