Nehemiah Enrichment Academy is using small scale to make big changes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 23, 2022

SALISBURY —  Classroom size is a common topic in education

Whether they are on the administrative size and have a good student-to-teacher ratio to tout or need to make their classes more dense to not break the bank, it has been a hot topic in education for decades.

One school in Rowan County is thinking much smaller. Nehemiah Enrichment Academy just finished the school year with a total of seven students. According to the most recent data from the North Carolina Division of Non-Public Education, it’s the smallest school in Rowan County by enrollment.

The academy’s principal, Trina Moore, runs the show with teacher Meriam Hester. The school is connected to Salisbury’s United Christian Fellowship Church International. Based on the academy’s research, Moore said it is the only African-American church-owned school in Rowan County.

Moore said the school started with some of the church’s parishioners, with the goal of creating an environment of restorative justice for the middle school boys it started serving in 2018. She said the school started with an approach of creating a blank slate for students with appropriate consequences rather than outright punishment.

Moore said the students needed a new environment, and she thought the church could create an atmosphere students could succeed in, especially Black boys.

“We discussed it, planned for it, and this is how I got started,” Moore said. “It was not how I expected to get started, it was unorthodox, but it boils down to this: if you have a calling, you have a purpose, no matter what it looks like, you get it done.”

The school day at Nehemiah starts with chapel. That includes worship, Bible study, some time to talk about core character traits like kindness and setting expectations for the day.

“Of course no child likes to be corrected, and that’s not always fun, but we’re consistent,” Moore said, adding that the policy translates into fewer behavior problems.

Moore said in the first year, the school turned around the academics of some of its students and brought their reading skills up to grade level. She described working with one student who had chronic behavioral issues at his old school but has been held accountable with no suspensions or calls home since he started at Nehemiah.

“We had expectations, we held him accountable,” Moore said. “There’s no need to call a parent because a child doesn’t want to work. I know how to handle that.”

Now the school has a mix of students who are church members and others from the community. The school is looking to expand, just to 10 students, and it is looking ahead to piloting an online component with a preparatory program for early college. Moore said African-American students are underrepresented in the free college courses available to them in high school.

Every student’s progress is tracked individually so instruction can be tailored to individual needs.

Hester has decades of experience in Christian and secular education. She said she loves the small setting because she is able to give every student the attention they need whether they need to catch up or are advancing quickly.

“I found that was lacking in a larger classroom because you can’t get to every child,” Hester said. “When you have a smaller setting, it’s really teaching individually.”

The school currently serves a mix of elementary and middle school students. With such a small student population, it does not serve every grade level K-8. Moore said the school plans to add a grade level every year, but the goal is to keep its student-to-teacher ratio at 10 to one.

The school has three classrooms it wants to fill to capacity in the next few years. The school charges tuition, but some students get sponsorship and scholarships to help attend.

Parent Bianca Gill said the smaller environment has been good for her son Terry’s behavior and she was attracted to the Christian component.

“I’ve just noticed a huge difference in him overall,” Gill said. “His respect level and being more attentive.

Terry, a second grader, said one of his favorite parts of going to the school is Moore. Reading is his favorite subject and he likes Bible stories.

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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