Providence Christian Academy Builds a Tradition of Leadership and Service

By Kim Hill

Adam Cantrell was a Lilburn high school junior when Providence Christian Academy – founded by a group of parents whose vision was to establish a private Christian school in Gwinnett County – opened its doors in 1991. He had no idea that he would return to the school one day to teach and coach and be part of the school’s decades-long story. Since opening twenty-seven years ago, Providence has grown to nearly 700 students in grades K-12, including a second high school location in Johns Creek. The school has built a reputation for combining a top-tiered academic program (including a nationally-recognized STEM program) with an intentional emphasis on spiritual growth and the preparation of students to lead and serve others.

Before spending nearly twenty years as a teacher and coach at Providence, Cantrell’s plan was to be a doctor. But during his sophomore year in college, his focus changed to veterinary medicine. Unfortunately, his cumulative score fell short by 3 points to get into vet school. He was disappointed, but had been praying all along for God to guide his path. When he returned home from college, he found his younger brother’s baseball coach had quit in the middle of the season, and he reluctantly agreed to at least help at practice. “I went to one practice, and I was done,” he says. “I loved it, loved coaching, loved every part of it.” From that point forward there hasn’t been a baseball season that he hasn’t coached.

Cantrell’s mindset now shifted to “what can I do to also coach?” He decided that teaching was probably the best idea, but initially thought he would become a community coach at his school. Over time, the Lord changed his heart so teaching became all he really wanted to do. “Since then, it’s become incredibly clear that teaching is the deal,” he says. “I might have gotten into teaching because of baseball, but now I would give up baseball in a heartbeat to keep teaching. Teaching is what makes my blood flow every day.” He returned to Providence at age twenty-three to teach science, the subject that he studied and loved in college.

What he remembers about being a student at Providence is how much the teachers cared about him as an individual, and he tries to make the same impact on his students. Don Hart, who was one of Cantrell’s favorite teachers at his previous school, came to Providence during Cantrell’s senior year and was his teacher once again. “The impact he had on my life as a student has influenced me more than anybody else except for my father. I want to be for students what he was for me.”

Cantrell’s two children, AJ and Sazy, now attend Providence. “That was always the plan, from the time that I was a student,” he says. “I knew that I wanted my kids to have the same kind of opportunities that I had, at a school like this where people love them. You are free to make mistakes, but you are helped through those mistakes and are held accountable to being the best ‘you’ that you can be.” Cantrell’s wife is also a graduate who understands the value of Providence. She volunteers on Wednesday mornings in the school chapel program, where she advises and leads a student prayer team. Cantrell says that the emphasis Providence places on each student’s relationship with Jesus and the way teachers try to build true bonding relationships with them is what makes it unique.

When Cantrell returned to Providence in 1999, he was the youngest baseball coach in the county and remained so for a number of years. “I don’t think I’m the youngest anymore,” he jokes, “but I am the longest tenured coach in Gwinnett County. I have been at my school longer than anyone else.” The Providence baseball team has made the playoffs fourteen of the nineteen years that Cantrell has coached, winning two region championships, the state runner-up in 2011, and the state championship in 2012. Over thirty players have gone on to play in college, and three players are currently playing professionally. This year three seniors have all signed to play in college. Cantrell currently serves as head of the Gwinnett Dugout Club along with Jed Hixson of Grayson High School. After the former head stepped down, Cantrell laughingly says he was put in charge because he left the meeting early to watch his son play baseball.

Communications director Stephen Daniels points out that Cantrell is one of many Providence alumni who have returned to be staff members, as well as being one of the next generation of parents. Daniels, who is also a graduate, has been on staff for six years and has three children who attend Providence. He says it has been fun to see the large number of graduates who want to come back to be involved in some way. “We all had a great experience at Providence, and we certainly want that for our children,” he explains. “To be able to work at a school that we love is really gratifying.”

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