By TYLER REYNARD
WHEELING - According to Headmaster Chad Barnett, The Linsly School is using a foothold in the past to advance into the future.
Zoology is a newly offered elective in Linsly’s Science Department this year. Pictured, from left, is zoology student senior Phil Acrie, Science Department Chair Dr. David Mallow and junior Marcus Saludes.
Barnett, who is serving in his second year as headmaster, said Linsly is digging to the core of its values by embodying its founding words of "forward and no retreat."
That reflection has resulted in monumental moments in Linsly's nearly 200-year history.
As school enrollment falls throughout the Ohio Valley and the number of school-age children in Ohio County declines, Linsly has seen a spike in enrollment.
How well are the area's private schools faring?
Fairly well, as schools such as The Linsly School are seeing record enrollment numbers. Officials at The Speiro Academy in Belmont County also believe they are poised for a strong future, as their non-traditional approach to education is what some families are seeking.
According to statistics, the current number of children under the age of 18 in Ohio County is approximately 8 percent lower than it was just a few years ago. That number is forecasted to fall an additional 3 percent this year.
Barnett said during that time, Linsly's enrollment has grown by approximately 40 students, bringing the number to an all-time high of nearly 450.
With the recent rise, Barnett noted that Linsly is at the ideal size to enable school officials to continue to meet and exceed the challenge of delivering a traditional college preparatory program.
"We're not looking to expand," he said of Linsly's current enrollment.
Included in that challenge is motivating students to strive for excellence. Students are cognizant of the fact that anything less than their best effort will be noticed, Barnett said.
While Linsly draws its students primarily from the Wheeling area, more than 100 students travel from states other than West Virginia and 20 hail from foreign nations.
Barnett noted that by sending a child to Linsly from across the country, or even across the globe, parents are making a choice to skip over "thousands of other schools." He said that choice is warranted, as Linsly boasts 100 percent college placement.
At the Speiro Academy, in Bridgeport and Wheeling, Principal Susan Cline said an education in the fine arts, as well as faith-based curriculum, is prompting parents to choose her school.
"One reason parents are choosing Speiro Academy, in particular, is our focus on fine arts. We have strings, dance, and choir classes for no extra charge, plus private voice, ballet, and music lessons at low cost," she said.
Speiro's school year culminates in a "Grand Finale," with all students participating in recitals for song and dance, speech, and drama.
Like most private schools throughout the Ohio Valley, Cline said funding serves as Speiro's biggest challenge.
"Having to learn how to stretch a dollar has affected everyone, including our families," Cline admitted. Despite financial strain, Cline said parents find a way to fit tuition costs into their budgets.
"It usually is a sacrifice, but those who choose to, make it a priority," she said.
Cline added that Speiro can often rely on generous members of the local community to supplement expenses that tuition does cover.
"It really helps when the community gets behind us and supports our fundraisers."
According to Cline, enrollment at the school began to dwindle in 2008, with the current population around 25 students. However, small classrooms seating 10 students or less provide each child with individual attention and a personal education experience.
"Every teacher knows each student in the school, their personalities and their challenges. This gives us particular insight into how to give each child the best education possible for their unique learning style," she noted. "No child is overlooked."
Regardless of subject, teaching at the Christan fine arts school, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, is grounded in faith.
"Our faith and the Word is integrated into every subject. Our moral values influence how we approach history and science, even math," Cline said.
She added that administrators are confident those values and teachings will lead to a rise in enrollment in Speiro's next decade.