Article by Clint Driscoll
Education – September 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine
The Darren Patterson Christian Academy has been part of Buena Vista’s education scene since 1982. The beginning of the fifteenth school-year this September is a landmark for the academy since classes will be held in a new schoolhouse. Built almost entirely with volunteer labor, the building — like DPCA itself — has been a labor of love for parents, faculty and members of Buena Vista’s First Baptist Church.
DPCA was originally founded using money from a memorial fund honoring fourteen-year-old Darren Patterson, who died in 1981 in an automobile accident involving a drunken driver. Classes began with 22 students in kindergarten through third grade. Over the years the school has grown; today there are grades K-12 plus the Busy Bee Pre-School. Anticipated 1996-97 enrollment is 124 students, most from Buena Vista but some traveling daily from Leadville, Salida, and Fairplay.
The educational approach is basic in a traditional classroom setting. Instruction is geared for college preparation with early reading programs based on phonics and beginning math courses using repetition, although rote learning is not the objective as the students advance. Some mild remediation is provided but DPCA does not have the staff necessary to teach students with severe learning disabilities.
According to David Akers, school administrator, most students who have been in the academy awhile test a year to a year-and-a-half ahead of their grade level while secondary students test above the Colorado average on their ACT’s. Akers credits this achievement to an excellent and dedicated faculty. “These folks believe in what they’re doing. They could be earning much more in another school system but they choose to be here.”
There are eleven full-time and nine part-time instructors. Classroom ratios average about one teacher to 18 students in the primary grades and one to eight in secondary. “This teacher- student ratio is one reason for our success, but the other is communication with and involvement of the parents,” Akers says. “We encourage, at minimum, weekly parent contacts.”
So who enrolls their children at Darren Patterson? The families come from various income levels and occupations (There is financial aid available for up to 50% of the $1795 to $1895 annual tuition) and may be looking for higher academic standards or hoping for a more disciplined environment. But the overriding motive is what Akers calls a desire for a Christian education. “Our mission is to make sure the students know and love the Lord. Secondarily is sound academics to prepare for any college they wish to go to or for any occupation they choose to honor God.”
The academy is non-denominational but geared toward a literal, Protestant view in which scriptures are, “. . . verbally inspired of God and inerrant in the original writings and they are of supreme and final authority in faith and life.” (From the DPCA Statement of Faith)
“This is a Christian education through and through,” says Akers. “All subjects include the Lord in their lessons. In mathematics we show God is logical. In history we demonstrate it is `His story.'”
Science is taught from the Creationist point of view. “We teach the theory of evolution but believe the step of faith in Christ’s direction means faith in Creation rather than the step of faith required for evolutionary theory. In the end we learn that by honoring God in all things we honor ourselves.”
When asked if the real thrust was religious education or academic excellence Akers stated that DPCA was formed primarily for Christian education. “We find that Christian schools founded for educational goals can become elitist academic institutions. Christian academies founded for Christian reasons stay that way, that’s our intent.”
Questioned about the long-term viability of institutions with such specific missions Akers said schools like Darren Patterson were holding their own. He said home schooling is growing at a much faster rate than are private religious schools but DPCA was fortunate in working with six to seven foundations which assist with capital projects and the board was actively seeking an endowment to maintain staff salaries. It is a policy of the school that, even though eligible as a 501 c.3 organization, no government money is sought or accepted.
Finally, when asked whether he felt DPCA adequately prepared its students for life outside Buena Vista, Akers was very positive. “Our students are educated to fit in society spiritually, mentally and academically. When they face the world they know where they stand. Someday, in a college classroom they may be forced to accept a professor’s world-view. We teach them to weigh the issue from both sides–biblical versus world–and decide what to do from there.
“Are our students guided? Of course, it’s what their parents want and what we want. But where there are parents and teachers there is always a slant, whether liberal or even Marxist. Ours is Christian.”
Obviously Darren Patterson Christian Academy is not for every family in the region, but it has been successfully educating children for fourteen years. Seven students have graduated and gone on to such colleges as John Brown, Pensacola Christian ,and Western Baptist. For those families with a specific religious view they want imparted to their children, DPCA is an option.
Clint Driscoll lives in Buena Vista but was born and raised in Denver and is a product of the Denver Public Schools. Religious schools always gave him the cold robbies until tenth grade, when he began dating girls who went to religious schools. They knew of more sins than he thought existed.