September 28, 2005 - For people driving east on Skyline Drive, it is easy to miss. It's hidden behind bushes, and there is not a sign in sight.

"We're the best kept secret in town," said Tom Askew, headmaster.

"But that's about to change," he said.

Since 1998, Cornerstone Christian Academy, 2150 E. Orange Grove Road, has been a small private school with an emphasis on classical education.

The school, sponsored by Catalina Foothills Church, aptly located next door, offers "covenantal classical education" to 183 students.

It's for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, and it's expanding. Walls are being put up, a foundation is being laid, and turf is going down all in the name of education, Askew said.

"Our priority is education," he said. And when the classrooms could no longer hold all the students, Cornerstone needed to expand.

Last January, construction began on the new classrooms, which can be seen by people driving on East Skyline Drive and is across the street from the La Encantada shopping center, 2905 E. Skyline Drive.

Hidden behind a construction fence, the classrooms house about 110 students.

The need for extra space was not only due to the expanding student population at the academy, which tries to keep classroom sizes at about 12 students, Askew said. It was also connected to a community agreement. Cornerstone had to keep up a promise it made to the neighboring community.

Modular buildings once sat where the new classrooms are being built. When the modular buildings were placed on the land, Cornerstone agreed to keep them there for only three years.

Three years have passed, and the modulars are gone. Nails are being hammered into the new buildings.

Part of Cornerstone's charm and a bit of its burden is the outside walking that is required there. Students and teachers spend valuable time walking back and forth from the main building to the new buildings. The students are escorted across Camino Miravel and a parking lot to move between the two buildings. But, when construction is completed, about 95 percent of the students' days will be in the new buildings, Askew said.

He joked that a teacher wore a pedometer one day and clocked more than four miles walking between buildings.

Although Cornerstone encourages outside activity and has a required weekly nature walk, spending time senselessly walking from building to building began to become a nuisance, Askew said.

Construction will continue on the new buildings for another year, but students and teachers are already reaping the benefits of the additional space.

"This has affected everything," Askew said. But he added that everyone has taken the change very well.

"There's been a lot of adaptation shown," he said. "Everyone's been amazingly cooperative."

Cooperation and teamwork are what makes Cornerstone special, Askew said. On any given day, it is easy to see parents lending a helping hand in their children's education.

Lacy Benson is one.

She home schooled her children for years because she didn't think they would receive the type of education she wanted for them in public schools, she said. But she found the type of education she was looking for at Cornerstone.

"They are just introduced and exposed to such a variety of the arts," she said.

The Cornerstone curriculum involves the fundamentals of the Christian faith along with studies of language and great books of literature. Students begin taking Latin in third grade.

Nationwide, about 300 schools teach using the fundamentals of classical education, Askew said.

Classical education is built around chronological history. Students learn beginning with the creation up to the modern world. All areas of study are designed around the era of history being taught at a given time. Literature, math and science are all related to the period of history being studied, Askew said.

The special way of teaching at Cornerstone improves test scores and increases the knowledge of students, he said.

At Cornerstone, reading and art are important. Entering the newly constructed classrooms that are 30 square feet, it is easy to see the emphasis on reading. Each classroom has a reading nook. The area often consists of large fluffy pillows, chairs and reading materials. It is a place where students and teachers can relax and read works of literature, Askew said.

In every room, a framed period piece of artwork hangs on the wall. It serves as a reminder and inspiration to the students of the particular area of study, he said.

And a living plant rests on every windowsill.

"If plants can't survive in a classroom, how can children?" Askew said.

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