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Phonics Phactory instills a love of learning for life

Marking its 20th year, the private school has grown to include students between preschool and 10th grade


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Brian Mayer calls his wife, Debbie, the heart and soul of Mayer Christian Schools. The schools co-founders emphasize the philosophy learning for life.

Scrabble tiles spell out Mayer Christian Schools’ (Phonics Phactory) guiding mantra.

“Our motto is learning for life,” said Brian Mayer, who co-founded the independent private school with his wife, Debbie.

“We believe that when students are organized and well read — when they learn to research, write and compute — that they have the tools and self-discipline to do what they’re supposed to do.”

The East County school — described as a “hidden gem” by participating families — is marking its 20th anniversary this year.

From its early roots, starting with 45 students between kindergarten and sixth grade at Gresham Nazarene Church in 1993, the Phonics Phactory has grown to a preschool through 10th grade school, housed in its own facility at Northeast Eighth Street off Northeast Kane Drive.

Today, more than 300 students from throughout the region — from Wilsonville to Camas, Wash. and Oregon City to Rhododendron — call the school home, and alumni keep close ties.

Four Phonics Phactory graduates who are pursuing their high school diplomas and associate degrees at Mt. Hood Community College continue their connection with Phonics Phactory.

“I love this school — it’s like a second home,” said Blake Hirschmugl, who is studying fire science at Mt. Hood.

Hirschmugl and his classmates, Payton Rothwilson, Alex Swyers and Karissa Wardle, return each week to study together and connect with their former teachers.

“We teach students to be good scholars — that process is more important, just as important as the right answer,” Brian Mayer said.

Students spend three days a week at the Phonics Phactory, and two days completing work from home with parental support. This setup grew from the Mayers experience as parents of three children.

Throughout their children’s education, the couple combined public, private and home schooling and saw the benefits of all three.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Phonics Phactory sixth-grade teacher Katie Wardle teaches students how density in sea water affects ocean currents.

The Mayers believe education should be a three-legged stool, with the school, parents and the church partnering together. At an early age, students are started with planners to learn organization, and parents know exactly where their students are every day of the week.

“Kids learn that what happens at school is known at home the same day,” Brian Mayer said.

Phonics Phactory uses the A Beka curriculum, a traditional education approach often used in home schooling.

And though the school is grounded in Christian teachings, the Mayers welcome students of all faith backgrounds.

“We appeal to people who are family-oriented and still want to be involved in their kids’ education,” Brian Mayer said. “I’m very hard-nosed that kids should be mannered and respectful — that they ask, ‘How can I serve you?’’

Phonics Phactory is truly a family affair, with two of the Mayers’ children, Jordan Mayer and Amy Hardy, teaching, and six of their grandchildren attending the school.

Bryan Atkinson, a former student, returned to teach literature at his alma mater.

“The same people who were my teachers are now my coworkers,” Atkinson said. “(Phonics Phactory) got me to value being able to pursue learning on my own. The culture is a little different — a little homier than most schools with smaller class sizes.”

We all wear a lot of hats here, so it makes us committed.”

Phonics Phactory name is derived from the school’s emphasis on reading.

“My wife is a phonics expert and has always taught everyone in the neighborhood how to read,” Brian Mayer said. “Every time, I’d come home from work, she’d have kids lined up at the door. She’s just been the heart and soul of this school.

“Reading is the foundation of everything. If kids learn to read, they’re going to be a lot more advantaged in everything they do.”

Added Debbie Mayer, “I really believe that every child can function at the top of their class with proper one-on-one instruction, encouragement and teaching to their learning style. They will rise to it.”

In 2002, the school moved to Mountainview Christian Church to have more space before buying property for a new building at its current location, which opened in 2004.

As time evolved, Phonics Phactory broadened its name to Mayer Christian Schools, as students already knew phonics after their primary years.

Phonic Phactory became the name for primary years in the school, with the Write Academy for grades 4-6 and Mayer Middle University for grades 7-10.

Now, the school boasts a new gym and an assortment of electives, including choir, lego robotics, crocheting, Spanish and sports camps. The Mayers would like to expand to plays, musicals and a community sports league eventually.

Each year, the school offers educational trips to Washington, D.C., outdoor school and "truth trips."

Community outreach and involvement is also an important aspect of the school. “We love to look for opportunities to serve,” Debbie Mayer said.

“We do what we love and it’s a privilege to be able to work with all of these families,” Brian Mayer said.

To learn more about the school, visit www.phonicsphactory.com.



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