Bios Christian Academy in Gilbert describes itself as a school that "looks sort of like a home school classroom except for a few more students."
Open Bibles commonly are found on the desks of each of the 40 students who are enrolled through grade 10, with the school's stated philosophy telling why: "Students are to graduate with a thorough and practical knowledge of God enabling them to practically live their lives and witness their faith."
The school opened this fall and is housed in a former charter school on the campus of Genesis Christian Church, 326 E. Guadalupe Road. It's a modest building divided into three classrooms. Inside, one quickly finds a subdued atmosphere of reverent learning.
In his 27 years in education, Tim Ihms, founder and principal of Bios, said he has come to passionately believe teaching should be to the individual, and that anyone can learn if shown clear expectations and the encouragement to work hard. Trained in special education with an emphasis on the mentally disabled, he declares, "Everybody can learn. There is no exception," he said. "The idea is that we break it down where they can learn."
Bios (a name taken from the Greek word "life") was organized only in June after Ihms left Surrey Garden Christian School in Gilbert, which he founded in 1995 with 17 students. That school has grown to almost 500 students and 50 faculty. "Their board decided it wanted to go another direction, and I disagreed," said Ihms, who subsequently resigned. "I explained I was leaving for philosophical reasons, and they were to support the board," he said. Still some families followed him and they formed Bios Christian Academy. Starting in June, they scrambled.
Ihms said he visited 27 churches in Gilbert and found two willing to lease space for a school. Genesis was the one they chose.
"Everything is individualized, and everyone is not looked on as a group," said Ihms, who spent nine years teaching at Mesa's Mendoza Elementary School and six years in education in Kansas and Colorado.
"The single most important thing is that it has individual instruction so that we may place the bar individually for each student," said Kelly Zernich, who teaches grades 4 through 6. "In the public schools and other schools, they shoot for the middle - somewhere in between the students who are advanced and students who struggle with certain concepts." But at Bios, she said, "we can try to teach according to each individual student's progress and raise the bar accordingly." Class lectures are rare. Currently, each of the three multigrade classes (1-3, 4-6 and 7-9) has no more than 16 students. Teachers and students meet two to six times per subject for "instruction, accountability, confirmation, correction and direction."
"I learn about the Bible," said Chloe Cleveland, 11, of Queen Creek. "I really like math and composition. Writing is my favorite subject." Her group recently finished a project of honoring American veterans. She finds Bios to be a school where "no one's feelings get hurt. No one is excluding others, and we're being everyone's friends here."
Another student, Kaylee Phillips, 10, of Gilbert, said she finds herself "learning more and it's easier." Understanding is strengthened through reinforcement and learning a second time, she said.
Lori Hall taught for seven years in Gilbert public schools before coming to Bios. "We always open with prayer, we always end with prayer," she said. "We will pray throughout the day, and we have Bible during the day."