Western Mennonite School near West Salem, Ore., changed its name to Western Christian School over the summer to better reflect a student body with few Mennonite students.
Though there is an Anabaptist community in the area, Mennonite name recognition has lessened in the past few decades, said Rich Martin, director of advancement and admissions.
“I graduated from Western Mennonite School in 1985, and it was a little different then,” he said. “We probably had 50 percent Mennonite kids then. This year at the beginning we had three out of our 182 students.
“It hasn’t changed what we teach. We’re still teaching peace and justice and servanthood and nonresistance.”
The high school was founded in 1945, the same year Oregan passed a school-attendance law raising the age of compulsory attendance to 16. Junior high was added in 1993, followed by sixth grade in 1998.
Kindergarten through fifth grade was added this summer, in a transition Martin said was unrelated to the name change.
“Enrollment is up. Part of that is adding K-5, but even without that we would have been up,” he said.
In 2018, students come from more than 20 denominations. As an example of where the school finds itself, Martin recalled a family with four children who recently moved to the area.
“They bought a dairy three miles from the school, but they drove 15 miles to Salem Academy, a private Christian academy,” he said. “They drove by our school every day because they didn’t know what ‘Mennonite’ was and thought you had to be Mennonite to go here. Now they attend here because of relationships with the other farmers around here, and we even hired the mom to teach some art.”
The school’s board announced plans for a name change to alumni and current families in March. At that time, it presented options of Western Valley Christian Academy or King’s Creek Academy, based on the stream that runs through the 45-acre property.
The school is affiliated with Mennonite Schools Council of Mennonite Church USA’s Mennonite Education Agency.