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9 seniors fulfill a dream for school with a mission

Spring Hill Christian, which went from 75 students in 1996 to 280 today, reaches a milestone: It graduates its first class.

By ROBERT KING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002


SPRING HILL -- Some of the nine seniors who on Saturday became Spring Hill Christian Academy's first graduating class thought they might never reach this milestone in their lives.

"I honestly don't think I thought it would ever come," said senior Carrie Bruzzi. "I thought, "Surely, the Lord will come back first.' "

Yet it came nonetheless, a day the school's founders had envisioned since its opening in 1996, when the academy served kids only through sixth grade.

Spring Hill Christian has added a grade level per year ever since. And now it has reaped its first harvest.

"When we started the school, that was our intentions, that was our goal," said principal Bill Crawford. "And God has allowed us to accomplish that."

Members of the Class of 2002 say it has been fun establishing the school's traditions.

In lieu of a prom with dancing, they took limos to a formal banquet in Clearwater, spent the night skating and playing games and finished the affair with a progressive breakfast.

They have bought class rings and a 60-page yearbook. And, in a small school with pre-K kids who demand a hug every time they walk by, they have learned that their example matters.

And Saturday, all nine graduates got something that's unimaginable in schools with 300-member graduating classes -- three minutes each to address their classmates and those assembled during the commencement ceremony.

Such an intimate atmosphere is reflective of the whole Spring Hill Christian experience, said Sarah Boyd, who was made class president not so much in an election but more of mutual agreement among classmates.

Boyd and other seniors say the smallness of the school means everyone knows everyone, secrets are nonexistent and cliques don't hold up well. It has led to a family atmosphere.

"You know there's love in this school," said Boyd, who spent her freshman year at Springstead High School. "It makes it more enjoyable that you don't have to face people's attitudes, you don't have to worry about what people think because you know they care."

Nearly all the seniors are bound for college and most are interested in some type of ministry.

Boyd plans to study counseling at Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist Christian school in Greenville, S.C. Nathan Golden plans to major in music at Appalachian Bible College in Bradley, W.Va. Bruzzi is headed to Pensacola Christian College, with possibly a major in missions.

Those destinations are not by accident.

Crawford, the school's principal, said the school's goal has been to give students the tools to succeed in life, and to do it "for the honor and glory of Jesus Christ."

To that end, teachers and students pray before almost every class. And the notes students take in class frequently include passages from the Bible.

"We wanted not just teaching the academics, but teaching the Bible also, and teaching morality and (having) a place of Bible reading and prayer and saluting the flag and the wearing of uniforms -- to have standards," said the Rev. Ray Rouse, the pastor of the church, Spring Hill Baptist, that founded and still operates the school.

"It's worked out well that way."

Recently, the school's board even decided that all new faculty members must be members of Spring Hill Baptist, something that didn't sit well with everyone. But Rouse said the church had hoped to make that requirement from the beginning, but that a lack of teachers in the membership prevented it.

Such a commitment to the church and the school was important, Rouse said, so that students and faculty could worship together and so that teachers are supportive of the same doctrine the church follows.

From just 75 students in 1996, the school has grown now to 280. Leaders are talking about further expansion, possibly by acquiring some property adjacent to the school.

School leaders say Saturday's commencement was a farewell to students who had become like a small family. But they say producing the school's first graduates also fulfills a commitment made to parents six years ago and solidifies Spring Hill Christian's credibility.

"For six years, we've been looking forward to this day," Rouse said. "So we're real excited about it."

-- Robert King covers education in Hernando County and can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to rking@sptimes.com.

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