Unity Christian School is about to unveil its newest addition — a bright, new two-storey, four-classroom
The addition will be ready in November, and will allow the east Chilliwack private school to accommodate a steady influx of students they’ve encountered over the last several years. It’s a small addition compared to their expansion three years ago. That one added 15 classrooms and allowed the school to grow from 273 students to almost 450.
But even that wasn’t enough to fill the need, says principal Mike Campbell.
“We were caught off guard with the growth,” he said, walking around the school halls earlier this month. Their new families are coming from a variety of places. They are coming from Vancouver, from other provinces, and yes, some from the public school system.
Just the week before, he says, Campbell had toured three new families through the school. All of them were from Langley, looking to move east.
It’s a similar situation to the public schools, which are seeing a massive influx across the board in Chilliwack as families migrate to more affordable housing east of Metro Vancouver. Many of the public schools are at or over capacity, and about 80 temporary portables are in what seems to be permanent use as the province stalls on approving a growth plan at Promontory elementary.
While Campbell says they are respectful of what public schools offer, they aren’t shy about being an option to crowded schools.
“Our ambassadors are great,” Campbell says, of the many parents and grandparents who spread the word that Unity is open to growth.
Growing has become a theme at Unity, of late. Three years ago, Unity was the fourth largest private school in Chilliwack. With the newest addition, they are now the largest. They will be able to hold 550 K-12 students, while keeping class size limits at 25 kids.
Being a private school is what’s allowed the physical growth of the school to take place. As a class 1 private school, Unity receives a grant that is 50 per cent of the average operating grant per student in Chilliwack public schools. Unlike public schools, they don’t receive any capital funding for building maintenance and growth, for example.
So, they are free to fundraise or borrow on their accord.
Unity didn’t need to fundraise to build the million-dollar extension, Campbell says.
“We had some really good years and we were able to take on some extra debt to make it happen,” he explains.
And recently, Chilliwack’s Cascade Christian School launched a massive fundraising campaign to move their school from a shared space at the Salvation Army Church to purchase their own building at the old UFV site on Yale Road.
Both have said they are growing carefully and cautiously, to maintain that small-school feel that private school families are looking for.
“As we grow, it is important that we don’t lose our sense of community,” Campbell says. “Our school board is excited to grow and a new strategic plan is just beginning to further define our growth, the impact we can have in Chilliwack, and to continue to grow into a place of excellent 21st century education.”
The location of Unity speaks to that small-community they value.
When Unity Christian School was built 15 years ago, it was meant to be a beacon on the hill.
To some, it may have seemed an odd place to create a school, 10 minutes east of Chilliwack, yet not in either Rosedale of Popkum. But it was perfect for the Unity community.
“Fifteen years ago, there was nothing here,” Campbell says. “Just a dirt road.”
In the decade that followed, the school’s surroundings began to look less rural and more suburban. Now, the area around Unity is a community unto its own; the eastern hillsides.
According to the City of Chilliwack’s Eastern Hillsides Plan, in the three years prior to Unity being built, there were less than 10 new housing starts in the eastern hillsides. Once the school was in place, the community began to boom. There are now hundreds of families living within walking or biking distance of the school’s campus. And for those choosing to attend Unity who haven’t moved to the hillsides, the school offers busing far and wide. They transport students from as far as Hope to the east, and Vedder Canal to the west.
“We are excited with our growth as our mission is to enable all students to meet their God-given potential,” Campbell added. “As we grow we are able to increase our course offerings.”
They have a woodwork facility, and will be adding mechanics next year.
As they grow and open to more families, their Fraser Rankings have dropped slightly. And while they keep an eye on those numbers, they don’t put all their worries into it.
They are more concerned with helping students find their way through an education, than in achieving the top academic marks.
“The private schools that are ranked in the top 10 are elite private schools that screen solely based of academic ability,” he added. “We offer Christian education to all Christian families and give all students an opportunity to graduate.”