ROCKLAND – “We’re bursting at the seams now,” said Rich Lowell.

Lowell is the new head of the Pen Bay Christian School in Rockland. He said the school has seen growth in recent years and starting this fall has added a ninth-grade class.

The plan is to add one more grade each year and shoot for a graduating high school class around 2025.

Lowell said that a few years ago, the school was on the verge of closing with enrollment less than 50 students. It has risen in the past few years to 60 and then 88 students last year, and now to 120 students in 2021.

The school, which is a ministry of Littlefield Memorial Baptist Church, hopes to add a gym and up to eight classrooms to accommodate further growth on its 11-acre parcel. It is located on the water at the corner of Camden Street and Waldo Ave.

Various reasons may be contributing to the school’s increased appeal. Parents may see a private school as a strong alternative to local public schools in terms of academic performance. Pen Bay offers small class size and one-on-one instruction and relationships, according to Lowell. He said there is also a lot of parental involvement.

Lowell added there may be some concern about what is being taught in public schools.

“Parents want that stability, character building,” he said of the education provided by a Christian school.

While technology may evolve in teaching, the core values at this school do not change, he said.

In addition, Christian schools may serve as an alternative to parents who do not want their children wearing masks all day. Lowell said previously, however, that while there is not a masking requirement now, that if students or parents want to wear masks, that is not discouraged.

Ultimately for Lowell, who has a long background as both a private Christian school student and educator, the reason for the increase in students is a matter of faith.

“God’s blessing this school,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Pen Bay Christian School is adding a 9th grade class this year. Photo by Daniel Dunkle

Lowell and his wife, Erin, both work at the school. Erin Lowell teaches “Enhancement” classes, including art and music.

Rich Lowell grew up in Spruce Head and Hope and graduated from South Hope Christian School. He studied physical education at Pensacola Christian College in Florida. He said he really was not originally interested in being an educator, but his love of sports and coaching took him in that direction and eventually he felt called to serve as a teacher. He said the result is that he can relate to the student who struggles to sit still all day in school.

He and his wife spent 12 years working in an international Christian school in South Korea not far from the DMZ. The school had an American curriculum and prepared students to go on to American universities. Students included the children of people working for the U.S. Department of Defense as well as the children of businesspeople from India and Europe.

Nearly 30 percent of South Koreans are Christians, and Lowell said the dominant denomination is Presbyterian. He said one could look out at the city at night and see numerous neon red crosses.

Each year, his school’s basketball team visited the Philippines where he saw extreme poverty mixed with very high population density.

Coming back to the United States after so long overseas was a bit of a reverse culture shock, he said. He said he was surprised how politically divided the country has become and he had forgotten some of the simple things, like seeing school buses in the mornings. They do not have school buses in South Korea.

In Korea, he said being a teacher is very highly respected, however he said the nation’s relationship with education may not be healthy. He said the pressure placed on students over there to do well in school is immense, leading in some cases to tragic outcomes.

Back at Pen Bay Christian School, he serves as the superintendent and teaches some classes. The school administrator is Karla Miller.

Three teachers are dedicated to the new grade 9 classes and there is overlap of about five teachers who work with students from grades 7-9. There are about 12 teachers and one janitor at the school. Many of the other needed functions of school staff are provided by volunteers from the parents and the church.

Students at the school learn the Bible from a Baptist point of view and he said they get it in every class, even math. Students are required to adhere to a school Code of Honor as well.

The expansion of the facility itself is still in the visionary stages, he said. At some point in the future, this may advance to the fund-raising and then permitting and construction phases.

Lowell plans to expand the school’s sports program, which fits in with one of his passions. Basketball will likely be added to the soccer programs.

He also hopes to create a relationship with the Mid-Coast School of Technology to provide hands-on career training for students.

His attitude as he takes on the new position and plans for future growth of the school is upbeat. He is finding that some of his students are the children of people he went to school with himself, and he compared it to a “big homecoming.”

“It’s electric,” he said of the atmosphere in the school. “It really is.”