American Spirit Academy graduates celebrate relationships

EAST LIVERPOOL-The Rev. Steve Forsythe couldn’t restrain himself, and so his senior address to the American Spirit Academy class of 2014 turned into a sermon on Saturday.

“This is the day that God has shaped you for,” he told the eight graduates. “He delights in your life because he has seen what your life has become.”

Forsythe’s address came complete with Scripture references and a three-point message about 1) having goals, 2) achieving significance and 3) facing fears.

“Jesus died not to make you guys safe. Jesus died to make you guys dangerous,” he said.

Forsythe spoke at Saturday’s 31st annual commencement exercises as a member of the American Spirit Academy school board, pastor of First Free Methodist Church and father of one of the graduating seniors, Emily Rose Forsythe.

Joining Emily Forsythe on the stage at First Church of the Nazarene were fellow graduates Jesse R. Smith, Emily Marie Smith, David A. Fusco, Lane J. Lopata, Thomas J. Martin, Kristina Lorraine Mishler and Beau Augustus Tatgenhorst.

Forsythe, Fusco and Martin also are graduates of Columbiana County Career and Technical Center.

Like most high school graduates, they turned their tassels at the end of the ceremony, tossed their caps as friends and family watched, and gave hugs before going off to private celebrations.

What set them apart was the fact that they were graduating from a small Christian school, where Bible classes are taught daily, where teachers identify as Christians, and where seniors serve as mentors to first-graders.

Senior Kristina Mishler said being a mentor this year enhanced her high school experience. “In a small school, you participate in everything. There’s only eight of us (seniors), so we are who the other students look up to. You do make a difference.”

Mishler, 18, of Salem, came to American Spirit Academy from another Christian school as a sophomore. A participant in volleyball and yearbook, she plans to attend the Hannah E. Mullins School of Practical Nursing and Kent State University-East Liverpool to pursue a career as a registered nurse.

Valedictorian Jesse Smith, 17, of East Liverpool, came to American Spirit Academy in the sixth grade and leaves with dreams of becoming either a police officer or a full-time musician. Smith is drummer for the Remnant, a band that started as a school praise team and that’s been invited to play a showcase in Nashville in August.

Smith said going to the Academy, as the seniors affectionately call it, differs markedly from going to a large public school-and not just for obvious reasons such as religious instruction or small class sizes.

“The biggest difference is the fact that you have relationships with your teachers. I had the same math teacher for four years,” he said. “You understand how the teachers teach, and the teachers understand how the students learn. I feel like that relationship is really helpful. I feel like we’re not just a body passing through the school.”

Senior Beau Tatgenhorst’s experience was different, having attended East Liverpool High School and enrolled at the Academy as a sophomore. Tatgenhorst, 18, of Glenmoor, said he decided to switch schools after an intense summer camp experience between his freshman and sophomore years.

“It took me a little thinking,” he said. “The transition was hard. I lost a lot of friends over it. They didn’t want to deal with the ‘Christian school’ kid.”

But there are advantages to going to a smaller school, he said. Students get more individual attention and more opportunities to shine, he said.

“Anyone who is interested in athletics can be a star on a sports team,” he said. “You can be a leader.”

Tatgenhorst plans to go into the military-either the Air Force or Marine Corps-and pursue a career in law enforcement.

While not knocking public schools, the seniors said they liked the Academy because it was like a family. If two students were having a conflict, Mishler said, they were forced to face it because they couldn’t avoid each other in the halls.

That personal touch was on display at Saturday’s commencement, when Headmaster Susan Mackall addressed each graduate personally. She walked up to Jesse Smith with a hand microphone and read from the New Testament book of Philippians, doing the same thing with each student in turn.

Founded as East Liverpool Christian School in 1974, American Spirit Academy is a charter member of the Association of Christian Schools International. It is chartered by the Ohio Department of Education in grades K-12.