In one large room, separate groups of students at Gilbert’s Bios Christian Academy gather around different teachers.
One set works at their desks on essays. Another set works on math.
A third completes work in the school’s science lab in the back of room, seeking anatomy definitions or completing a dissection.
It’s a different approach to education, one that the school’s founder, Tim Ihms, developed when he founded his first school nearly two decades ago.
Ihms began Bios Christian Academy in 2006. That year, there were 26 students. Today, there are more than 200 students at the K-12 campus.
The school’s success keeps growing, so much that it’s started an expansion to add a cafeteria, administrative office and six classrooms the former church site that Bios now owns.
The school puts a focus on student-driven education. Each student, from kindergarten on up, has a checklist for his or her class. It lists what the student is to complete on that day. If it’s not done, it’s homework.
Junior Tania Pierce, 17, began at Bios when it opened, transferring from the former Surrey Garden Christian School with Ihms.
Adopted from Russia, her first task was to learn English. She’s done that and flourished.
Last week, she was researching the disease tuberculosis for an essay.
“The teacher explains what we’re supposed to do, where we can research and how many words,” Tania said.
The school allows students to work on their level. So a seventh-grader may work on high school level assignments, Ihms said. No student is labeled.
“It’s all based on your ability. The teacher explains the lesson then you practice, and he checks it off,” Ihms said.
The science teacher at the school teaches all levels, from seventh grade through advanced chemistry and physics.
Austin Fox, 17, transferred to Bios this year from an East Valley public high school.
“I wanted smaller class sizes,” he said. “In this school you know everything. There are no walls between the classrooms. If something is going on, you know it. Mr. Ihms is good at keeping things in order.”
High school students take history, science, English, two math classes and two electives.
“It’s all in this room,” Fox said.
Ihms said he looks for teachers who know their subjects. About half are certified, while others have experience in their fields.
“I have two engineers, an occupational therapist and someone from IBM,” he said.
Ihms estimates about half the students were formerly homeschooled.
The school offers an option for home-school families, where high schoolers can spend two periods a day at the school. Typically, he said, it’s on those tougher subjects like science or math.
Because it is a Christian school, Ihms said the first focus is to, “witness and train Christians.” Students take Bible class together twice a week.
Close to 100 percent of the students participate in a school sport, he said. Elementary students all learn to play a string instrument. Guitar, choir, band and orchestra are offered in the junior high and high school levels.
“Most of our students go to college. Most get scholarships. About half go into math or science,” he said.
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