Some churches sit empty during the week, waiting until Sunday sermons or Wednesday night Bible studies. But that’s not the case for Spring Woods UMC.
Not only does the church offer Spring Woods Christian Academy for 6 months to pre-K students, but it also serves as home to a Sam Houston State University (SHSU) Charter School for kindergarteners through 5th grade.
In addition, the church offers before- and after-school care for the charter students.
Monday through Friday, the campus is simply bustling with students of all ages.
Senior Pastor Rev. Steffon Arrington enjoys making the rounds through the buildings each day.
“The kids wave,” he said. “And you just get a lot of joy out of that.”
Arrington delights in seeing the space always in use. He explained that because of both schools, Spring Woods has an even stronger presence in the community.
The connection between the church and education goes back a long way. In fact, the Spring Woods Christian Academy actually started as a mother’s day out program about 40 years ago and overtime evolved into a full preschool.
Bringing an elementary school to campus was a logical next step. Arrington first heard about the SHSU Charter option in 2016 from Rev. Luis Ramirez, who hosted one while appointed to the former Cypress Trails UMC in Spring.
“It stuck in the back of my mind,” Arrington said.
He was intrigued with the option, because of the small classroom size and high level of instruction, provided at no charge. The SHSU Charter also operates year-round to help prevent the summer slide – that regression in learning that often happens over summer break.
Ramirez also explained that leasing space on campus to the school provides income.
“You’re benefiting the community – and it’s also helping the church financially,” Arrington said. “It’s a win-win situation. If you want to keep your doors open, you have to bring in additional resources.”
After COVID, the time seemed right to consider a charter. The church was reopening, but numbers were down. Arrington was looking for a way to bring new life – and additional income – to campus.
He reached out to Dr. Ronny Knox, who then served as Superintendent of the SHSU Charter School and recently retired.
Knox made a presentation for the church and the Academy. “We were all in agreement that this was a good opportunity,” Arrington said.
After getting approval from the Texas Education Agency, the SHSU Charter school was ready to launch in July 2022.
“Our goal was to start with Kindergarten, first and second grade,” Arrington. Then, one class would be added each year through fifth grade.
The first year about 45 students enrolled in the charter. Classrooms were carved out of the building that also housed Spring Woods Academy.
Then, suddenly more space became available. A second building on campus was being leased by the Catholic Regina Caeli Academy, until the school found a new space in December 2022.
The note from Regina Caeli came right in time, Arrington explained. “It was a Godsend,” he said. “God’s hand has been in this all along.”
Dr. Knox had just approached him to ask if all three grades – third, fourth and fifth could be added all at once to meet an increased need in the area.
With the academic wing now empty, Arrington explained, “We were able to say right away that we could do this. You can’t tell me it’s anything but a God-given moment.”
This July, the three additional grades opened. Now, there are about 90 students enrolled in the charter.
Arrington said that it is rare to find two schools on one church campus. People ask him how it can possibly work. “Let me tell you, it works out great,” he said.
Arrington is currently working on his doctor of ministry degree in adaptive leadership principles.
“Jesus was the model for adaptive leadership,” Arrington said. “He took one thing and then made it something else. That’s what reimagining church and building usage is all about. Space can become a prime opportunity for the church to help the community.”