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Ridgefield Celebrates 25 Years of Christian Education
by Audrey Hanes, photography by Melissa Donner

In the fall of 1992, a group of area pastors called the Jonesboro Evangelical Ministerial Fellowship worked together to create an interdenominational Christian school in Jonesboro. Twenty-five years later, Ridgefield Christian School continues to grow under a new administration as it provides children and teenagers with academic excellence in a Christ-centered environment that inspires and equips college-bound students.

The school first opened its doors in August 1993 with 83 students enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grades. Classes originally met at Nettleton Baptist Church and Trinity Church before moving to the renovated Plum Tree Shopping Center in its third year. That was also the year that Jan Hutchison joined the staff; 23 years later, Hutchison is Ridgefield Christian School’s (RCS) most tenured teacher. She is a history and Bible teacher and has been able to watch all three of her daughters graduate from the school.

RCS has continued to grow, adding additional grades and athletic teams and joining the Memphis Association of Christian Schools. In 1998, RCS had its first graduating class of two students.

“As a result of a lot of praying and stepping out in faith of the Ridgefield family, plans were made to buy land and build our own facilities,” said Hutchison. “… Praise the Lord, in the fall of 2000, Ridgefield moved into the current building we have – minus the secondary wing – with 175 students.”

After receiving accreditation by the Arkansas Nonpublic School Accrediting Association in 2001, the school’s faculty and board realized the growing private school would soon be out of space. RCS added a secondary wing in 2002, the Warrior Gym in 2004 and portable buildings for additional classes in 2006.

Programs such as Accelerated Reading, a drama department, Quiz Bowl, National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, Student Council, the Interact Club and advanced placement (AP) classes have furthered the school’s academic goals for its students. RCS’ extracurricular activities have continued to grow, as well; from an elementary basketball team to junior and senior high school boys and girls basketball, junior and senior high girls volleyball, golf, cheerleading, tennis, bowling, baseball, track and more, the school has worked to include as many sports as possible, along with membership to the Arkansas Athletic Association.

Another recent change to RCS comes with the school’s administration. Dr. Willet A. Young, who returned to the city where he played JHS and Arkansas State University football, is appreciative of the opportunity to explore a new aspect of ministry and help make an impact on young Christians.

“I left here in 1970 after I graduated and moved to Central Arkansas,” said Young. “I spent the next 40 years pastoring. I retired in 2013 in Florida, where I was at the time. We also wanted to move back to Arkansas to our two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Then, in June of 2016, my wife passed away from cancer. Some people knew me here in Jonesboro and asked me to come out of retirement and consider the job when the school was undergoing some change in administration at the time.”

Young finished out the last nine weeks of the 2016-2017 school year as RCS’ administrator. He is excited about the challenge of his new role and about the purpose that God has for him in this capacity.

“After my wife died, when I was approached with this opportunity, I got a sense of the purpose God had for me; it fit me,” said Young. “I came up here and threw myself into this work. I thoroughly enjoy it. … The whole aspect of the Christian walk sometimes is about mentoring the younger generation about all we have learned in life. This is such a rich environment for me to be able to get into.”

With a new administrator at the helm as it celebrates a quarter-century of private, Christian education, Ridgefield is also focused on what the school refers to as “The Warrior Triangle.” The triangle focuses on the three powerful influences on children’s lives: the love of the family, the light of the church and the life of the school. Young says that The Warrior Triangle highlights what administrators and educators are truly focusing on this school year.

“We try to integrate school, family and church,” said Young. “All three of those work in harmony together to create a well-rounded individual. We really emphasize character here, because we can only plan for the future so much; our kindergarteners will be training for jobs that don’t even exist yet.

“But, no matter what, one thing we can do in their years here is instill truthfulness, faithfulness and trustworthiness. All those work together on a foundational basis for what we’re trying to teach these students during their time here.”

As the school enters into a new era of Christian education, RCS is working to keep up with today’s society in a big way. Young says that the school has modernized tremendously this year, especially when it comes to improved school security, AP classes, diversity, moving towards Google classrooms for the upcoming school year and the introduction of dyslexic-friendly accommodations.

“We continually look at our curriculum and make sure it’s up-to-date and up-to-speed with all the educational changes taking place,” he said. “We are always looking to add qualified teachers who are devoted to Christ. It’s a ministry. We are not ‘just’ academic educators. We want to educate the whole person. Ultimate truth belongs to God, and what we’re helping (students) do is to explore that truth. We want to provide an excellent education with teachers who will help prepare our kids for a world that’s changing every day.”

Hutchison had plans to retire after her youngest daughter graduated from RCS, but that was back in 2006; today, she is still teaching and loving every minute of it.

“These kids grow up in front of you. I have them for several years in a row,” said Hutchison, who teaches seventh through 12th grade. “These students are prepared for college. We even had a National Merit finalist this year; we are very proud to have one.

“I am passionate about history. I love teaching it, and it is a ministry. I feel called to do this. … I’m proud that we are a Christian alternative to our community. This school is for parents who want to be able to pray with their kids and have them learn about the Bible. I open with prayer at the beginning of every class.”

RCS’ 355 graduates are a testament to the hard work and prayers of so many staff members, parents and supporters. For current students and alumni, there will be a 25-year celebration banquet that will take place on April 13.

“For 25 years, we have been a mainstay in Jonesboro,” said Young. “It’s a real testimony to the graciousness of God. Schools come and go, especially private schools, but we have really held on and thrived.”

For more information about Ridgefield Christian School, located at 3824 Casey Springs Road, call (870) 932-7540 or visit ridgefieldchristina.org.