Y2 Free Charter School
Cypress Trails UMC has a vision to serve the community, starting with preschool, after school care and a charter elementary school on its campus.
Seeing little people at little tables is a special blessing for Rev. Luis Ramirez, as the Cypress Trails UMC sanctuary is converted to a lunchroom during the week, for the children in their care. “I just love knowing our charter school students are eating in a holy space, which might be the closest they come to experiencing church in their lives at this age,” he says. He is grateful for the opportunity to provide the space for Sam Houston State University’s newest charter school because it provides yet another chance for the church to facilitate a close knit relationship with families in the area. “Not only are we helping provide an education in a happy environment,” he adds, “we are building relationships as we go, which does not always happen in our Methodist churches as a general rule.”
Superintendent Ronny Knox says, “When we were choosing a location for our newest charter school through the university, we looked at 50 credible and highly rated daycares. When Pastor Luis laid out his vision for the church to be an education center, we knew Cypress Trails UMC was going to be an ideal partner for Sam Houston University’s expanding charter school program.” Cypress Trails immediately knocked down walls in the Sunday school classroom area to make larger spaces for the new charter school’s kindergarten, first and second graders.
“I agree with Superintendent Knox that Pastor Luis is a visionary because he could see this school as a reality before we even started, and he constantly promotes the partnership to the congregation,” shares on-site Principal Renee O’neal. “We love having our charter schools in churches because they have a heart for the kids in the neighborhood and the infrastructure of classrooms, playgrounds and other amenities,” Ronny explains. The partnership plans to add a grade each year for the next few years.
If Pastor Luis had suggested the church hosting a charter school when he arrived in 2014, his members would not have been ready. “They would have asked how we could do that if we could not even afford to buy paint,” Luis admits. “Attendance in 2014 had dropped to 85 and the members were weary of weathering every challenge you can think of, including a fire,” he shares. “We could go nowhere but up from there!”
Things began looking up almost immediately. A natural born encourager and fundraiser, Pastor Luis met with members in his early months and heard them say that education was one of the areas Cypress Trails could have an impact. A sense of vitality returned to the church members as he inspired donations from within and outside the church, and raised the money for much needed paint and repairs. He happily reports that attendance has doubled in the last three years, positioning the church to be must stronger as it approaches its 40th anniversary in a few years.
This unique charter school instantly fueled the pastor’s passion for education, having worked several years in Humble ISD in an Avant guard program that required him to write original curriculum and chase down grant money. “We have a very symbiotic relationship with Sam Houston now in that our success is tied in to theirs, and theirs to ours. We are so excited about this partnership that we are already discussing what our capacity would be, and considering alternative spaces to use.”
According to Principal Renee O’neal, Cypress Trails UMC is a great landlord for a school that is free and open to anyone. “Sam Houston University has a reputation as a strong teaching school, so we are using this campus to model and teach visiting students about best practices. We offer the latest technology, creative curriculum that is not focused on standardized tests, and small classes.” The charter school in some ways is a magnet to raise awareness of the church within the community as well.
“We respect the separation of church and state boundaries of this public school,” adds Luis, “but we offer faith forming after school care and activities such as soccer and music that begin with Bible study and end with prayer.” Vitality metrics also include a strong scouting program, a counseling center and utilizing all spaces within the church around the clock. He’s particularly proud of Cypress Trails’ children’s chorus that is 30-youngsters-strong.
“Cypress Trails is one of our strongest partners,” adds Ronny, “and helps position Sam Houston to expand to four more sites by July of 2018 — something I’m willing to talk about to anyone or any church interested.”