Representatives of a Durham Christian boarding school say they may not have enough money to cover their bills next month – much less in the new year – but they have faith that God will provide.
“Our funds are depleted to about one more month of existence,” said Mark Bryant, business manager for Agape Corner School, which since the early 1980s has provided free education, meals, and shelter to about 400 children.
Bryant said the school’s bank account is down to about $10,000 and monthly bills run about $17,000.
“Given that we are a faith ministry, we depend on God to provide the funds,” Bryant said. “He has done it before, and if he decides to do it again, we will be content with that.”
Louise Roudebush, Agape’s director and founder who also teaches, started the school as a state-supported daycare center on Farthing Street off Club Boulevard. It evolved into a Christian boarding school with a handful of properties that house teachers and students free of charge within walking distance of the recently renovated white school house with a red roof and shutters at 1402 Holloway St.
About 17 students currently attend the school, which has a capacity of 30.
In recent years, Agape has been living off the 2009 $740,000 sale of a Redwood Road property donated to the school in 2000.
“That is pretty much depleted,” Bryant said. “We have had four years to live off of that, plus $100,000 that came in from churches.” Bryant hopes holiday donations will cover their pressing needs, he said, adding that and selling one of the school’s buildings could be another option.
Five homes house school staff members, who are paid $600 to $800 a month stipends in addition to the housing, Bryant said. A sixth house, in which a $305,000 renovation was completed in 2010, serves as the main school house. A seventh property, a rambling two-story blue house down the road from the school, houses Bryant, eight male students, and four former students and their families.Meets state standards
Agape Corner School appears to be in compliance with state standards, said Chená Flood, director of the N.C. Division of Non-Public Education. Those include meeting state and local safety, sanitation and health code; maintaining immunization records; and administering annual national standardized tests for certain grade levels.
“We don’t necessarily look at the tests for results; we just make sure they were administered,” Flood said.
Bryant declined to provide test results to The Durham News, saying he didn’t want to share information that would identify students.
Private schools also have operate on a school term of at least nine months and keep accurate attendance records on file, according to the state.
Agape doesn’t charge for its meals, field trips or Monday through Friday schooling. Former students living in the boarding home help out on the property and one serves as a junior staffer.
“We are family and if they have needs, we can’t close our doors,” Bryant said. The school used to house both male and female students, but the practice ended about eight years ago, Bryant said.
People learn about Agape through word of mouth. The school provides parents and guardians who are struggling with discipline or managing a household and multiple jobs a place to send their children five days a week, Roudebush said.
It offers small class sizes and lots of one-on-one, customized learning. A teaching background or related certification isn’t required.
“That has never been an important thing to me because you either have it in your spirit, or you are a natural born teacher,” Roudebush said.
The school day starts at 8:30 a.m. with the pledge and Bible study. Classes start at 9 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m. The learning centers on traditional education, such as reading, history, math, but also includes vocational studies, such as screen printing, woodworking, fixing bicycles, and cars.
“It seems to me the wind is blowing to developing more of a vocational school here, where they can learn a trade,” Roudebush said.
On Wednesday the classes alternate trips to Hope Reins in North Raleigh for horseback riding.
Male students usually go home for the weekends, but if their parents live far away they may stay with a host family, Roudebush said. Measuring success
Many graduates go into the military and some have gone to college, Roudebush said
The school doesn’t administer GEDs or keep track of who passes them, but that isn’t how she measures success.
“I measure success when a girl and boy get married and have children and live a normal life,” she said. “That to me is success when the state isn’t paying for the men to stay in prison and the women to stay in the housing projects. That to me is success. And we have a lot of those.”
Jan Snow, who has taught at the school for eight years, gained her teaching experience raising three children, which included some homeschooling, she said.
“The oldest one right now is getting his doctorate. The second one is an R.N.,” said Snow, who spent 25 years working in customer service in emergency rooms. “And the third one is pursuing a career in business.”
Snow oversees a class of six students at Agape, ranging from 4-years-old to third-graders. She comes up with her lesson plans by determining what the children need and looking at the required curriculum in their age group, she said.
“All my kids know how to read and write who have been through my classes,” she said.
Students at the school, who call Roudebush “Aunt Louise” and Bryant “Uncle Mark” said they appreciate the one-on-one instruction, field trips and attention.
Schareef Heading, 12, said his mom, who lives in Sanford, sent him to Agape after he kept getting in trouble at school for fighting and not following directions.
“They care about us, and they want us to do well,” Schareef said. “They are like family to us.”
Janelly Marquez, 11, said she likes how teachers really work with her to understand the material, as opposed to just pushing her to the next grade.
“The teachers here are guiding me through my work that I am doing,” she said. “They pay attention to what you know and what you don’t know.”Discipline
The students’ least favorite thing about the school: spankings with a paddle.
“Sometimes when I get hit, that is what I don’t like,” said Janelly, who received three “swats” for lying about completing her homework.
Bryant said the students receive up to five swats at a time for any kind of sexual misconduct, fighting, cheating, lying and showing blatant disrespect.
“We make sure they understand why they are getting the discipline,” Bryant said. “Often times it ends up with prayer and hugs.”
Former student David Wallace, 25, said he and his two brothers came to Agape after his mother heard about the school from a family member.
“It was a safe environment to grow up in compared to being in the city in Baltimore,” said Wallace, who works at Jimmy John’s sandwich shop in Durham. Wallace returned to live at Agape a few months ago with his wife and two children after some of his business plans didn’t work out.
“It wasn’t going well with bills and everything,” he said. “I asked if they could help.”
Jason Chatman, 33, who lives in Georgia and serves in the U.S. Army, said Agape’s structure improved his attitude and perspective. The school, he said, exposed him and others from urban low-income neighborhoods to lawyers, construction owners, and other successful businessmen and women.
“It opened our eyes to a new world,” he said. “It helped me deal with real society.”