ELYRIA — It has been 35 years since Elyria Christian School first opened its doors to students, and the school has seen steady growth since that time.

"It's changed drastically since day one," said Anna Kaufman, one of the founding members of ECS.

Kaufman worked at ECS for 24 years before taking a 10-year hiatus. She is now back at ECS as a dual-credit psychology teacher and has had eight grandchildren that attend the school.

The success of the small, independent Christian school came from committed families and teachers and also God's blessing, Kaufman said.

In 1982, a group of families rented and later purchased the former Elyria public school building as a place to teach 22 students in kindergarten through fourth grade. After five years, the school had 53 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. High school grades were added in incrementally beginning in 1991 and the school now boasts 210 students in pre-K through 12th grade with more than 40 faculty and staff.

As the school has grown, it added an elementary wing, a high school wing with commons area, a gymnasium complex and a ten-classroom mobile unit, which allowed for the opening of the Eagle's Nest Preschool.

"We would like to develop more facilities at some point," said Allen Siemens, ECS lead administrator.

Children from up to 45 miles away attend ECS in classes that average 15 students.

"We're small enough to really focus in on individual needs," Siemens said. "We're also large enough that we can offer a range of things."

Having students from three to 18-years-old in one facility has benefits, said Rhonda Stucky, ECS academic administrator.

"I think it is a huge strength that we are pre-K through 12th grade, all in one building," Stucky said. "It's fun when you see the older kids walk through the lunchroom and they're fist-bumping the elementary kids."

Those relationships between older and younger students are encouraged through mentorships, prayer partners and buddy systems.

"It definitely adds a new dynamic," Stucky said. "We do everything we can to have our high schoolers have a high school experience, but the interaction piece is really fun too."

Running a school that has different schedules for different levels of students requires communication and organization.

"Space becomes a challenge, because everyone has to use the gym and auditorium," Kaufman said.

ECS gained KSHSAA membership in 2005, giving students more opportunities for recognition and collegiate play.

"Kids who love sports can come here and play," Kaufman said.

ECS partners with Abounding Hope Christian School, which caters to students with special needs.

"For a Christian school, we offer quite a bit for students with learning difficulties," Stucky said. "We're able to partner with families who have students who struggle."

The school maintains partnerships with Central Christian College of Kansas and Hutchinson Community College for dual-credit classes.

"Our students are able to graduate with a fair number of college hours," Stucky said. "I think that's a huge asset for the students and a money-saver, as well. We have students who go through college in three or three and a half years, because of everything they were able to do here."

ECS does not receive any government funding, relying instead on tuition dollars, fundraisers and gift from donors, Stucky noted.

“It’s become pretty much a family with the parents, teachers and students all sort of heading towards the same goal,” Siemens said.

“If we didn’t have family commitment, we wouldn’t be here,” Stucky said.

ECS is not affiliated with any denomination or church, but is made of Christians who may have differences in their beliefs working together, Siemens noted.

“We are a Christian school and so one of our main focuses is to keep the Lord central and foremost. We teach from a Biblical point of view,” Siemens said.

Having spiritual life integrated into school life is what attracts students to ECS.

"We want to see the school continue its roots in terms of its Christian heritage and foundation," Siemens said. "We would also like to see some growth and have more students in each grade."

For more information about Elyria Christian School, visit http://www.ecseagles.us or call 620-241-2994.

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.