Cultivating a Christian education

A new Mankato high school is teaching students skills for tomorrow through a scripturally-grounded curriculum.

What started 20 years ago as a mustard seed planted in Eric Else’s heart germinated this past August when Mankato Christian Academy (MCA) opened its doors to 9th through 12th graders.

Kelly Hecksel, project manager; Kathy Johnson, head of school; David Reagles, dean of faculty; and Eric Else, board chair at Mankato Christian Academy high school.

“God placed it on my heart to start a Christian high school decades ago; however, I kept trying to stomp it down and forget about it,” Else shared in an interview with American Experiment. “In December 2022, I felt God telling me now is the time. We started prayer meetings at a local church, and the momentum that followed was unbelievable. God brought some amazing people together to make MCA a reality.” Else currently serves as the board chair of MCA.

With guidance from individuals who have helped start schools across the country, including a handful here in Minnesota, and support from area churches, plans began taking root in January 2023.

“How do you start a high school?” Else recalls himself asking project manager Kelly Hecksel, who humbly responded with what would become her signature line: “I don’t know the answer to that, but I know we can figure it out.” To which Else said, “Yeah, how hard can it be?”

Hecksel’s 10 years of experience in facility management proved invaluable over the next several months, particularly during her oversight of remodeling projects that couldn’t begin until the previous tenant vacated the building in June.

“The inside of the building was in rough shape, and the parking lot needed to be totally redone to eliminate all of the water issues,” according to Else. “We had to put in some new electrical, plumbing, and completely gut several rooms.”

Despite a myriad of infrastructure hurdles, the entire high school was planned out, approved, created, and ready to go in less than eight months.

Else credits school leadership and local community support for the timely accomplishment.

For the Head of School at Mankato Christian Academy Kathy Johnson, building on community connections is key. “We want to be a good steward to the community, and we want to share our space when we can. We want to work together with the public school system, and we want to be additive to the Christian education community, networking and partnering with other Christian schools in the area.”

The high school shares facility space with local homeschool families, and students can register for one or two classes. The high school also opens up its gymnasium to other local private schools. Once a month, MCA students go out into the community for “Serve Day” to do some form of volunteer work. Weekly, students meet with subject matter experts, visiting their company sites and seeing them in action. It’s an opportunity to develop valuable relationships with key leaders in the area’s businesses and communities.

“It’s real-world application and hands-on learning experiences that help drive their educational journey,” says Johnson. “For example, students recently visited a fabrication company, and from that experience, a student is now interested in becoming a welder.”

And even if a student doesn’t find his or her passion in that particular setting, they develop an appreciation for the people who do those things, according to David Reagles, dean of faculty at MCA. “I think that empathy is something that our society really needs. So, for a student who never would imagine picking up a blowtorch, but by going to a fabrication facility gets to see what the people who work there do, it builds an appreciation that is healthy for maturing and becoming active members of society.”

As education continues to evolve, so too should the delivery of it, according to Else. “For too long, we’ve told students that they have to sit in a desk and face forward, and that’s how you learn. Mankato Christian Academy’s niche is through its personalized learning approach, preparing students with skills for tomorrow. Our teachers are committed to ensuring students are ready to navigate the challenges of the world as servant leaders in their communities, their state, and in their country.”

With building space for 214 students, Else and his team are hopeful for the future and look forward to taking the high school to the next level.

“Our end goal is to find 60 to 80 acres in the area to build a school campus — one with sports facilities and dedicated spaces to the trades,” says Else. “There would be an agricultural space, a construction space, a welding space. Having those dedicated areas for kids to learn and put what they are learning into practice is so important.”

As of the most recently available data, private school enrollment in Minnesota continues to increase post-COVID.

For more information on Mankato Christian Academy, visit On April 18, American Experiment will be hosting a school choice expo in Mankato, featuring a variety of education options in the area. Go to to learn more.