Highlands Christian Academy Celebrates 50 Years

Highlands Christian AcademyHighlands Christian Academy in Pompano Beach was established in 1965 against the backdrop of an innocent time when moviegoers stood in line to see “The Sound of Music” and the culture was in turmoil over the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement.

As they celebrate their 50th anniversary, Highlands Headmaster Ken Lopez said, “We are called to prepare people for a great cultural shift taking place. At first Christianity was embraced, then it was tolerated, and I’m not sure how long it will continue to be tolerated, so we have to prepare our children for this time.”

Envisioning a school where students would be taught the timeless truths of the Bible by Christian teachers who loved Christ and placed Him at the center of all academic, spiritual and physical training, Pompano Baptist Temple (now Grace Baptist Church) opened the school with just 15 students and one teacher. Today Highlands Christian Academy is a K3-12th grade private school with an enrollment of more than 600 students.


Anniversary celebration

They have invited alumni and community supporters to a Labor Day weekend celebration that will begin on Friday, September 4 at 7 p.m. when the Highlands’ Knights varsity football team takes on Palmer Trinity on their home field. Saturday features an anniversary golf event at the Pompano Beach Municipal Golf Course followed by a fiftieth anniversary banquet in the school’s gymnasium. Grace Baptist Church will hold a special service on Sunday and the festivities will culminate with a family picnic.

Ruth Pirrie, communications director at Highlands, said the weekend will be like a big family reunion. “This is a very close knit community because of the investment the teachers make in the lives of the students,” said Pirrie. Mr. Lopez, the headmaster, eats in the cafeteria with the students every day and probably knows every student by name who has attended this school over the past 40 years, she added.



Enrolling students in preschool through 12th grade, some students grow up at Highlands. In fact, 14 of the 54 students in the class of 2015 were enrolled in the school since Kindergarten or 1st grade.

“It gives you a sense of history when you look at a family and you realize that you are a big part of their life,” said Lopez. “Second generations are now putting their children at Highlands and some of those have graduated.”

We’ve been blessed with a number of people who have been here to give us stability,” he added, pointing to a mix of staff who have been there between 12 and 20 years and two new English teachers who were both graduates of Highlands.

Administrators are quick to point to buildings as milestones to growth. “I hope some of our students who come back will say, ‘We didn’t have a cafeteria or lighted fields like these,’ but there will still be a sense of community and Christ is still at the center,” said Lopez.

As one of the first Christian schools in the area to have a gymnasium, Lopez recalls what a big impact it had on their athletic program. For a couple of months, Lopez said the students ate outside in a tent and from 1976 to 2000 lunch was served in a gym without air conditioning. He also remembers a time when they had to use North Broward Park as their athletic field up until the 1990s. But that didn’t stop the boys’ soccer team from winning the state championships in 1982 and 1985. Over the years their athletes have excelled in volleyball, basketball, baseball and track.

It is often the vision of faculty such as Julie Method, Highlands’ drama teacher, who inspire developments such as the school’s full blown musical productions. And Lopez said Coach Reg Cook’s vision as athletic director for 40 years made the athletic program what it is today.

“Highlands has been the work of so many people. We sometimes forget some of the sacrifices people have made, but God doesn’t forget,” Lopez said.


Spiritual impact

Reflecting on the years of history he has experienced, Lopez said, “What means the most to me is what happens during spiritual emphasis week when people come forward and dedicate their lives. Many have solidified their salvation experience in our chapel program. And when a former student tells me, ‘This teacher led me to the Lord in elementary school,’ to me, that’s the most rewarding.”

A look at the list of Highlands alumni illustrates the impact it has had on the community in South Florida. Bill Mitchell, pastor of Boca Raton Community Church, graduated from Highlands in 1976 and Calvary Chapel Pastor Fred Gushe graduated from Highlands in 1984 along with his classmate Chris Lane, who is now executive director of First Priority, a ministry that connects the church to reach middle and high school campuses for Christ, and there are many others.

According to Lane, “My years at HCA were very pivotal to my spiritual growth. I was challenged to grow in my faith and encouraged by so many godly teachers, coaches and staff who truly loved the Lord. So many of them poured into my life and helped mold me in my formative years. I am so thankful for my experience at HCA and believe I am who I am today because of it.”

For more information on the school, please visit www.HighlandsChristian.org.

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