Lee Christian celebrates 20th anniversary

May. 18, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

Students, teachers, parents and friends all gathered at Lee Christian School on Saturday to celebrate the school's 20th anniversary.

The school held its first classes in 1994 in mobile units behind St. Stephen Catholic Church. But a lot has changed in 20 years. Now, Lee Christian has three buildings on its own property, a playground and a number of athletic fields and facilities.

"It was amazing how fast it came together," said Jonathan Gould, one of Lee Christian's first students. "It all came together in one summer."

Jonathan finished ninth grade in the mobile units, and by the time 10th grade started in the Fall of '95, he was sitting inside the school's original building.

"We had teachers who really cared," Jonathan said of his time at Lee Christian. "It wasn't just a classroom. A lot of the teachers became family. I wouldn't change a thing about my experience here."

There have been many graduating classes since Jonathan's time at Lee Christian, many of them represented during Saturday's event, but the sense of community and fellowship remains strong.

"You watch students come and go," said Stephen Coble, the chief administrator at Lee Christian, in between offering handshakes and hugs to former, current, and possibly future, students and parents. "But it's all family. It's all connected. It's wonderful."

As children rode ponies, played carnival games, bounded through inflatable playgrounds and tried to dunk their teachers, those connections were clear to see.

"Sanford is a small town," Coble said. "It's hard to find somebody who's not related to somebody."

Coble emphasized that a sense of family is important to the school, saying how rewarding it was to see the children of children he'd taught come into the school, which spans from preschool programs to the twelfth grade. With about 30 full-time teachers and around 400 students, Coble says it is much easier to develop personal connections than at larger schools.

Thomas Joyner, who graduated last year and just finished his first year at West Point in New York, spent most of his life at Lee Christian.

"I started in kindergarten," Joyner said. "I know all the teachers personally. They know me and my family. [Lee Christian] gave me the support I needed to go out and fulfill my dreams."

Manda Peterson has seen firsthand the impact that Lee Christian School has had on her son, Stryker, 5.

"He's done really well," Peterson said. "He was really shy at first, but his teacher brought him out of his shell. They teach each child as an individual here."

Catering to students' individual needs is the basis of Lee Christian's educational philosophy, according to Dr. William Hall, chairman of the Lee Christian School Board.

"The academics are excellent," he said. "They are the primary emphasis. You come to Lee Christian to get a Christian education."

Hall and Coble both agree that Joe Gould played a large role in the school's success. Coble referred to Gould as "a pastor, a builder, a board member, a construction manager and a construction worker."

Hall's wife, Cindy, recalls the moment that the idea for Lee Christian School came into being.

"We all met up one night," she said. "Joe Gould told us he believed the Lord was leading him to start a school. He said, 'Let's call it Lee Christian.' We didn't have any money, but one of the members had a baseball cap. We passed that around and took donations. And that is how Lee Christian started."

"I feel very thankful for God and his blessings," said Gould, sharing his thoughts on the school's progress.

Noah Cowfer, 15, a ninth-grader at Lee Christian who attended the anniversary party, is thankful, too. He has been at the school since first grade and appreciates the opportunities he has had to learn and grow.

"I plan on taking this with me and sharing my faith," he said with a smile. "Go Lee Christian."