CRAMPED CHRISTIAN SCHOOL LOOKS TO OTEGO
By JAMES CUMMINGS • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – The cafeteria at Oneonta Christian Academy is also a locker room and study hall.
“We don’t have enough classrooms for each grade level,” says OCA Administrator Chris Cleveland.
The school has 97 students, and Cleveland expects that number to grow. “We are only limited by our size. 100 is our max and we’re getting pretty close.”
In part, that because “a lot of kids are getting bullied,” according to Elizabeth Cook, the school’s director of programming and 12th-grade English teacher. “We do not tolerate bullying at all.”
So “their parents seek an alternative,” she continued. “Because we’re smaller, because we’re quieter, there’s less chaos. We are a Christian education, but we are a strong education … We are a family environment.”
On Nov. 4, a door opened.
Competing with three bidders, the OCA was awarded the former Otego Elementary School by the Unatego Central school board.
So far, the OCA hasn’t had to turn anyone away. “But much longer and we probably would have to.”
The Oneonta Christian Academy formed last year out of a merger of the Oneonta Community Christian School and Lighthouse Christian Academy. It occupies 9,000 square feet in the former Christian School building at 158 River St.; Otego Elementary has 34,000 square feet.
Previously, the current building was an auto body shop, BOCES, Headstart and an electrical appliance store.
One thing is certain however, it’s not big enough for the growing academy.
Space may be tight as is, but no one can say it hasn’t been maximized. Two grades can share one room, and the cafeteria doubles as a locker room and triples as a study hall. If it rains or it’s too cold to go outside, pupils stay in their rooms for recess.
“It’s a lot of juggling for the teachers,” said Cleveland, although it’s not a new practice. “We’ve done it for years,” he said.
Oftentimes, one grade will be given a written assignment while the other completes a group activity. “The multi-levels are challenging…you have to keep both levels occupied at the same time,” says Sue Rae, who taught at the school for 17 years and now substitutes in two-grade classrooms like kindergarten and First.
Although she values the cross-level learning that takes place in such a small space, she looks forward to the size of the new building and the possibilities that come with it.
“We could have separated areas, but we’re a little bit close together,” she said. “I would like to see a small divider, a noise divider.”
Assessing Otego Elementary, she said “the library and gymnasium are very big pluses.”
Amy Kropp, a Spanish teacher at OCA, looks forward to the additional space as well. With 10 students studying Spanish in a small classroom, “I’m maxed out with this class right here,” she said.
For gym, OCA students often go down River Street to the Oneonta Boys & Girls Club.
“We lose 10-15 minutes from every class to allow time for travel,” said Cleveland. Added Kropp, “The idea of having more time in gym class and a stage will be a blessing.”
Recently, K-12 students took a trip to Otego to tour their new school and were excited by what they saw. “I went to the school before,” said ninth-grader Gabriel Cutting, who attended Otego Elementary before it was closed. “I think everyone will get lost,” he said.
Other kids expressed excitement for the new facilities and additional space. “I love the playground, it was great!” said Alyvia Miller, 14.
“We can have more special activities,” said Noelle Mulick.
Since Otego Elementary has only been closed a year, only a little work is needed, and the OCA is planning to use the building as soon as December for its annual Christmas Celebration. Plans are to start classes there next September.
“I was on my knees praying it would happen,” said OCA receptionist Charles Lapp. “It’s an exciting movement. We’ve gone from a church, to a building, to a school.”