For three days and three nights, braving whipping winds and cold rain, families camped outside John Milledge Academy through the weekend to be first in line Monday morning to register their children at the school.

Headmaster Larry Prestridge said parents have been giving up their weekends for years to register their children at the private school.

“About 12 years ago, we had families come out and get here around 3 a.m. to be first in line to register. That went on for a couple of years, but then somebody came out on Sunday evening and slept in their car. Then somebody started coming out on Sunday morning and it just progressed from there, to where it is now with families staying all weekend in their campers,” Prestridge said.

The most popular classes are the school’s pre-kindergarten and kindergarten grades, Prestridge said, and while there are openings in most grades, many families wind up on waiting lists for a seat in class.

The headmaster said he’s pleased by the interest families have in enrolling their children at his school.

“We’re just thrilled that people are willing to do this. I tell them every year ‘When you sit around and talk over the weekend and come up with a better idea, just let me know,’” Prestridge said.

The school counts 560 students as enrolled right now, down from previous years, but it leaves room for improvement in the fall.

“Six hundred is the magic number for us, everything from our facilities to our classroom sizes and lunches,” Prestridge said. “We have openings in most classes right now. Some of them will fill up, no doubt, but we’ll put people on the waiting list. We invite everybody who’s interested to come out and we’ll put them on the list.”

Monday’s registration was the first day for new families to enroll children in the private school. In previous weeks, registration was open to families with children already enrolled and then to families of school alumni. By camping outside last weekend, families who registered or who were put on waiting lists all but are guaranteed enrollment in the 2009-2010 school year, Prestridge said.

Registration is open until August when the school opens its doors and begins the 2008-2009 school year.

Families flock to the private school because it offers an atmosphere difficult to find in other local schools, Prestridge said.

“We know the school system is good, and it’s a safe environment. We have a family atmosphere here, and people like that they know everybody here and everybody knows them,” Prestridge said. “Families and students get to feel very comfortable here.”

Tuition this year for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students was $2,640. Tuition for grades one through 12 was $4,570 for the first student, decreasing to $3,940 and $3,480 for the second and third students from a single family.

Contact John Milledge Academy at (478) 452-5570 to learn more about enrollment.

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