WEST CHICAGO – The past 160 years have seen many changes in the western suburbs, from shifting towns and demographics to businesses that have come and gone.
Wheaton Academy, founded in 1853, too, isn’t the same as it once was. It has moved from Wheaton to West Chicago and become independent of Wheaton College.
But throughout those changes, the school has stayed committed to its mission of providing an education centered on God, and it’s this dedication Wheaton Academy leaders credit as the source of the school’s longevity and success.
“It’s being true to your original founding commitment and having the leadership to hold onto it,” Head of School Gene Frost said.
Wheaton Academy celebrated its 160th anniversary in December the same way it celebrates each year – by having a “birthday party” for students, complete with cake and ice cream. This year, a video commemorating the landmark anniversary was shown.
Located at 900 Prince Crossing Road in West Chicago, Wheaton Academy is a private Christian high school serving 650 students. It was founded as Illinois Institute by a group of abolitionists, but was divided into Wheaton College and its preparatory high school, Wheaton College Academy, in 1860 by Jonathan Blanchard, who was brought to the institute to serve as its head.
Blanchard wanted the school to be “For Christ and His Kingdom,” and Wheaton Academy continues to reflect that desire with its motto, “Soli Deo Gloria,” which means “to God alone be the glory.” The school’s mission “to nurture growth in our students through relationships, excellence, and service to the glory of God” continues that emphasis.
The school has experienced ups and downs, including when enrollment dropped to 200 students about 25 years ago, Frost said. However, the it was able to increase enrollment by hiring teachers who embody its mission statement, he said.
Frost began as a student at Wheaton Academy himself, eventually serving as teacher, Board of Trustees member and parent, before becoming the head of school in fall 2006.
Board of Trustees Chairman Don Adams also has a long history with the school. He is currently completing his sixth four-year term on the board, having served off and on since the late 1980s, when his two sons attended.
Both school leaders say it is their support for Christian education and the effect it can have on teenagers that has led them to stay with the school so long.
“Personally, I feel blessed to have been a small part of that,” said Adams.
Besides its focus on Christian education, the academy has other features that set it apart.
Between its fall and spring terms, the school offers a two-week “Winterim,” during which students are invited to go on educational or mission trips, participate in internships or take a series of classes at the academy.
“It gives kids a chance to broaden their education,” Frost said.
The school also is home to a strong international student population. Of its 650 students, 50 come from other countries, he said.
This international program started six years ago, when two students from other countries wanted to attend Wheaton Academy. The school has since grown its capacity for international students, and once that capacity is full, officials help place interested students at other high schools nationwide.
Wheaton Academy started a program this year to expand its offerings in math, applied science, technology, engineering and research, with plans to build a new science wing.
The school continues to be known for its performing arts. Its spring musical is typically seen by about 4,500 people, Frost said.
Upcoming plans include installing a turf field this summer for Wheaton Academy’s athletic programs and advancing the planning process for a new maintenance facility expected to be built on land recently purchased by the school.
Overall, though, the biggest plan for Wheaton Academy is to continue what it does best.
“I think our laser-like focus on that mission has gotten us to where we are,” Frost said. “Everything else happens as a result of that.”
Visit the Wheaton Academy website at www.wheatonacademy.org to learn more about the school, its programs and its history.