Valley Christian High School, which Paul Hanson founded in 1971, that he and his wife Gail had shepherded together and that Gail has led since his passing in 2011 during a community race, is shutting its doors.
“As long as I have graduates who carry our mission … we will continue. Please don’t say we are closing … just morphing into another dimension,” Gail Hanson wrote in an email last week.
During an interview at the school, Hanson, Vice Principal Aaron Millan and Chaplain Andreas Lewis said the school will close free from debt. Its physical campus has been on the market only a short time and there has been some interest from a few of the more than a dozen schools that now dot the educational landscape in Brownsville. At the time VCHS started, there was only the Brownsville Independent School District and Saint Joseph’s Academy, Gail said.
The school will continue to be connected with Big Red Ranch, led by VCHS graduate and Bible teacher Johnathan Barnard. School records are being archived online so that they will always be available to graduates.
The Valley Christian High School Class of 2021 will be the school’s last and 45th graduating class. Graduation is set for 7 p.m. May 28 at the International Christian Center, 2855 Paredes Line Road.
“Sadly enough it is time for Valley Christian to close its physical place, but never forgetting that Valley Christian is not a place but the people who got to experience it,” graduate Adrian Garcia wrote in a letter to Gail Hanson upon learning the school planned to close, one of dozens of letters she provided to The Brownsville Herald. “We all carry the spirit,” he wrote. “We all carry the teachings, the memories, the laughs, the smiles. We all carry everything you and Mr. Paul sacrificed to provide us with a healthy relationship with God.”
Hanson said it was becoming increasingly apparent over the past two years that Valley Christian would have to close, the result of some longstanding unpaid tuition bills and declining enrollment. The school went from an enrollment of 81 only a few years ago to 24 last year.
“It is hard to explain the decision to close the school, as it has taken me 10 years to process and accept it,” Hanson wrote in a commentary she provided to The Brownsville Herald for this story.
“Firstly, Paul Hanson simply cannot be replaced. I tried but I am not him. After his death so many graduates stepped up to help fill the gap, but many of them now need to go forward with their careers.”
She said it has been a year-to-year thing since her husband’s passing, and that she does not regard the school’s closing as a defeat.
“I love teenagers and I love the Lord,” she said. “I think every community needs a place where teenagers feel really loved and welcome. … The kids who have gone to this school write to me constantly, and they say they have never felt so loved as they did in high school. It’s a valuable part of their story.”
She said the pandemic was not really a factor in the decision to close. First semester, the school met online two days a week but face-to-face the other three, and did away with distance learning altogether second semester.
“We prayed a lot and have had no sickness,” she wrote.
“We stopped accepting students two years ago and combined the sophomore and junior classes. We found lots of ways to streamline how we do school and it has been enjoyable and effective. … My students are spiritual, smart, creative and loving. My teachers are in a league by themselves. I am honored to get to lead the school this last year.”
In retirement, Hanson will continue her work as a jail chaplain. Millan will pursue a career as an engineer.