ECS still shin­ing brightly af­ter 50 years

The Commercial Appeal - - Schools - By Mylissa Hor­rocks

It was the early 1960s and Philadel­phia’s Dr. Ken Avis had just been of­fered a fac­ulty po­si­tion in Mem­phis at the Univer­sity of Ten­nessee Health Sciences Cen­ter. In short or­der, he and his wife, Irma, found a Chris­tian com­mu­nity that wel­comed them warmly — First Evan­gel­i­cal Church.

Hav­ing com­mit­ted early in their mar­riage to gospel-cen­tered ed­u­ca­tion for their chil­dren, the Avises be­gan to pray for a school­ing op­tion for their fam­ily in Mem­phis. They soon dis­cov­ered that First Evan­gel­i­cal Church’s pas­tor, Dr. Stan­ley Soltau, and good friend Dr. Charles Neal had also been pray­ing for a dis­ci­ple­shipori­ented Chris­tian school en­vi­ron­ment for Mem­phis fam­i­lies.

In early 1964, Ken Avis stood in a First Evan­gel­i­cal ses­sion meet­ing and made a mo­tion to sug­gest that the church lead­er­ship in­ves­ti­gate and re­search found­ing a Chris­tian school in Mem­phis. Af­ter 18 months of prayer and la­bor by the new board of trus­tees and com­mit­ted fam­i­lies, Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian School opened its doors on Sept. 1, 1965, with seven staff mem­bers and 66 stu­dents in kinder­garten through fourth grade.

Julie Neal McDaniel was a third-grader the year ECS opened, and she cur­rently serves the school as Ea­gles Nest (be­fore and af­ter care) di­rec­tor.

“My fa­ther, Dr. Charles Neal, be­lieved in the bib­li­cal man­date for chil­dren to learn the statutes of God while at home and while they walk along the road. He gave his life to build­ing an in­sti­tu­tion that would part­ner with the fam­ily to do ex­actly that,” McDaniel said.

Three of McDaniel’s chil­dren have grad­u­ated from ECS and, along with those of her sib­lings, there are 10 Neal alumni grand­chil­dren.

Fifty years later, ECS con­tin­ues to stand as the only Chris­tian school in Mem­phis that specif­i­cally uses the dis­ci­ple­ship model to serve Chris­tian fam­i­lies as a part­ner with home and church. With nearly 1,000 stu­dents on three cam­puses, ECS com­petes at the DIIA level in athletics with 11 teams plac­ing in state com­pe­ti­tions and 44 high school ath­letes and coaches rep­re­sented in the 2015 The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal’s Pepsi Best of the Preps. Aca­dem­i­cally, ECS com­petes strongly as in­di­cated by 13 Na­tional Merit honor stu­dents over the last three years.

Many of the nearly 4,500 ECS alumni are chang­ing the world with their in­flu­ence. Sa­muel Bell grad­u­ated from ECS in 1979, and has led Pat­ter­son Ware­house and Lo­gis­tics for the past 30 years. Mor­gan Cox, a 2005 grad, is the Bal­ti­more Ravens’ long snap­per and as­sisted the team to their cham­pi­onship in Su­per Bowl XLVII. Michael Rhodes, a 2004 grad­u­ate, has been at the job creation non­profit Ad­vance Mem­phis for the past five years and has re­cently tran­si­tioned to Mem­phis Cen­ter for Ur­ban The­o­log­i­cal Stud­ies (MCUTS) to be­gin a new pro­gram.

“The Oaks Project is an ef­fort by MCUTS to train lo­cal pas­tors to take Christ-cen­tered fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy and job train­ing to their con­gre­ga­tions,” Rhodes said. “We will of­fer classes that equip MCUTS stu­dents to lead com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives at their churches and in their neigh­bor­hoods, and our in­tern­ship model will serve to sup­port them as they be­gin their work in the lo­cal com­mu­nity.”

The Oaks Project uses cur­ric­ula from the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized The Chalmers Cen­ter, a poverty al­le­vi­a­tion train­ing ef­fort.

The school is slated to con­tinue to ma­ture over the next decade with re­cent na­tional com­men­da­tion in sev­eral ar­eas, in­clud­ing in­clu­sion in Gene Frost’s 2013 pub­li­ca­tion, Learn­ing from the Best, a “Best Chris­tian Work­place” (BCWI) for 2013 and 2014, rat­ing as a Top 50 Chris­tian High School for 2014 and 2015 from TheBestS­chools.org, and most re­cently the 1st Team Safe Schools Sports Award from Na­tional Ath­letic Train­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion.

The ECS com­mu­nity will gather Thurs­day at First Evan­gel­i­cal Church, 735 Ridge Lake Blvd. to “Cel­e­brate and Shine.” The event will high­light per­for­mances from the stu­dent body, a key­note ad­dress from new head of school, Dr. Dan Peterson, and a time of shar­ing by ECS alum­nus (class of 2000) Drew Hol­comb of Drew Hol­comb and the Neigh­bors.

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