School offers clean slates

The best students at Hope Christian School of Augusta tend to be the ones society has deemed most incorrigible.

And that's exactly why the school was founded, Headmaster Ron Burton said.

"It's our desire to see change," he said.

The school was formed to address the needs of students who have been expelled and can't attend another public school or afford to go to a private one.

In the past three school years, 234 students have been expelled from Richmond County public schools, according to records compiled by The Augusta Chronicle . Of those, seven were expelled permanently and aren't allowed to return.

Once expelled, they aren't accepted by other local school systems. Richmond, Columbia and Aiken counties have policies that prohibit students who have been expelled from enrolling until the term of the expulsion is complete.

Without Hope Christian, students who are expelled would be left to the mischief they find in the streets, Juvenile Court Judge Bill Sams said. He applauded the school of about 80 students for giving them a second chance.

In its 10 years, its mission has evolved, but it remains committed to serving students who have discipline problems.

Intimate class settings enable teachers to develop personal relationships with their students, the Rev. Burton said.

Its 2008 graduating class of 18 students is the largest in the school's short history.

Senior Bryan Sivers, 18, attended Cross Creek High School, which has 1,400 students.

"I didn't like it," he said. "You get lost in all the kids."

He was given the opportunity to go back to Cross Creek, but he turned it down.

The structure of school keeps Brittany Joshua, 15, in line.

When she was in public school, she attended Sego and Spirit Creek middle schools. She acted up in class and got in trouble.

At Hope Christian, she's no longer a disruption, she said.

The Rev. Burton applies his background in the military and youth ministry to how he manages the school, offering the youths a firm, regimented atmosphere.

Judge Sams recalled meeting the headmaster a few months ago and discovered the work he is doing.

"I think I might have hugged him," Judge Sams said . "The only hope is to educate our children so they become productive citizens. If they have no skills, then they turn to other means of supporting themselves."

Often, children don't realize the value of an education, he said.

"There are two ways to earn a living," Judge Sams said. "One is the right way. One is the wrong way."

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

HOPE CHRISTIAN

The school, nearly homeless a year ago, has found refuge inside the offices of Marvin United Methodist Church, where it teaches students who struggle academically and don't fit in socially.

Most of the school's students have learning disabilities, and State Senate Bill 10 infused 19 students into Hope Christian this year on special needs scholarships. The school is heavily dependent on donations. Parents pay according to their ability.