When a small group of parents, teachers, and concerned citizens met at Bruce Churton’s home in July of 1994 to discuss the formation of a Christian school, they had no idea what their dreams would produce.
Fast-forward two dozen years, and Covenant School in Huntington, West Virginia has produced more than 50 high school graduates, 10 National Merit Scholar finalists, and a quality education for hundreds of students.
Two graduates now work for one of the nation’s largest, privately-held software companies. Another is studying for a doctorate at Rice University, while one excelled at the U.S. Air Force Academy and serves our country as an Air Force pilot.
Although the school started small, a large vision and good organization helped Covenant succeed, says Karen LaFear, wife of John LaFear. A retired CPA and original board member, John is still a director.
Both acknowledge there have been struggles over the years, mostly because of a lack of major benefactors.
After the 1995 launch, the staff did everything, says Kim Wilson, an early board member and CPA who later taught sixth grade for two years. Mrs. Wilson recalls juggling janitorial duties with accounting—and once filling in part-time for a teacher who quit halfway through the academic year.
One of the first faculty members, Mindy Stanley, called her stipends “pray checks” instead of “pay checks” after Covenant opened its doors. She credits God’s help and parental involvement with bringing the impossible to pass. After two or three years, Mrs. Stanley—who remains the first-grade teacher—and other staff members saw parents buying into the vision and the Lord working to make things happen.
Even today, Mrs. Stanley says the staff is constantly evaluating how to do things better, while asking what differentiates Covenant from the school down the block. One answer is the classical education model that stems from several authors, most notably Doug Wilson—who was inspired by Dorothy Sayers, a contemporary of literary legend C.S. Lewis. Wilson’s book, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, encouraged several parents who met at Churton’s home.
After two brainstorming sessions, original board members gathered every Tuesday night for the next year at the LaFears’ home.
In October of 1994, the group sponsored a public informational meeting at a large church in Huntington. There, the founders explained the classical education described in Wilson’s book as a three-part pattern of training the mind.
The three elements correspond to stages of a student’s life. Elementary students learn how to read and memorize factual information, laying the foundation for advanced study. Middle schoolers learn to think through arguments, while high school pupils learn to express their thoughts.
In the following months, first Headmaster Don Post and others visited area congregations to share Covenant’s vision and mission.
History shows the kind of groundswell of interest that existed in the community. Initially meeting at a Huntington church that had been the temporary home of another Christian school, Covenant welcomed 36 students to the 1995-96 class (kindergarten through fourth grade). By the spring of that first year, enrollment had mushroomed to 57.
Third grade teacher Susan Jimison, who started her Covenant career as the kindergarten instructor, says that first year was exciting. Not only was classical education new to the area, teachers had to write some of their own curriculum.
It was a leap of faith but also a lot of hard work, Mrs. Jimison says. Yet the more the staff did, the more they felt they had missed out themselves, since teaching and learning in the classical education model was so effective.
The school gradually grew to a K-12 institution by adding one grade per academic year. Enrollment eventually peaked at close to 300 before settling back to just over half that size for 2017-18.
The growth necessitated several moves, with the final one coming in the summer of 2009. That’s when it merged operations with another classical Christian school operated by Christ Temple, the facility that currently houses Covenant’s classrooms.
Christ Temple has always been very supportive, John LaFear says. Despite some initial misgivings about the appearance of a church affiliation, LaFear says the merger has been very successful.
Those involved in developing the school see the combination of an emphasis on academic achievement with a family environment as keys to its success. Mrs. Wilson, who retired from teaching after her son graduated in 2007, was motivated to help start this experiment so he would have the kind of educational opportunities she never enjoyed.
Teachers taught a love for learning as well as demanding excellence in their students’ work, Mrs. Wilson says. There were times her son expressed the desire to go to a larger school with fewer challenges, but she thinks he would now say he’s glad he didn’t.
It has also become a second-generation success story, with pupils enrolled today who are children of students from early graduating classes. Such relationships are the other special thing about Covenant, Mrs. Jimison says: “It’s a different environment.”
Covenant School strives to graduate young men and women who think clearly and listen carefully with discernment and understanding, who reason persuasively and articulate precisely, who are capable of evaluating their entire range of experience in the light of the Scriptures, and who do so with eagerness in joyful submission to God.
Our goal is to teach students to diligently, skillfully, and joyfully pursue Truth (God’s Word), Beauty (the arts), and Goodness (Christian character) as defined by Scripture and Creation. We encourage every student to develop a love for learning and to achieve his maximum academic potential.
Our goal is that our students will be well versed in the history, literature, and the arts of Western civilization and will be proficient in mathematics and science. We desire them to recognize cultural influences as distinct from biblical ones, and to be unswayed toward evil by the former. We aim to find them well-prepared in all situations, equipped with the tools of learning, possessing both information and the knowledge of how to use it, desiring to grow in understanding, yet fully realizing the limitations and foolishness of the wisdom of this world.
Students should be able to distinguish real religion from religion in form only, possessing the former, knowing and loving the Lord Jesus Christ. We desire they have a heart for the lost and the compassion and courage to engage them with the gospel. We desire they be socially graceful and spiritually gracious. All these qualities we desire them to possess with humility and gratitude to God. We likewise aim to cultivate these same qualities in our staff. We desire them to be professional and diligent in their work, gifted in teaching, loving their students and their subjects. We desire they clearly understand classical education, how it is implemented in their classroom and how their work fits into the whole. They should possess a lifelong hunger to learn and grow. We desire to see them coach and nurture new staff and to serve as academic mentors to students. We look to see them mature in Christ, growing in the knowledge of God, and bringing their own children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Our goal is to see them adequately compensated, and to provide them with personal and professional development so that they have opportunity to be refreshed and renewed in order to do their work with joy.
We desire that our parents partner with us through recognizing their part in the educational process of their children and being well informed about the goals of our classical and Christ-centered approach. We desire them to grow with the school, involved in and excited about the journey. We aim to help them follow biblical principles in addressing concerns, to be inclined to hearing both sides of a story before rendering a verdict, and to embrace the Scripture injunctions to encourage and stir up one another to love and good works. Finally, in our relationship with our community, we aim to be above reproach in our business dealings and supportive of the local business community. We further seek to exemplify the unity of the body of Christ, to develop greater fellowship and understanding with the churches, and to bring honor to our Lord in all our endeavors.