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By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
SOUTH HOLLAND, Ill. (October 28, 2021) – With growth comes change. Unity Christian Academy is seeing the truth in that statement both internally and externally as the school works to expand both its students’ minds and its campus.
Unity Christian, which first opened its doors for the 2018-19 school year, is looking to move from its current location within Calvary Community Church at 16341 South Park Avenue in South Holland to the former Holy Ghost Church location, at the intersection of 170th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue in South Holland.
“It was a simple equation where we could not fit in that location anymore. We have been blessed with our enrollment of 81 students and we wanted to admit more but we couldn’t,” said Neil Okuley, Head of School at Unity Christian Academy. “We just can’t fit into our current building if we want to broaden our footprint into the community.”
The physical part of that footprint will increase drastically as the school moves from the east end of Calvary Community Church to a two-story 42,000 square foot school building next to a large sanctuary building — which Unity also owns. The two structures are nestled on a grassy piece of land that is about ten acres large.
Acquiring the property has only been the first step of the process, explained Okuley, who has worked with architects and other contractors to get the building to a usable state. Though the Holy Ghost Parish held its last mass only in June of 2019, the school building needs significant rehabilitation to function the way Unity Christian would like it to.
Okuley said material prices and shortages have complicated the process of rehabbing the property, and students will not call the building their new school home until the start of the 2022-23 school year.
UCA staff and educators are working on more than designing a new building. They want to make sure their current and future students are being shaped and formed on the inside, following their motto: “High School. Redefined. Redesigned.”
The school has tweaked its schedule throughout its four years, which offers Flex Fridays, a day when students have the option of going off campus for deeper learning and the opportunity to challenge themselves. From service learning days and panel discussions to working on their internship programs, the day puts the responsibility and initiative on the teenage learners, and challenges them to think about how God is preparing them to serve in this world, Okuley explained.
“We feel strongly that we must open opportunities and new experiences for students. We want students to leave our school knowing who God is, who they are, and how God is preparing them to serve in this world,” he said.
The school week starts with Monday meetings which serve as a cultural touch point, starting the week together, building community, and detailing any unique plans for the week. The students go off to smaller groups of 10 to 12 people led by one staff member. It’s then when they can choose their options for Friday.
Fostering a welcoming culture
After losing a year of consistent in-person education, school officials believe there has been a distinct difference in the atmosphere this fall.
“Education is always a lot of work, but what we love about our model is that we can see the transformative effect it is having in our building,” Okuley said. “Our first day, all our sophomores and seniors came early to welcome the new freshmen. You can learn all day but if you have no connection with your peers, you are selling your experience short.”
Educators want to create a healthy environment that is vibrant, challenging, safe, loving, and teaches the importance of developing relationships.
“You couldn’t ask for a better start because we feel the high energy, and that is the best element of our culture,” said Steven Harrison, Assistant Head of School at Unity Christian Academy. “The mentality and approach of our educational system is taking root and we see the fruits of the hard work our staff and students are doing to promote a fruitful educational experience.”
UCA does not have a denominational affiliation and is an open enrollment high school where students do not need to be professing followers of Jesus, nor do their families need to be members of a local church to attend.
“While many of our students are committed followers of Jesus and actively involved in a variety of nearby churches, a good and growing amount of our student body are not. This bolsters our life together,” added Harrison.
Unity Christian Academy is currently located at 16341 South Park Avenue, Building 2, in South Holland. The school is hoping to move next year to 700 East 170th Street in South Holland.
Josh Bootsma contributed to this story.
- Unity Christian Academy starts second year of doing high school differently (September 3, 2019)
- UCA ribbon-cutting celebrates a new type of education (August 15, 2018)