Riverside Christian School in East Grand Forks recently broke ground on a new high school, for grades 9 through 12, expanding its current pre-K through eighth-grade enrollment.

The school’s leadership decided to “step out in faith,” Pat Purcell, vice president of the school’s board of directors, said about the decision to add high school education in a new, prefabricated building.

“We feel very excited,” Purcell said. “This has been a dream of our donors, parents and founders for 30 years.”

“With this model that we’re using, we felt this was the right time to move forward," said Tiffaney Primeau, high school director.

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The model of a hybrid education blends online courses with group work in a traditional classroom and allows students to work at their own pace, Primeau said. Online courses will be taught by teachers through the school’s partnership with NorthStar Academy, a private, online, accredited, Christian school, based in Mississippi.

Under this arrangement, more than 200 online classes, as well as honors, advanced placement and dual enrollment options, will be offered. The RCS teacher, working with students and their online teachers, will help navigate that relationship, Primeau said.

As she and Purcell watched the flatbed trucks haul one of the building’s seven modular units into position on the southeast side of the school, he noted that tile work and painting were yet to be done.

The school has made a $400,000 investment in the project, including construction, classroom supplies, desks, technology, fiber optics, smart boards and smart TVs, Purcell said.

The single-story, 7,000-square-foot structure will house six classrooms, a teachers’ lounge, an office and restrooms. It is expected to be completed in mid-July.

Modular building

In planning the new building, the school’s board engaged a Minneapolis firm to provide the modular structures, which arrived in seven pieces.

The new structure is separate from the existing school. Students will come into the main building for lunch, physical education classes, music and other special classes, Primeau said.

Its concrete footings – vertical, cylindrical, load-bearing shafts or “piers” – run six feet deep, but above the frost line, so they won’t shift, Purcell said.

A couple of weeks ago, while the surface of the piers was still wet at ground level, RCS family members and faculty came onsite to inscribe them with Biblical references, Primeau said.

They wrote messages like “Jesus is our cornerstone,” on a corner pier, and “Jeremiah 29:11,” a verse that reads, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Sixty-four piers, each marked with a “blessing,” support the structure, Primeau said.

‘Busting at the seams’

Riverside Christian School enrolls about 160 students, Purcell said. Though the school’s main building provides about 20,000 square feet of space, more space was needed for the high school.

“Our enrollment has been slowly and steadily growing,” he said. “We’re kind of busting at the seams in our building.”

Four incoming ninth-graders are enrolled so far and, with open enrollment, other high school students are welcome. No limit has been set, Primeau said.

“We’ll take as many as the Lord brings us," said Primeau, noting the school employs a dozen teachers on staff and expects to hire one or two more.

New students do not have to enroll full-time, according to Primeau, who said some home-schooled students may want to take challenging courses, such as physics, for which parents cannot provide support.

Hybrid education

The hybrid educational model offers a flexibility that caters to each student’s gifts, interests, needs and strengths and allows students to progress at their own pace, Primeau said.

With such flexibility, students will be able to become involved in the community, which will give them the chance to explore their interests and get a broad view of career opportunities, she said.

The community itself will be a classroom, as students will be learning through internships, job shadowing, volunteer activities and service opportunities, Primeau said.

“That is really how you learn best, by doing and seeing," she said.

Visiting speakers will be brought in to share their backgrounds and career or work experiences.

“In everything we do, we really look at partnering with our community – we just say, Grand Cities, because it’s both sides of the river,” Purcell said. “About 75 to 80% of our students are from the North Dakota side.”

Adding the high school is the latest step in the progress of a school that started as Shema Christian School in 1982 with a few students at Grace Baptist Church in Grand Forks and was later named Grand Forks Christian School. After the Flood of '97, the school moved into the former Valley Elementary School in East Grand Forks and its name was changed to Riverside Christian School.

“It’s really been a blessing for us,” Purcell said.

Right people, right time

Though several committees formed in the past considered it, the decision to add a high school was not made until this past school year, Purcell said.

“Everyone was passionate about making this happen,” he said. “It was a matter of passionate alumni and donors coming together at this time – God brought the right people together who said, ‘Let’s step out in faith.’ It was the right people and the right time.”

The high school represents the first of two phases in a plan that, down the road, calls for pursuing another dream.

“We’d like to build a new building,” Purcell said, noting that the location is undetermined.

“We are open to either side of the river – wherever the opportunity is.”