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A strong foundation: Kingdom Builders Christian School set to open in fall 2022

The future opening of the Kingdom Builders Christian School plays into the founders’ beliefs that Bemidji can never have too many Christian schools.

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An open house event was held on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, at Kingdom Builders Christian School, offering families a chance to register their children to attend the school when it opens this fall.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — The future opening of the Kingdom Builders Christian School plays into the founders’ beliefs that Bemidji can never have too many Christian schools.

“What we’re doing is a whole different look at education and teaching kids the value of serving the community,” the school’s principal Jon Ness said at a June 29 open house for the school. “We’re looking at teaching kids how to be the hands and feet of Christ.”

Ness has been described as the “brainchild” of the nondenominational school, the idea which came to him just eight short months ago after one of his friends passed away at the beginning of December 2021.

“(My friend and I) had always kind of joked about starting a school,” Ness said.

Bemidji currently hosts other Christian schools including the nondenominational Heartland Christian Academy and High School, St. Philip's Catholic School and St. Mark's Lutheran School.

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Previously being the principal at Heartland Christian High School, Ness had returned to his teaching position at J.W. Smith Elementary before considering retirement in the education field and focusing on his businesses including Ness Sealcoat Service.

He had no intention of opening a completely new school at the time.

“There was no plan at all. Well, God took a look at me and said, ‘I’ve got more for you to do’ and people started to come to me asking me to do this,” Ness detailed. “It just got to a point where I didn’t have a choice. We had to start this.”

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Kingdom Builders Christian School Principal Jon Ness speaks with attendees about future plans for the school, which is set to open this fall, during an open house event on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Several church and community members approached Ness wanting to see a Christian school as another schooling option for parents and their students in the Bemidji area.

“When all of these people started coming to me wanting to start one up, I was like ‘let’s see what we can do,’” Ness added. “I truly believe God led me to these people, and it all started with that one friend.”

Set to open this fall on Tuesday, Sept. 6, in tandem with Bemidji Area Schools, Ness believes his calling came at the right time even in the face of all the work that would come with it.

“They tell you it takes three years to start a school. We’re doing it in eight months,” Ness reflected.

As it turns out, eight months is all that was needed.

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Board of directors

Ness credits the school’s board of directors for keeping their opening goals in mind and for being strong in their areas of expertise.

“(The board is made up of) community leaders, business owners, entrepreneurs, resort owners, pastors,” he detailed. “It took me about a month to get everybody together and they’re just unbelievable.”

Sarah Karvakko, co-owner of Karvakko Engineering in Bemidji, is the school's board president and found it important to get involved in the school’s planning process.

“I could see a degradation in the public school system over the years. Not to say they’re not good, but there need to be more options,” Karvakko said. “Getting involved with this seemed like the natural fit for me because my family is very involved in our church and we’re really excited to see how this school is going to impact our community for years.”

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Sarah Karvakko, Kingdom Builders Christian School board president, speaks with attendees about the school’s curriculum during an open house event on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Other board members include Vice President Brian Lietz, Treasurer Travis Guida, Secretary Sarah Hokuf, and members Tony Merschman, Jason Christiansen, Nicole Nordvik, Kevin Cochran and Marc Jocum.

With the board ready and set, it was time to open a school.

A Biblical emphasis

Kingdom Builders will host grades 4-8 at the former Lincoln Elementary School attached to Mt. Zion Church, located at 414 Lincoln Ave SE, in Nymore. While grades 9-12 will be housed in the Valley View Building on the Oak Hills Christian College campus.

According to Ness, Mt. Zion purchased the former Lincoln site in 1999 and is allowing KBCS to rent the space they need, which includes 10 classrooms, office spaces and other rooms that may be repurposed as additional offices or a gymnasium.

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Kingdom Builders Christian School will host grades 4-8 at the former Lincoln Elementary School attached to Mt. Zion Church, located at 414 Lincoln Ave SE, in Nymore.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“We’re just thankful to Mt. Zion for opening up their building to us because it’s a beautiful facility,” Karvakko said. “It’s going to do exactly what we need it to do.”

Formerly housing Heartland Christian High School before changing locations, Ness emphasized the Post-secondary Enrollment Options that will come for Kingdom Builders upperclassmen making use of Valley View.

“The eleventh and twelfth graders can walk right across the parking lot and take PSEO classes at Oak Hills,” Ness mentioned. “We’re trying to work together with Oak Hills on a lot of stuff, so it’s pretty exciting.”

Ness also anticipates bringing in community members to teach students practical and recreational tasks. He has already been in touch with an auto mechanic who is interested in visiting with students along with a golf coach.

The emphasis on post-secondary preparation, a curriculum with a Biblical foundation and small class sizes convinced Leah Bratlien to onboard as one of KBCS’ classroom teachers originally coming from the Bemidji Area School District.

“I was looking to make a switch, not only to a Christian school but just a smaller size in the classroom,” Bratlien detailed. “Raising kids with a strong Biblical foundation and also to help others and make a difference is very important.”

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Leah Bratlien, left, speaks with attendees during an open house event on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, at Kingdom Builders Christian School. Bratlien will be one of school’s classroom teachers when it opens this fall.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

The fine details

For this fall, Ness would like to see 60 students enrolled in grades 4-8 and between 20 to 30 students in grades 9-12.

There will be a flat tuition rate of $5,500 a year or $615 a month, though, a “multiple child discount” will be available for families, and no other fees will be tacked onto the bill.

“As a parent, I hate coming home every day and hearing, ‘dad, I need $20 for this and that,’ so we’re doing a set fee. No computer fees, no volunteer fees. You pay this amount and that’s what it is,” Ness said.

KBCS will offer Chromebooks for all students, and collaboration with Bemidji Area Schools will allow KBCS students to participate in district activities.

Busing will also be available to and from Bemidji Middle School.

Hot lunches will not be provided this school year, though, the school hopes to offer catered options for purchase on select days.

School hours will run similar to other area schools.

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During an open house event on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, families had the opportunity to register their children to attend Kingdom Builders Christian School, which is set to open this fall.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Future hopes

Just two months prior to opening, Ness is looking ahead not only to September but the following school years as the school solidifies its place in the community.

“In five years, I’d like to see this place full with around 250 to 300 kids and at least half of them on full scholarships,” Ness said. “A lot of people giving donations will help to fund scholarships and you can do a donation much like a ‘fund your own student’ type of thing. I don’t want anybody not to be able to come here because they can’t afford it.”

Karvakko has similar aspirations.

“Our big goal is having our own building, a facility where we can have all the necessities like a gym and a cafeteria, and get us all on one campus,” Karvakko said. “Maybe that’s in five years, maybe it’s 10. But you have to take baby steps.”

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Kingdom Builders Christian School board secretary Sarah Hokuf, center, speaks with attendees during an open house event on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, at the school.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Bratlien hopes that increased enrollment will warrant adding grades K-3 in the future, but whatever the future holds, Ness figures it will come easy.

“When I’m doing things, it’s always hard work. (Opening the school) has been the easiest thing,” Ness said. “Everything that has happened, happened because of God. It’s not me. This is all about God and it’s amazing.”

Kingdom Builders welcomes donations along with volunteer opportunities. More information can be found at www.kingdombuildersschool.org or on the Kingdom Builders Christian School Facebook page.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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