Three weeks after officially announcing efforts earlier this year to open Texas’ first Christian Academy for the Deaf, board member Kathy Bartlett was losing faith and considered giving up.

The seven-member board had spent at least two years getting organized and was trying to raise $160,000 to open the school by the first week of September. But by mid-June, the group only had about $10,000 of the funding needed to secure the building it wanted and time was running out, she said.

“I was doubting the Lord, and I was doubting God was going to bless us and this was really what was going to happen,” Bartlett said. “I could not see how this was going to happen. Looking around you, there was still a lot to do.”

But an unexpected phone call near the end of June changed everything. An anonymous donor from California offered up the rest of the funds needed and now the Christian Academy for the Deaf will open its doors Sept. 5 as planned, she said. The academy will be at 4224 S. University Parks Drive, not far from Baylor University.

“He asked really poignant questions, very specific questions, and we had it all figured out,” Bartlett said about the donor. “Everything was in place. We had resumes. We had this building we really wanted. We had all these things figured out. I had all the curriculum in my attic. We had everything we needed, except for funding.”

Two hours later, Bartlett heard the news she had been praying for, she said. Board members held a parents meeting night onsite Monday to share the good news and register students in the tuition-free school.

“I’ve been wanting this school to happen for some time. This has been a dream for Kathy Bartlett, and we’ve just been praying it happens,” Bruceville-Eddy mother Tina Eaton said before the meeting. “And it just happened. Kathy’s known (Eaton’s son) Cole since he was 3, and he’s now 8.”

Bartlett used to teach deaf or hard-of-hearing students and has a deaf son, who is also now an educator, she said. She taught Cole Eaton for three years and remained close to the family after she retired, Tina Eaton said. He will be one of the first students to attend the academy.

“This school means everything,” Tina Eaton said. “He has some other challenges, and he just needs to succeed in life if he wants to go further.”

The school will focus on teaching in a way that levels the educational playing field for preschool through sixth-grade students in its first year, Bartlett said. The school will have three teachers and a cap of nine students, Bartlett said. Then, the plan is to add a grade level every year, she said.

The three teachers hired will come from Arizona and Florida to focus on a Christian-based educational philosophy to build academic, social, emotional and moral skills and values, she said. They’ll teach everything in American Sign Language, including science, math, creative arts and Biblical culture. And students will also participate in different sporting events and activities, she said.

Beyond that, the school will bridge a learning gap often found if deaf or hard-of-hearing students are included in public education classrooms, where the primary communication tool is talking, Bartlett said.

“In this environment, everybody signs. Everybody signs all the time,” Bartlett said. “When they’re sitting at their tables, doing their coloring and they look up, they’re in on the conversation. They’re seeing the teacher talk.”

The property the school was built on also has an interesting story of faith, board member Wayne Hampton said. He spent time researching the area at the tax appraisal office recently, only to find out it once housed a strip club years ago, he said.

“To me, it’s pretty neat for me to know that a place that had been used for that purpose is now going to be used for God’s purpose and glory,” Hampton said. “The guy who bought this, he basically leveled it and rebuilt this structure. The whole time he did this construction, he prayed, ‘God I want this building to be used for your purpose.’

“He specifically asked it be used for a church or some Christian effort or outreach method. As it turns out, here we are. He told me about this personally, the day we got the lease agreement.”

Because of the donations, budgetary needs are completely covered for the school’s first year. Once the school opens officially, board members will shift their fundraising efforts toward the next two years to make the school viable for the foreseeable future, they said.

Eventually, board members want to also use the building for American Sign Language church services and open the facility for other deaf organizations, like the Waco Association of the Deaf, or activities, Bartlett said.

For more information or to donate to the Christian Academy for the Deaf, visit www.christianacademyforthedeaf.org.

“We’re definitely still looking for financial donations from individuals. That’s wide open and we’re going to continue to beat that drum, because you never stop,” Hampton said. “You never rest on your laurels for that. Financially, bring it on Waco.”

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times as the 2010 TCCJA Journalist of the

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