History of HCA

History of Holden Christian Academy, a private Christian school in central Massachusetts

During seminary and later in a graduate course for administrators, Susan Hayward developed the educational philosophy that served as the basis for the Barre Christian Pre-school, which she and a committee in Barre started and ran for eight years prior to starting HCA. During the 5th or 6th year of the pre-school’s operation Susan Hayward and Susan Caron began to actively investigate the idea of expanding the pre-school into an elementary school. This had been the plan/vision since Mrs. Hayward was in seminary.  They visited many Christian schools across New England and began to refine and expand a philosophy. Many fine ideas were gleaned from the work of others! However, no one school was a perfect match until they visited Cranston Academy on the recommendation of a family who had left Cranston and just moved to Barre.

After observing Cranston Academy, in one morning Mrs. Caron and Mrs. Hayward knew they had found a model curriculum. The learning was active and concept-based. The students were fully engaged and discussing deep and interesting content such as the industrial revolution (in the third grade!) while reading a children’s version of Oliver Twist.  Even the rooms themselves were instructive. There was a giant teacher-made map of Mesopotamia and many student projects were readily available.

A lasting friendship and mentoring relationship was formed with Dr. Peter Blackwell and his wife, Janet, who started Cranston Academy. They discovered that many of their educational ideas had been developed over the years by Dr. Blackwell and were based on data that had come out of a national educational think-tank that he had participated in during the 1960s on Martha’s Vineyard. They had been commissioned to determine the most effective approaches to learning and report them to the government. They worked with Dr. Gerome Bruner and based many of their conclusions on his data and educational philosophy. The government rejected their recommendations as too difficult to employ. Dr. Blackwell, however, went on to transform the Rhode Island School for the Deaf with his findings. Later, he wrote a seven-year intergenerational Sunday School curriculum which provided the spiritual basis for both Westbay and Cranston Academy. By combining the educational approach with a solid concept-based approach to Scripture the results were the foundation of two thriving new Christian schools.

Mrs. Hayward and Mrs. Caron also visited Cranston’s sister school, Westbay Christian Academy and observed the same educational approach/philosophy in a larger setting with another gifted administrator.  Dr. David Greenhalgh kindly spent many precious hours on many subsequent visits mentoring and helping in the development of our school, basing it on their educational findings and approach.  

While these visits were taking place, a school steering committee had been formed in September 1990 at Gary and Susan Hayward’s church, Barre Congregational Church, in Barre, MA. Concurrently, a similar feasibility committee was working at Holden Chapel in Holden, MA. Pastor Dan Curtis had had a vision for a Christian School, which he presented to the congregation resulting in the committee. It was determined in 1993 each provided what the other lacked.  The Barre committee had “the vision” and the leadership, while the Holden Chapel committee had the facility but no leader. Several members of each committee agreed that combining resources would be the best path to success.  Together the members worked on reviewing and revising the philosophy, mission, and goals.  This new HCA committee was comprised of interested individuals who were prospective parents, educators, and church leaders.

In September of 1994 Holden Christian Academy opened its doors with sixty-four students in Kindergarten through sixth grade, and ten staff members. Seventh grade was added in 1995, and eighth grade in 1996.

The Lord has continued to bless Holden Christian Academy mightily. Through the gifts, talents and generosity of families and friends, we have seen this exciting growth:

  • Playground equipment installed
  • Regulation soccer field established
  • Library added
  • Gym improved
  • Office reconfigured
  • Accredited by Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) initially in 2006 and re-accredited in 2013 and 2021
  • Preschool added
  • Outdoor Classroom built
  • Twenty raised-bed gardens established
  • Food for Life program integrates garden, nutrition, and fitness into curriculum areas
  • iPads purchased for classroom use
  • Nature Explore Courtyard received national certification
  • Aeroponic tower garden purchased and used in classroom
  • Joined Redemptive Education Association of Christian Schools (REACH) as founding members in 2018

We continue to function under the umbrella of Holden Chapel and enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship. We continue to thank the Lord for His provision and are humbled by the privilege of working for His kingdom.