The founders of Friendship Christian School charted a new path for students in Wilson County 40 years ago – envisioning a balanced, holistic education rooted in Christian principles.
Today, those same visionaries – along with 40 graduating classes, teachers, administrators, supporters, parents and an entire community – can reap the rewards of hard work and dedication.
“We partner with parents in the education of their children,” said Friendship headmaster Jon Shoulders. “We spend eight hours with their children each day. Forty years ago, the founders of this school talked about having a school where it would be open in talking about the love of Jesus Christ.
“We are a college preparatory school. A friend of mine said, ‘We are a calling preparatory school.’ He’s right. We want to prepare them the best we can.”
Those results were reaped by the 2012 graduating class. The 46 members were offered $4.6 million in scholarships with 94 percent qualifying for the Tennessee HOPE scholarship.
Students accepted nearly $2.3 million in scholarships, and 14 members each received more than $100,000 in scholarship offers.
“We want to provide for our students, and we realize the cost,” Shoulders said. “We realize there are people who want their children to go here and may not be able to afford to go here.”
Friendship athletics has also skyrocketed to stardom, especially during the past decade. The volleyball and football teams won back-to-back state championships this year.
“It’s building traditions together,” Shoulders said. “We’ve been fortunate to build a tradition of winning through our athletic programs. It’s about building those traditions and legacies that will continue into the future.”
Friendship administrators also announced earlier this year the school will move to TSSAA Division II at the beginning of the next school year.
“We are very proud of our many state championships in various sports; but our commitment is to our entire student body,” Shoulders said. “The FCS board of directors, administration, coaching staff and faculty are fully committed to being good stewards of our FCS values. Our utmost priority is to hold in highest regard the mission of our school – to provide an excellent education in a Christian environment.”
Students are also actively involved in service to their community throughout the year. They install water filtration systems, devised by the school science department, in areas of Haiti and Honduras without access to clean drinking water. The school, in partnership with community leaders in Sneedville – one of the most impoverished parts of Hancock County in East Tennessee – has provided backpacks and school supplies, made and served Thanksgiving dinner for the entire town and returned in December with a Christmas Village that provided a way for Sneedville students to shop at no cost for Christmas gifts for their families.
Friendship expanded its outreach this year and was able to provide a new mobile home with heat and electricity for an older man in the Appalachia hills who lived in a shack with a dirt floor.
“Students of all ages learn firsthand the positive impact they can make for those in need through servant leadership opportunities,” Shoulders said.
Friendship was also one of the first schools in Middle Tennessee to introduce the Apple One-To-One Initiative to provide each student on campus access to his or her own iPad2.
Seventh- through 12th-grade students are issued a personal iPad2, and elementary and preschool classrooms have access to iPad2s, MacBooks and iPods.
“Teachers incorporate the iPad2 into the classroom experience at every grade level, and students love it,” Shoulders said. “They take advantage of apps that bring the latest discoveries and innovations right into their hands, moving beyond the limitations imposed by textbooks.”
In October, Friendship’s high school building was dedicated to a founder, Eddie Evins, who anonymously provided a gold medallion each year for the school’s top student while he was alive. Since his death, the Eddie Evins Spirit of Friendship Award is given to a student selected by the faculty. And each receives a gold medallion.
“It’s neat to stop and honor someone who gave so much and whose legacy continues to give,” Shoulders said.
Shoulders said a large part of Friendship’s success can be found in teacher retention. A number of teachers have spent the better part of two and three decades at the school.
Bible teacher Ron Welch has the longest tenure with 36 years, followed by 32-year veteran Susan Baker, who teaches keyboarding, computer applications, personal finance and is the Student Council sponsor.
Third-grade teacher Cathy Carey has been with Friendship for 25 years, and Barbara Stewart has worked as middle school secretary at the school for 24 years.
Elementary principal Kristi Chaffin, head of maintenance Gerald Tomlinson and athletic director John McNeal, who coaches football and baseball, have each been with the school for 23 years.
“People come, and they stay,” Shoulders said. “They are still some of the ones who have been here throughout the years.”
Shoulders said the school has no definite plans for one big celebration in honor of the 40th anniversary. He said an event would take place around the Commander Run on April 15 and possibly in September on the anniversary the school was established.