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New faith-based high school tries to fill a void

New faith-based high school tries to fill a void
Head of School David O'Neil, middle, and language teacher Mike Arldt, far right, help kids navigate on the first day and year at Pacifica Christian High School in Newport Beach on Tuesday. Students are in grades 9 and 10 this year on the first day of school. (Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

The students walked onto campus carrying stuffed backpacks and dressed in uniforms that looked freshly ironed.

As parents dropped off their young learners in front of Pacifica Christian High School, administrators waved to welcome them to the first day of class at the new school in Newport Beach.

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Pacifica began its first year Tuesday with 50 students — 38 freshmen and 12 sophomores.

"I want all our students to know that they are founders of this school," Head of School David O'Neil told Times Community News. "They're starting traditions that others after them will continue to follow."

Pacifica occupies a site on West 15th Street that once was home to Newport Christian High School, a private institution that closed in 1988. Newport Beach businessman David Bahnsen, who once attended Newport Christian, began a mission to open a new private school for the Newport community.

"There has not been a faith-based private high school in 25 years in Newport Beach," Bahnsen said. "Students in that area are going out to Mater Dei in Santa Ana and St. Margaret's in San Juan Capistrano. There's a geographic disparity."

About two years ago, a friend of Bahnsen's connected him with the board of trustees at Pacifica Christian High School in Santa Monica.

The board, Bahnsen and a few of his colleagues began planning a Pacifica Christian campus in Newport Beach. They selected administrators and recruited students by holding more than 35 informational meetings at Newport Beach's St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church and Coastline Community College beginning last October.

The morning of the first day of school proved to be busy for faculty and students.

Student Jessica Beers, 14, said she hung her uniform, a navy blue Pacifica Christian polo and a gray skirt, in her closet the night before so it would be wrinkle-free the next day.

The freshman said she has a routine for getting ready in the morning.

"I washed my face, had the curling iron on and I was just ready to go," she said. "I'll miss the freedom of summer and not stressing about school, but I'm looking forward to working with my teachers this year."

Hayden Butler, Pacifica's instructor for ninth-grade ancient literature, made sure the seating arrangement for his classroom was set. All the desks form a large circle.

"The primary purpose is to send a message that everybody has a role to play in this class," Butler said. "Education is not a passive activity. Here, every kid is sitting in the front of class."

10th-grade humanities instructor Chris Stratton began his first class of the day with an icebreaker that drew a few giggles from his students.

"I had each of them tell the class what school they went to before and just a fun fact about themselves," Stratton said. "I had one guy with a cast on his hand tell us that he broke four bones this summer. The objective is to just relax, have fun and get to know each other."

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Pacifica met its first-year capacity for the freshman class. The school's goal is to reach 300 to 400 students someday, according to O'Neil.

For now, members of the first student body said they are enthusiastic about starting a legacy for Pacifica.

"I'm looking forward to founding a school," said Lindsay Mull, 14. "That's something you'll probably never get to do again in your life. I hope our class leaves behind this idea that this school is a community of support and unity."

 Chan writes for Times Community News.

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