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Growing in grace: Grace Academy fills a need in east Rowan County

ROCKWELL — Grace Academy is a hidden treasure, tucked away in the quiet countryside. The small private school opened 18 years ago, and Principal Frank File says it has been growing steadily.

A ministry offshoot of Grace Bible Church in Rockwell, Grace Academy caters to local students and families with a robust preschool program and a small but steady elementary school.

Currently, 140 students attend Grace Academy — more than 90 of them in the preschool program.

“We always have a packed house,” said Sandy Phillips, admissions and program director.

Grace Academy started in 2001 with just 19 students. At the time, the school was only a preschool. The eastern part of Rowan County was starved for child care facilities, but Phillips said she knew Grace Academy needed to be more.

“We wanted this to be more than just child care,” she said.

In 2003, Grace Bible built a family life annex that allowed the school to begin adding elementary grades.

File and Phillips say they’re proud of the growth the school is experiencing.

“Right now, it’s May, and we’re almost full for fall,” Phillips said.

“And that’s never happened,” File added.

Small class sizes mean that students get plenty of one-on-one time with teachers. File said the school strives to offer challenging and rewarding academics with the Abeka curriculum.

“By the time our 4-year-olds get through, they’re reading circles by Christmas,” File said.

School curriculum also has a strong focus on community outreach. Students spend time throughout the year raising money for or helping at the Pregnancy Support Center, Relay for Life and other local organizations. Students are also heavily involved in Grace Bible Church — and vice versa.

“Our school is still an outreach of our church,” File said. “They’re not separate.”

It creates a loving, holistic environment where students can thrive and grow in their identity in Christ as well as in academic knowledge, File said. After all, “Growing in Grace” is the school’s motto.

“People they feel like were a family,” Phillips said.

This is File’s first year as principal, but he has a passion for education. File was a teacher in the public school system for nearly 30 years. When he retired three years ago, he wanted to stay involved — and then the position at Grace Academy, File’s home church, opened up.

“This is where I’m supposed to be,” he said. “God had a plan for me.”

Grace Academy follows the public school calendar so that it can also run after-school care and summer programs.

“We actually go get students from the public schools,” File said.

And the care and warmth teachers extend to their day students also stretches to after-school and summer students.

“We want the parents to feel good leaving their kids here,” File said.

File said he feels that the school has nowhere to go but up.

To learn more about Grace Academy, visit www.graceacademyrockwell.com.

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