Derince is one of the young men I admire most for perseverance.
When he was just seven years old, his father was arrested. Instantly, he became the ‘man’ of the house, wrestling with concerns few adults manage. With no male role models at home, God graciously provided men to mentor and advocate for Derince. They saw he was not receiving the attention he needed in public school.
Derince applied to Hope Academy in 9th grade, but was denied admission. Because Derince’s previous schools failed him academically he worked relentlessly with a tutor for one whole year, and was admitted to Hope as a sophomore. “When I found out I got into Hope Academy, I had this joy in my heart,” explains Derince. “I wanted to jump up and down, but instead I just played it cool. I was so happy I got in.”
In the last year and a half, Derince has become a learner and a leader. He has sought good friends to sharpen him. He respects his football coaches for their athletic and spiritual advice. He is growing and giving. “My belief is that, when I’m going through something difficult, as long as I believe in Christ, I can get through it,” he says.
Praise God for his relentless love for Derince, and for each one of our students. He is rebuilding our city, one heart at a time.
Other students like Derince also need need partners for this school year. Please join us in praying for God’s provision for the youth of our city, and considering how God might use you to administer his grace.
With deep joy,
Russ Gregg | Head of School
Stats about the 2015 Graduating Class:
- 13 Students Graduated
- 4th graduating class from Hope Academy
- 2 graduates received scholarships from the Hope Scholars Fund and Inverted Arts Scholarship.
- 5 current and former students received full-ride scholarships via the ActSix Program for emerging urban leaders
2015 Graduate Updates:
- Benjamin Anfinson, University of Northwestern-St. Paul (MN).
- Matthew Anfinson, Bethel University (MN) is living on campus and playing football—ActsSix scholar.
- Stephanie Aquino, University of Northwestern-St. Paul (MN), is living on campus and enjoying school (Hope Scholar).
- Ephraim Bird, St. Thomas Univ. (MN), lives on campus and is running cross country.
- Noelle Brothen is working full-time.
- Shania Castillo, University of Northwestern-St. Paul (MN), is living on campus—ActsSix scholar.
- Elizabeth Knudson, is working full-time.
- Jasmine Lewis, is pursuing education from North Central University, spring 2016.
- Collin Maakestad is working and plans to start at MCTC (MN) in 2016.
- Vashti Nieves, Univ. of Northwestern-St. Paul (MN).
- Ruth Norman, Univ. of Northwestern-St. Paul (MN), is enjoying school—ActsSix scholar.
- Grant Paulson, is working and enrolled at St. Cloud State Univ. (MN) for fall. Samantha Ruhland, Normandale Community College (MN), (Hope Scholar).
It’s an exciting time at Hope Academy! Last week, we opened our doors wide to 435 students (and counting!) – nearly 70 of whom are Kindergarteners this year.
Over the past fifteen years, we’ve seen that “oaks of righteousness” do not grow overnight. Rather, they start by planting tiny acorns, in good soil.
Then, it takes years for this little acorn to grow deeper and wider roots. Roots that will draw refreshment in the harshest droughts; roots that will anchor this tree in the most tumultuous storms.
That is why our hearts are full of joy – and faith – this year as we double our Kindergarten from 2 classes to 4. We are thrilled to widen our admissions funnel and offer a remarkable, God-centered education to more and more families, K-12.
Thank you, for your help in reaching more “acorns” in our quest to grow “oaks of righteousness,” right here in the inner-city.
Pray that God will continue to grow our students into servant leaders who will work for justice, economic opportunity, racial harmony, hope for the family, and joy in the community.
Head of School
For many children, summer is a nostalgic time filled with sunny excursions, afternoons on the lake, and the relaxed pace of long, lazy days.
But for our urban neighbors, summer also brings a detrimental widening of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income students. Study after study shows that children backslide significantly in knowledge and skills over the summer months–and that many low-income students fall disproportionately behind their higher-income peers, year after year after year.
Enter Hope Academy’s four week summer session. This summer, our students enjoyed:
- Individual and/or small group reading time
- ACT prep courses
- Math fact fluency training
- Socratic reading discussions in middle school and high school
- Fine arts instruction through the Inverted Arts program
- HOPEWorks internships for high school students
- Numerous field trips and urban excursions
“Summer school makes a remarkable difference for our students,” said one of our teachers. “My room is stocked with excellent literature, and students come in, grab their book, and read for one whole hour in complete silence every day.”
“My readers are thrilled for an uninterrupted hour to be devoted to reading. The books get them hooked on how enjoyable it is to read for pleasure, and how important it is to always respond to reading with thoughtful connections.”
Thank you for partnering with us to enrich the lives of our students, and to maintain the critical progress they’ve worked so hard to achieve throughout the school year.
A special thanks to the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation for the grant it awarded to Hope Academy in support of our 2015 summer enrichment program.
With deep joy,
Head of School
Running a 9:26 two-mile and having placed second in state, it would be simple for Ephraim to find his identity in his amazing running ability. Instead, he chooses to find his identity in what God has done in his life. As he puts it, “knowing that God has given me this talent has helped me to glorify Him instead of myself.”
On a deeper level, a remarkable aspect of Ephraim’s story is that his journey of developing a Christ-centered identity didn’t begin on a cross country track in Minnesota — it began in a garbage dump in Ethiopia.
“Whatever we needed to do, we did to survive,” he explains. As a seven year old orphan and caretaker of his younger brother, it was not uncommon for young Ephraim to go door-to-door seeking scraps, eating out of garbage dumps, and begging for money in order to provide food and necessities. “Sometimes we would steal,” he shares. “Stealing was a big part [of our survival].”
Following the death of the boys’ father and mother within an eight month period, Ephraim and his brother were in a time of turmoil, shuffling between relatives, foster parents, and orphanages in an already poverty-stricken area. During this time, Ephraim describes himself as a “cheater and a liar.” He would often work together with his brother and friends in order to steal or cheat others, even creating their own language so that no one else would understand.
In an area with limited education, Ephraim struggled to learn and was disruptive in class. Although the boys’ orphanage taught the Bible, he says that it had no impact on his life. “The Word was there, but it wasn’t implanted in me yet.”
While in fifth grade, Ephraim learned that his younger brother would be adopted by a family in Minnesota. Though at first Ephraim was very sad to be separated from his brother, he was soon informed of an unlikely surprise — the family that adopted his younger brother would like to adopt him as well.
After a three-year transition period, Ephraim finally landed in the United States on December 7, 2008, when he officially became part of the Jeff & Widdy Bird family. Completely fresh to American culture, Ephraim struggled to keep up, initially placed in fifth grade at Hope Academy (while his age was equivalent to eighth). “Everything was new for me. I didn’t know any English. The culture, the people, everything was totally different.”
Regardless of the disadvantages that he faced, Ephraim was determined to succeed. With the help of his supportive parents, friends, and family, Ephraim worked hard to improve his skills. That summer, he jumped two grade levels and was promoted to the eighth grade class the next fall.
During the next year at Hope, Ephraim was greatly impacted by the Christ-centered education he received from godly teachers. “God opened my eyes to see spiritual things at Hope,” he describes. “My teachers’ care for me reflected the goodness of God.”
That same year, Ephraim also gave his life to Christ and chose to be baptized. “I had never really accepted Jesus nor had I professed faith in Him before. It was a new walk. I know that my life has a purpose, has a meaning, and it is meant to glorify God in all that I do.”
Ephraim says that teachers at Hope have taught him that men and women of God, like Jesus, are called not to be served, but to serve. He desires to use the talents, skills, and experiences God has blessed him with to make a difference in the lives of children like him. “A big part of my past is how people have poured into my life, and I want to do the same,” he shares. Ephraim would like to return to Ethiopia to bring hope to the orphans in his home country, as well as support local adopting families. His mission, as he proudly exclaims, is even a part of his name. “My name, Ephraim, actually means to be fruitful and multiply… and I take that seriously. Hope Academy has equipped me to be a man of God.”
“Lord-willing, I’ll return to Ethiopia to bring hope and opportunity to the orphans of my homeland. And maybe someday, there will be another little orphan standing here at this podium [on graduation day].”
The entire Hope Academy community is celebrating this month because five Hope Academy students were just awarded $800,000 in college scholarships over four years from Bethel University and the University of Northwestern-St. Paul, as part of the Act Six scholars program.
Selected through a rigorous, three-month competition among more than 200 applicants, Yosief Temnewo (2014 Hope graduate), Ruth Norman (future 2015 Hope graduate), Matthew Anfinson (2015), Shania Castillo (2015), and Joshua Gillespie (Hope Academy 8th grade graduate; son of staff member Darrell Gillespie) were among 27 urban students chosen for their distinctive leadership, academic potential, and commitment to making a difference in their communities.
On the day of harvest, everyone rejoices-not just those who wielded the sickle. Everyone who contributed to making a crop is happy when the harvest is brought in.
The Apostle Paul wrote about this communal joy in developing people. He said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” 1 Cor. 3:6-7
Last week, Act Six scholars began an intensive seven month training program that involves retreats, campus visits, and weekly meetings to equip them to succeed academically and grow as service-minded leaders and agents of transformation.
As contributors to Hope Academy, you have a part in our joy in their success. Rejoice with us, and join us in praising God who deserves the glory.
As the Scripture says, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything (in comparison), but only God who gives the growth.”
With great gratitude,
Head of School
P.S. – Please join our Hope Scholars Breakfast on Thursday, May 28 from 7:30-8:30 a.m. to learn how you can play a critical role in bridging the gap to college for many more Hope students. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a year of Ferguson protests, mounting racial tensions and even riots sweeping the nation, Hope Academy is making one of the strongest possible statements in our land that “black lives matter.”
So do the lives of Latinos, Somalis, European Americans, Native Americans, Asians, and everyone else.
They matter for a very important reason. They matter because of the dignity accorded to all persons who are created in the image of God.
Fueled by the belief that each person has immeasurable value as an image-bearer of God himself, we are all the more impassioned to make a public statement that black lives count.
And, as a diverse Christian community, we fulfill the law of Christ by bearing the burdens of those who have suffered – both historically and systemically – from a disparity of justice.
So how does a remarkable, God-centered education for inner-city youth shout louder than just about anything else that “black lives matter!”?
In three ways. By the costliness of the investment, the greatness of benefits secured, and the freeness with which it is offered.
A costly investment. It takes millions of dollars each year to sustain the work of Hope Academy with inner-city youth-a cost to which many supporters and families contribute joyfully and sacrificially. But beyond that, it takes love. Costly love. Tough love that says “Try again; I know you can do better.” Real love that initiates hard and healing conversations. Love that daily lays down a life for a friend.
Immeasurable benefits. The work at Hope Academy demonstrates that “black lives matter,” because we are laboring to give African-American boys and girls, young men and women, what many regard as the single most important right of a human being-the ability to learn for oneself. An ability that opens the door to a universe of opportunities.
Accessible opportunity. One of our greatest joys is to make Hope affordable for all. And while every family has some ‘skin in the game,’ we are throwing a feast of education and opportunity at a price that turns no family away.
By supporting Hope, we believe your contributions are of the utmost importance in turning the tide to affirm the God-ordained worth and value of all peoples. Thank you for your invaluable partnership in this work.
Head of School
We are rejoicing over the teachers and staff that the Lord has brought to serve the students and families of Hope Academy.
They are talented and passionate educators who believe that each child who walks though our doors has unique, God-given abilities and intrinsic value. And they are committed to providing a classical, Christ-centered education of the utmost excellence to the children of the inner city.
Many of these teachers and staff also have a flair for innovation and creativity. That was revealed again this past week when Hope’s upper school principal, Nathan Ziegler, was featured on The Weather Channel, Good Morning America, and KARE 11 for his “below-zero” weather experiments. His “Minnesota Cold” YouTube videos have garnered national attention and millions of views.
And while Mr. Ziegler’s notoriety is fueled by frostbite, our hearts are melting over God’s faithful provision and the joy-filled, year-end generosity of so many.
As we round the New Year, we have received more than 90% of our annual fundraising goal for this year. We are so grateful to the Lord for his provision!
Thank you to each one of you who has given sacrificially to this labor of God’s love!
With deep gratitude,
Head of School
by Russ Gregg, Head of School
Over the last fifteen years since God called us to start Hope Academy, I have been guided by three convictions regarding education.
- First, true education begins and ends with God.
- Second, with schools, small is beautiful.
- Third, liberty and effective learning are often stifled by bureaucracy.
I was reminded again of these three convictions with the recent resignation of Bernadeia Johnson as superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools. I have admired much of Dr. Johnson’s leadership these last four years, but I was not surprised by the news. Facing so much bureaucracy and factionalism in public education, the average tenure of a big city public school superintendent in our country is just 3.6 years.
For these last fifteen years, your generosity has helped provide stability in providing a classical, Christ-centered education to our city’s most important and endangered resource: inner city children.
As you consider end-of-year giving, we are still asking the Lord to provide more than 40 Day Sponsors for a class of kindergarteners ($540/day); one full ($6,000) or two half ($3,000) Partners for more than 25 students – including Jonathan, Alejandro, Sienna, LaKylee, Gideon, Jay’Veonna, and Ma’layiah – and three more Boaz gifts ($50,000).
All told, we are asking the Lord for about $250,000 of our $2,975,000 fundraising goal this year as we serve more than 400 inner city youth in grades K-12. You can click here to make a gift online.
More than 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ entered our human history in the most unlikely of circumstances, as a baby in a stable on the outskirts of Bethlehem.
Fifteen years ago, God began our unlikely story of stable redemption, right here in the Phillips neighborhood. Thank you for your partnership as we together see how God’s story of Hope unfolds over the next fifteen years.
Dear Hope Academy Supporters,
I am pleased to share that in mid-November, Jim Stigman accepted the call to join the Leadership Team of Hope Academy as our Head of Institutional Advancement, with Dan Olson’s calling to another Kingdom assignment. Jim has been transitioning into his position at Hope Academy for the last six weeks, and will start full-time in January.
Looking back it feels like the Lord had been planning this since last Spring, when Jeff Bird and I first started talking with Jim about joining Dan Olson on the Advancement team.
Jim brings a passion for the Lord and the youth of the city and is a highly articulate and passionate communicator. He has a well-rounded background in development, vision-casting, constituent relations, and financial services, as well as having many existing relationships within our donor community.
Jim may be familiar to many of you. Perhaps you’ve seen a tall guy with a bunch of kid’s coming to a Partner Day, playing on the playground, or sidling up next to a kindergartener in the lunch room. Jim has been a supporter of Hope Academy since 2007. At that time, Jim was raising support for Katie’s Club Fund, a fund which his family had established in memory of Jim’s previous wife, Katrina, who had died in 2005 of breast cancer.
Dan Olson learned about Jim’s efforts from a Hope supporter and reached out to Jim to see if there might be a connection with the mission and ministry of Hope Academy. Jim had started Katie’s Club Fund to help girls and women with a financial need receive social, educational, and life-changing opportunities in a Christian environment. Jim immediately saw the impact of Hope Academy and, within the year, Jim began supporting a kindergartner at Hope.
In 2008, God saw fit to bless him with another beautiful wife and he was remarried in 2008. Jim and Stacy immediately started home-schooling their blended family, primarily because they knew it would be the fastest way to strengthen their new family unit. The Stigmans have been blessed with eight children: Phoebe, Maddie, Dezi, Ethan, Simon, Bella, Olivia, and Opal. Partner day trips to Hope Academy have become a high-anticipation event and they have enjoyed their interaction with the Hope Academy family, primarily the students.
Please pray for Jim in the weeks and months to come as he works to familiarize himself with the school, the development cycle, our constituents, and the nuances of a new position. Join me in welcoming Jim into our collective mission to bring the hope of Christ to families of the city. I know Jim is excited to meet you.
Russ Gregg, Head of School
P.S. – In late September, Dan Olson let us know that the Lord had called him to serve The Gospel Coalition as their Director of Advancement, a position he is beginning in January. We are so grateful to God for Dan’s work these last nine years for the children of the city. Dan will be based out of Minneapolis in this new position, and he and his family will continue to be involved at Hope Academy as parents and Partners.
I was standing in the hallway this morning as a steady stream of urban parents entered Hope Academy for their kids’ parent-teacher conferences. As we address the crisis in urban education, nothing brings me more joy than seeing parents responding to our gentle prodding that they are the first and most important teachers in their students’ lives.
This made me overflow with joy for you, our supporters, and all the work the Lord has done through your support and generosity.
Join us in thanking God for:
- 13 Hope Academy seniors who recently returned from sharing the love of Christ with children in the Dominican Republic
- 24 tenth graders who spent the past week sacrificially serving youth and the elderly in downtrodden areas ofNew Orleans, growing in their relationships with God and one another
- Sustained enrollment of more than 400 inner-city youth who every day are receiving a remarkable, Christ-centered education
- Hundreds of parents who are attending their kids’ parent-teacher conferences yesterday and today.
- Nearly 450 Evening of Hope guests who celebrated God’s incredible works of redemption in Hope Academy families and alumni – click to watch!
More than that, we praise God for the unquantifiable grace he provides for us each day through our Lord Jesus Christ. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Co. 9:15, NIV).
We praise the Lord as well for:
- The prayers you’ve prayed for our students, families, teachers and staff
- Your sacrificial generosity in providing Hope to families who wouldn’t otherwise have access to a remarkable, Christ-centered education in inner-city Minneapolis
- Your hours upon hours of tutoring, mentoring and volunteering with our students.
Now, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:15, NIV).
Russ Gregg, Head of School
My name is Dashon and I’m in 10th grade at Hope Academy. I’ve been a student here since 7th grade. At my old school in 6th grade, some of the kids were in gangs, kids were bringing drugs to school – Yes, in 6th grade. And the teachers didn’t really know what to do, and it seemed like they just didn’t care.
So when my baseball coach, Pastor Erickson, told me about Hope Academy – I was interested. I talked to my mom and she said sure – and I got in. What I noticed right away was that the teachers cared, and my classmates cared about school. But there was one big problem. Me.
By the end of 7th grade, I was failing a lot my classes – and I just got down on myself, and got angry at the teachers. In the Upper school we have something called the ASC or “Academic Support Center” where you have to stay after school to finish your homework. I was there almost every day.
Mr. Hutton runs the ASC and helped me understand Algebra, and Latin, and Science – and to get my homework done. He and his wife even had me over to his house – and we’d work on our homework.
So things started to change in me — I realized learning requires perseverance and patience. My mom says so too.
In 8th grade, I started doing better. I started getting C’s and a few B’s. During summer session, we read Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. This is still my favorite book I’ve ever read at Hope. Nothing teaches patience better than reading a 1000-page book.
Last year, in 9th grade, I really started applying myself. I realized that my grades were going to matter for getting into college. Now this year, my goal is to be on the B-honor roll.
One of my favorite classes this year is Humane Letters – which is sort of history and literature together. Right now, we’re studying the Westminster Confession of Faith and next we’re reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I also like our Christian Apologetics class.
When I think about how I’ve changed these last four years, I would say I’ve grown in putting my trust in the Lord – and I’ve become more patient and slow to anger. And I really want to do my best – and work heartily as unto the Lord.
As I think about my future, right now my goals are to graduate from High School with at least a 3.0 GPA, then go to the University of Texas.
Then I’d like to go to seminary and become a youth pastor or pastor – like Mr. Erickson. I’m grateful for everyone who is praying for us here at Hope Academy, and helping provide a school like Hope Academy.
The following alumni updates are featured in our 2013-2014 Annual Report.
Digna Bermejo, Mpls Comm. & Tech. College (MN), is taking general classes and enjoying school.
Carmen Bermejo, Argosy University (MN), is taking general classes and enjoying school.
Lani Crowell, U. of M–Twin Cities (MN), is a student in the School of Engineering, and has had a great start.
Kalen Davis, N. Henn. Tech. College (MN), is taking general classes and plans to pursue media/communications.
Jamie Delgado-Dominguez, St. Paul Comm. College (MN), is planning on going into nursing.
Micah Fisher, North Central Univ. (MN), is on a Hope Scholarship and loving school. He still serves at Hope regularly.
Christian McFadden, Southeastern Univ. (FL), likes school but will transfer to North Central Univ. (MN) in January.
Teia Mosley, Minneapolis Comm. & Tech. College (MN), is taking generals and plans to pursue a business degree.
Kara Nickolay, N. Henn. Tech. College (MN), is taking general classes and plans to pursue a business degree.
Abraham Norman, Hillsdale College (MI), is on a full-tuition and Hope Scholarship. “I love it here!” he said.
Alexis Owens, Calvin College (MI), (see p. 3) is on a Hope Scholarship and doing work-study. She studies English and education and “loves college life!”
Darrius Ross, N. Henn. Tech. College (MN), is taking generals and plans to pursue business. He works at Target.
Allyson Salinas-Ward, Univ. of Northwestern–St. Paul (MN), is making friendships and enjoying classes. She says, “chapel is my favorite part of the day.”
Yosief Temnewo, Normandale Comm. College (MN), is taking general classes and not sure of his major just yet.
Abby Anfinson served in AmericCorp in New York City last year. She started at MCTC this fall. She works as a nanny.
Alandra Brown-Cox transferred to Anoka-Ramsey Comm. College (MN). She played basketball last year.
Anna Carlson, Seattle Pacific University (WA), is studying English literature and loving school. She has started a work-study job on campus this year.
Precious Collins, St. Catherine’s University, (MN) is on a full scholarship. She lives off campus with three other St. Kate students. She enjoys her classes. and comes back to visit Hope often.
Michael Cushing is finishing generals at North Hennepin Comm. College (MN) and is working full-time at Best Buy.
Mayra Herrera, North Henn. Comm. College (MN), studies nursing. She is a full-time wife, mother, and student.
Jeff Holley has started classes at Anoka-Ramsey this fall.
Elizabeth Knudson, North Dakota State Univ. (ND), is deciding on a major. She is residing with relatives who live close to the college.
Vivanco Marquez is still deciding on his future plans.
Iliana Martinez is working full-time and making future plans.
Auryanna Owens, Cornerstone Univ. (MI), is on a Hope Scholarship. She is studying audio production.
Halley Park is working and starting classes at MCTC in January.
Carissa Simons, Mpls. Comm. & Tech. College (MN), is finishing generals and plans to go into nursing.
Lindsay Simons, Seattle Pacific Univ. (WA), is enjoying school and the area.
Jemimah Chaisuk lives in Thailand and is enrolled in a University there.
Leah Ferguson, Wellesley College (MA) continues to love school, studying computer science and math, and blogs at: leahcorrespondence.blogspot.com.
Giovanni Herrera is working full-time and also is a full-time dad!
Kelly Klos, North Central Univ. (MN), is a Children’s Ministry major and doing work study while living at home.
Ashley Klos, St. Catherine’s Univ. (MN) is doing well and living at home.
Freddie Lawler, Itasca Comm. College (MN), is studying graphic design and thriving in school. He will transfer to St. Cloud State Univ. in the fall of 2015.
Alex Marquez lives nearby and is working full-time at a company that distributes cell phones to all major carriers.
Caleb Miller, Century Comm. College, is continuing his generals.
Christi Miller, Century Comm. College (MN), is finishing EMT certification.
Merhawi Temnewo, transferred to Augsburg College (MN), A Horatio Alger scholar, he is a Comp. Science major.
Alyssa Zink, US Air Force, married to Alexander Dahl on Oct. 12, 2014. Many former classmates and staff attended the wedding in Cottage Grove, MN. They are stationed in S. Dakota.
Note: This article is adapted from Russ Gregg’s opening address to the staff and faculty of Hope Academy on August 18, 2014.
Fifteen years ago, Jeff Bird and I were in a cabin on Lake Huron talking about how to start Hope Academy. We made a roaring fire, but as we put on a few additional logs, the fire was smothered. We took this as a sign that however Hope Academy was would grow, we were going to grow slow, with the gospel as our fire.
While we have grown slow, today it is hard to believe. We started with 35 students in grades K-2, and today we serve more than 400 K-12 students, 200 families, we have nearly 70 staff, a $3.3 million budget, and we are helping lead an education reform movement around the country. Today, I believe more strongly than ever that the Gospel is the source of our success. Let me explain.
The Gospel & Character
This summer, our teaching staff read How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough. Writing about education reform, Tough rightly puts forward the character hypothesis over against the intelligence hypothesis. He writes:
When looking for root causes of poverty-related under-achievement, we tend to focus on the wrong culprits and ignore the ones that science tells us do the most damage. The science is saying that conservatives are correct on one very important point: character matters. There is no antipoverty tool we can provide for disadvantaged young people that will be more valuable than the character strengths of conscientiousness, grit, resilience, perseverance and optimism.
However, from my view, Tough is relatively clueless about how to develop this hidden power in children.
Ultimately, he believes character is developed by:
The mundane, mechanical interaction of specific chemicals in the brains and bodies of infants as parents lick and groom them like rats, so that their hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis functions well.
A chemical and genetic view misses the source of how character is formed.
True grit, Biblical grit, is not primarily genetic trait. It is an acquired character trait that is forged in the fires of adversity and faith in the gospel.
One writer, Jon Bloom at Desiring God, put it this way,
The Bible’s terms for grit are steadfastness (1 Cor. 15:58) and endurance (Luke 21:19). Steadfastness is the determination to remain at your post come what may. Endurance is the determination to keep moving toward your desired goal despite external challenges and internal weariness.
True godly grit is able to strive hard and stand fast because it is empowered by God’s grace. That’s why Paul could say things like, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me”(1 Cor. 15:10).
The Gospel & Poverty
So we possess the most powerful weapon in the war on poverty and character development—the gospel.
In Tim Keller’s book, Generous Justice, Keller quotes an essay by Croatian theologian, Miroslav Volf.
After visiting an inner-city ministry, Volf began to imagine for the first time how the gospel could change the self-understanding of the poor in life-changing ways.
He discovered how the (seemingly) dead doctrine of justification by grace contained untapped resources for healing:
Imagine that you have no job, no money; you live cut off from the rest of society in a world ruled by poverty and violence; you are pre-judged for the color of your skin—and you have no hope that any of this will change. Around you is a society governed by the iron law of achievement. Its gilded goods are flaunted before your eyes on TV screens, and in a thousand ways society tells you every day that you are worthless because you have no achievement… But the gospel tells us that we are not defined by outside forces. It tells us that we count; even more, that we are loved unconditionally and infinitely, irrespective of anything you have achieved or failed to achieve. Imagine now this gospel not simply proclaimed, but embodied in a community. Justified by sheer grace, the community seeks to “justify” by grace those declared “unjust” by a society’s implacable law of achievement…. A dead doctrine? Hardly!
We, at Hope Academy, already possess the most powerful weapon in the war on poverty—the completely unmerited grace of God. And paradoxically, it often produces the fruit of achievement that society is looking for, but with a radically different source.
The Gospel & Healthy School Culture
The gospel is not just central to character and poverty, but organizational health as well.
Our leadership team is reading Pat Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else.
Lencioni makes the case that organizational health surpasses all disciplines in any organization as the greatest opportunity for competitive advantage.
We may be smart at Hope Academy, but we are not much smarter than our brothers and sisters down the street.
Our real advantage is the health of our community—our spiritual and emotional health.
According to Lencioni, a healthy organization is one that has all but eliminated politics and confusion from its environment. As a result, productivity and morale soar, and good people almost never leave. Health is as tangible as anything an organization does, and even more important. Why? Because the smartest organizations and schools in the world will eventually fail if it is unhealthy.
By God’s grace, Hope Academy is a relatively healthy place, but I am proposing the following eight commitments to strengthen and sustain the health of our school.
Eight Commitments of the Hope Academy Community
1. We’re going to express our love for God and our dependance on him everyday together.
2. We’re going to invest the precious time needed each day to really listen to and care for one another.
3. We’re going to actively collaborate to help each other become the best teachers and leaders we can be.
4. We’re going to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus to the students and families we serve.
5. We’re going to celebrate the work of the Spirit, whenever we see one another caught in the sacrificial act of laying down our lives like Jesus.
6. Even when it’s difficult, we will endeavor to speak the truth in love to one another, seasoned with grace and generosity of spirit.
7. When sinned against, we’re going to forgive one another just as God has so lavishly forgiven us, in Christ.
8. We are going to faithfully honor our commitments to one another and invite one another’s help in holding ourselves accountable.
What an advantage these eight commitments would give us! If we live them by God’s grace and wield the gospel in all things—God will continue to grow character and end the cycle of poverty in our community.
The following remarks were shared by Peter Ziegler at Partner Day. Mr. Ziegler provides teacher coaching throughout Hope Academy, and so has had opportunity to see teaching in progress schoolwide.
What a wonderful day the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it! And you get spend part of the day with the students of Hope that you have partnered with!
I have five grandchildren who attend Hope and I want to thank you for your spiritual, personal and financial support of this school. Like you, my wife and I are also supporters of Hope. But I have had a unique experience here, as an educator.
I have been involved with education for a long time. This is my 42nd year working in schools. Do the math that makes me old.
First I was a classroom teacher, next I worked with schools to improve curriculum and instruction. Then I worked as the executive director of an education district.
In retirement I have worked as the executive director of an education non-profit. I estimate that I have been in over 1000 classrooms during my career.
The highlight of my career came three years ago when my son Nathan, the Upper School Principal and his staff called and asked me to come to work with them as their instructional coach.
As a coach in both the Upper and Lower Schools I work with them in their Professional Learning Communities studying topics that will help them improve their instructional skills. Several times a year I observe them in their classrooms.
We meet before their lesson to discuss what I am going to see. During the lesson I make observations, take notes and video tape. After the lesson we meet to critique the lesson using teacher observations, my notes and the video.
I have never worked in a school system where every teacher takes part in such a rigorous professional development program. The teachers of Hope Academy work very hard to continually improve.
I have personally watched all of them teach – now I would like to take you to see what I see. So put on your imagination caps, and let me take you around the building.
If I was to share all of the great things I have seen here it would take days. We will visit a few classrooms to get a sampling of what happens here.
First stop – first grade where we see Jose and Stella who do not speak English. Their teacher is teaching them not only to speak English but to read and write it. While we are here please take a look this writing by Angel. She reports in her journal that she has been “Inspired” by the writing lesson that day. This is the first month of school and her writing is a couple of pages long, shows a personnel voice and has vivid details.
Shhhh. Now we’re entering a third grade classroom, where Theodore, Isabella and their class are engaged in a Socratic Seminar, I don’t want us to interrupt. These third graders have read a difficult piece of text and are now coming together to discuss it. In the seminar you will hear them support their view, make references to the text they read, build on what their classmates have said – and look – they are taking turns speaking.
Now let’s go into a fifth grade room — Jasmine and Anthony are in a writing conference, learning to critique and edit not only their own work but the work of others. Let’s see if we can get close enough to hear what Jasmine is saying. “Wow those are juicy words Anthony! I feel like I am actually there!” A bit later in the discussion, “Anthony tell me about what you are trying to say here. Listen as I read it to you – does it say that? Can WE find juicy words to make this more precise?”
These are fifth graders, working together, for each other’s improvement. I think this looks and sounds like the type of world that God has envisioned for his servants.
Now let’s go up the stairs to the Upper School, to a Bible class. This interaction was caught on video, unbeknownst to the teacher and me. The class is engaged in a discussion about grace. After Sam gives his interpretation we see Isaiah, on the video reach across the aisle and say “Great answer SAM! – Right on!” and then give Sam a high five.
Mind you these are middle school boy’s high-fiving over an interpretation of grace. Tell me that HOPE isn’t a great place for us to share our blessings.
Down the hall we are going to step into a Middle School math classroom. One of the techniques that our teachers have studied is No Opt Out – students are not given the option to say: ”I don’t know.” A while back the teacher called on Ellen. “How can this fraction be reduced – Ellen?” Ellen – “I don’t know.” “Ellen I am going to ask another student for their response and I will come back to you. Listen carefully.” The teacher asked another student and then came back to Ellen. “I don’t know.” “Ellen I will come back to you. He asks another student and comes back to Ellen – “You already asked me twice – I DON”T KNOW!” “Ellen I will come back to.” Patiently the teacher calls on yet another student who responds and we are back to Ellen – a defining moment. Ellen gives huge sigh and says “Ok all right already here is how you do it.”
Pay attention to Ellen in class today. There she is in the second row. Look at that, she just answered the teacher’s question the first time he asked. The will of this teacher is a testament to our Lord – “I will stay with you and together we will work this out.”
I am very pleased to have this teacher working with my grandchildren.
Now let’s move on to a high school room and peek in the door – notice Nicole who is engaged in her pre-Calculus class. All the students are gathered around tables. Look around – they are all working – or are they? At closer observation you see that they are all playing a game designed by the teacher – Mathopoly. In the game they proceeded around the board drawing Chance and Community Chest cards that require them to solve a complex problem.
I am not sure they even know we are in the classroom, and guess what – they all passed the test. These are the children of the inner city and their teachers are assuring that they will achieve great things.
As the student(s) you sponsor make their way through Hope Academy – I can assure you they are in incredible hands – yours, God’s and these teachers.
I have seen many good teachers in my day, but I would be hard pressed to find an entire staff as committed to their own self-improvement and the improvement of their students, as the teachers here at HOPE.
As you have a chance, thank them for all they do for the children of Hope and for the Kingdom of God.
Russ Gregg appeared live on KKMS radio today with student Taron Busby for a 30-minute segment live from the State Fair. Listen to the interview by clicking below:
Today is the first day of school, and 410 students streamed through the doors of Hope Academy today, our 15th school year. When Hope Academy began in 2000 with just 34 students in grades K-2, we could have never imagined what the Lord would do. Continue to praise the Lord and pray with us for his provision and protection.
> For the Lord bringing us gifted staff for the year:
- Ten new teachers & aides
- Three Senior Administrators:
- Mr. Kevin Farmer, Head of Admission & Family Ministry
- Ms. Leslie Smith, Lower School Principal
- Ms. Patti Tongen, Head of Finance & Operations
- Ms. Jamie Olson, Manager, Development & External Relations
- See all of our Faculty & Staff here >>
Head of School
P.S. – We are launching a new web site at the end of this week, though it is still in test mode for this week. We invite you enjoy navigating the new site and let Dan Olson know if you find any mistakes. Email him at email@example.com.
P.P.S. – Click here to make a secure on-line gift. This year, we are still trusting the Lord for sponsors for 53 more students, and six more Boaz gift of $50,000 or more. Contact Dan Olson, Head of Institutional Advancement, with questions at 612-721-6294 ext. 106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A special thanks to the hundreds of you who joined us to celebrate the class of 2014 on May 31, 2014. Click here to see photos from the commencement.
Congratulations to Digna Bermejo (Minneapolis Community & Technical College), Carmen Bermejo(Minneapolis Community & Technical College), Lani Crowell (University of Minnesota – Twin Cities), Kalen Davis (North Hennepin Community College), Jamie Delgado-Dominguez (St. Paul Community College), Micah Fisher (North Central University),Christian McFadden (Southeastern University (FL)), Teia Mosley (Minneapolis Community & Technical College), Kara Nickolay (North Hennepin Community College), Abraham Norman (Hillsdale College (MI)), Alexis Owens (Calvin College (MI)), Darrius Ross (Southeastern University (FL)), Allyson Salinas-Ward (University of Northwestern – St. Paul), Yosief Temnewo (Normandale Community College).
Abraham Norman (Class of 2014)
Abraham Norman delivered this address at the Commencement Exercises of the class of 2014 on Saturday, May 30, 2014. Abraham will be studying at Hillsdale College (MI) in the fall on a full-tuition scholarship.
My fellow classmates, friends and brothers and sisters in Christ, it is an honor to have the opportunity to address you today. I am so thankful that God has blessed me by placing each and every one of you in my life. We have the unique opportunity of being able to count each other as more than friends, but family.
There were times where we all were not as close as we are now. Times where it seemed we were constantly battling each other. But, we wouldn’t be able to consider ourselves true family if we never had conflict and overcame that conflict. By God’s grace throughout the years he has helped us to mend the relationships that were broken.
There are not many other senior classes in the world today that know each and every one of their classmates as well as each of us know one another. Not many others have had the opportunity to get the irreplaceable education we have received here at Hope either. To have a rich classical education immersed in Christ centered values. It is this that will make each one of us as an individual stand out in the world.
When a group of architects begin to construct a beautiful sky scraper, they don’t start with the top of the building or the interior of the building or the exterior of the building. The group of architects does not start with the weakest part of the sky scraper, but the strongest part.
The first item that is used to construct the building is the cornerstone.
But the cornerstone alone is not sufficient for a building. The next step in the process is building the framework. If someone were to come and remove that framework of a sky scraper, it would come plummeting down into a heap of nothing.
Like the construction of a skyscraper, our time here at Hope Academy has been the construction of who we will all become as men and women of Christ.
Jesus Christ is our cornerstone — but Hope Academy is our framework.
Because of the education we have been able to receive her at Hope Academy we are prepared to go out into the world and face its numerous problems. Not to only just face the many problems the world throws at us but to face them, and conquer them.
But Hope Academy is not our framework just because of the education received here but most importantly because of the strong Christian faith that it instills in all of us. The reason that we are able to use our knowledge gained here at Hope to combat the worlds rising issues is because we have been rooted firmly in the word of God.
There will come times in the future for each one of us that others will try and knock us down. The world will cast its evils at us in hopes of causing us to come plummeting to the ground in a big heap of nothingness just like the sky scraper without a cornerstone or a framework. But ultimately the world will not succeed.
Our framework is Hope Academy and we are rooted in our unwavering faith in Jesus Christ. My charge for you today, my fellow classmates, is to go out into the world fearless and full of courage. To face the issues and problems in the world head on, unwavering. With the creator of the universe on our side there is nothing that cannot be overcome.
I would like to end with this. I am truly, truly blessed to have experienced this part of my life with you all. There is no other group of people in the world that I would have rather accomplished high school with. And listen when I say I love each and every one of you more than you know. I am so excited to see how the Lord uses us for his glory.
Now go out into the world and do great things. Illuminating the dark and bringing Christ to the world.
Russ Gregg, Head of School
The below remarks were given by Russ Gregg at The Minneapolis Club on Thursday, May 16 for an event entitled “Faith-Based Schools and the Achievement & Opportunity Gap” highlighting the work of Hope Academy, Risen Christ School, Ascension Catholic School, and Cristo Rey Jesuit High School.
Welcome everyone to a very special evening. My name is Russ Gregg, and I’m one of the founders and the Head of School at Hope Academy, a K-12 academy serving nearly 400 inner-city students at 23rd and Chicago Ave. Twenty-two years ago, my wife and I bought our first home and moved our family into the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis. While we were well aware of the pervasive poverty and the rampant crime and violence we were moving into, we soon came to understand there was an even greater crisis hiding beneath the surface.
The Urban Education Crisis
Right in the heart of the “education state,” our state—the state with the highest ACT scores in the country, there is a dark under-belly. Students of color in Minneapolis are the lowest academic performers of any major city in the entire country. They are dead last! Today only 33% of African-Americans and Latinos, and 22% of Native Americans in our city’s public school system will graduate high school in four years.
Do you know of any business that would tolerate a 70% failure rate? And of the 30% of students of color who do graduate from our public high schools, their average reading level at graduation is only eighth grade.
Minnesota has now been singled out nationally as the state with the largest achievement gap between white students and students of color. We are number one. What this means, is that for students of color in our city, most will achieve less academically than students in states like Mississippi or South Carolina. In the midst of all our prosperity, this enormous gap in achievement is a kind of benign racism, and it is scandalous.
And just when you thought this sad story couldn’t get any worse, we must understand that this crisis is increasing at an increasing rate. City planners estimate that Minneapolis’ population will grow by 65,000 people between now and 2025, and that growth will be almost exclusively among people of color—those currently suffering from the greatest disparities in academic achievement. So, if we don’t take dramatic action, the achievement gap we find totally unacceptable today, will be dramatically bigger in 2025.
The Cost of Failed Education
The public cost of failed education in our city is just staggering. The Minneapolis Foundation estimates that the failure to graduate students of color at the same rate as white students will cost Minnesota’s economy $1.3 billion a year by 2020. Today, 1 out of every 9 African-American men in our country, between the ages of 20-24, is in prison tonight. And several states have figured out the link. They are building prison capacities based on 3rd grade reading scores. They’ve learned that if you aren’t reading by 3rd grade it greatly increases the likelihood of being incarcerated.
Waiting for Superman. Really?
Two years ago, when filmmakers made a major documentary exposing the crisis of urban education in our country, do you know what title they gave it? They called it, “Waiting for Superman.” Now, except for the spiraling growth of the federal deficit, I’m not aware of any other problem facing our country that’s so urgent and where leaders have felt so hopeless that they’ve started calling upon superheroes for help. When people are “waiting for Superman,” then you know you’ve got a crisis on your hands.
The Heart of the Problem
Many of you must be asking yourselves, why is this particular problem so different to solve? All of us in this room solve problems like this every day. Surely this one can’t be that difficult to fix. Can it? Actually, it is impossible to fix if you don’t understand the true nature of the problem.
In the beginning, I thought I had some ideas about how to solve the crisis of urban education, and some of those ideas were valid. But what I didn’t understand until later was what’s really happening in the urban family today.
Let me tell you a story to illustrate what happens to most inner-city kids. JaShawn was one of the 86.6% of African-American children born in Hennepin County to a single mom. His mother had high hopes for him and brought him to Kindergarten at their neighborhood school. JaShawn had a vocabulary of 500 words compared to a typical suburban Kindergartener who has a vocabulary of over 5000 words.
JaShawn is already way behind his suburban counterparts. In first grade, JaShawn began to learn to read. However there weren’t any books in his home, and his mom never read with him.
In second grade JaShawn began to get home work but there was no one at home to help him. The TV was always on and lots of strange men kept coming in and out of his apartment. Several times these strange men beat up JaShawn’s mom.
JaShawn often had to hide because he was afraid, and he really had a hard time concentrating in class the next day.
By third grade, JaShawn was already a grade and a half behind where he should be. And his teacher didn’t know what to do. Mom’s cell number was always disconnected. And she didn’t ever attend her son’s Parent-Teacher conferences.
By sixth grade, JaShawn found a new family to belong to—the Gangsta Disciples, and he started dressing in the colors of his new family. School was no longer interesting to him. Mom moved three times that year, and JaShawn attended four different schools.
Meanwhile JaShawn’s school spent $12 million to research and implement a new reading curriculum that they hoped would improve reading scores in the district.
What does JaShawn know in sixth grade? While driving in the car with his mentor, he heard a story on the radio about the London Philharmonic. His mentor asked him, “JaShawn, do you know where London is?”
“Never heard of it.”
“Well, what’s the largest city in the United States?”
“Las Vegas? O wait, I think that’s a state.”
By 10th grade JaShawn has dropped out of school. He has been in juvenile detention and fathered a child. He smokes weed most every day and is getting into more serious drug activity. JaShawn’s likely on his way to jail.
Why Widows and Orphans?
Have you ever wondered why God commanded his people to look out for and help the widows and the orphans among us? It must be because God designed every child to need both a mother and a father.
A child without a parent needs to be the special focus of our charity and our efforts to restore the urban family. Any effort to solve the problem of urban education that ignores the family is doomed to failure. Parents are the problem, and parents must become part of the solution.
Tonight you will be hearing from four non-public, faith-based schools, all located in the inner-city of Minneapolis, who are not “waiting for Superman” to solve the crisis of urban education. Instead, our schools have attacked the problem head on, and day after day, we are seeing the same high-poverty, “at-risk” group of students beat all the odds and become successful beyond our wildest dreams.
We believe that community leaders like those of you in this room, people who care deeply about giving equality of opportunity to all our citizens, would want to understand what makes our school’s approach so unique and so successful.
A man whose life inspires our Gospel work here at Hope Academy is George Müller (Sept. 27, 1805-March 10, 1898). Müller asked the Lord to provide, and God provided in miraculous ways. Müller’s Ashley Down orphanage cared for more than 10,000 orphans during his lifetime, and Müller also helped establish 117 Christian schools that educated more than 120,000 children, many of them orphans.
On August 30, 1849, Müller received a fifty pound note from a donor (~$7,000 today), who had been a long-time supporter of his work. The gift was accompanied by these words: “This will be the last large sum I shall be able to transmit to you. Almost all the rest is already out at interest.”
Müller knew that by ‘out at interest,‘ the giver meant that he had given nearly everything away to the Lord’s work — and was storing up for himself — at interest — treasures in Heaven (see Matt. 6:19-21).
But in fact, it was not the donor’s last gift. Müller writes:
Since that time I have received other donations from the same donor, and much larger still. He used for God the means with which He was pleased to intrust him, and contrary to this brother’s expectation, the above fifty pounds was not the last large donation; for it pleased God soon after to intrust him with another considerable sum, which he again used for the Lord.
This did not at all surprise me; for it is the Lord’s order, that, in whatever way He is pleased to make us His stewards, whether as to temporal or spiritual things, if we are indeed acting as stewards and not as owners, he will make us stewards over more.
I am personally so grateful for all of our supporters, and your faithful stewardship in helping urban youth receive a remarkable, Christ-centered education since our founding in 2000. The past fourteen years and our nearly 400 students are just one evidence of the Lord’s honoring your generosity.
Our prayer, though, is that you would know that you are storing up treasures in Heaven — and you are doing so at interest. May the Lord make you stewards over more — to supply more of His work for eternity.
Russ Gregg, Head of School
The phrase “The Peaceful Fruit of Righteousness” comes from the book of Hebrews, and it describes the design of God’s discipline in our lives. Though his discipline seems unpleasant at the time, the Lord is always seeking our good, and for those who are trained by the pain, God’s discipline produces this amazingly important fruit of righteous character.
Paul Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed, persuasively makes the case that the qualities that matter most in determining why some children succeed while others fail have more to do with the hidden power of character than high IQ—they have more to do with virtues like perseverance, optimism, grit, conscientiousness, and self-control. Character—not cognition—is central to success.
However, these same researchers seem clueless about just how to develop these all important virtues in the lives of children today. The problem as I see it, is that these educators are expecting to harvest the fruit of virtuous character apart from the root of the knowledge of God.
We all know what you get when you cut a tree from its roots.
The Book of Galatians tells us that you get “the desires of the flesh,” which are contrary to the Spirit.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
On the contrary, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
These are the very virtues researchers see as necessary for success.
Decades ago, C.S. Lewis foresaw the destructiveness of severing the fruit from the root, of separating the virtues we demand from the knowledge of God. In his treatise on education called The Abolition of Man, he wrote:
We continue to clamor for those very character qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a newspaper without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity, we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.
This fundamental disordering of our schools has indeed had disastrous effects on education, especially on the education of inner-city children.
Fourteen years ago, God led a small group of us to start a radically different kind of school for the children of our city. By God’s grace, and the help of people like you, we started a remarkable, Christ-centered school for inner-city children. And today, nearly 400 youth, from kindergarten through the 12th grade are receiving an amazing education that will prepare them to become the future servant leaders of our city.
Hope Academy has attacked the problem of urban education quite literally at its root — and day after day, we are seeing the same group of high-poverty, “at-risk” students beat all the odds and become successful beyond our wildest dreams.
A special thanks to the hundreds of you who joined us to celebrate the class of 2013 on June 1, 2013. Click here to see photos from the commencement.
BACK ROW: Anna Knudson (North Dakota State University), Alandra Brown-Cox (Inver Hills Community College), Carissa Simons (University of Minnesota – Twin Cities), Michael Cushing (Normandale Community College), Lindsay Simons (Seattle Pacific University); ROW 2: Precious Collins (St. Katherine’s University), Jeff Holley (Minneapolis Community & Technical College), Halley Park (Minneapolis Community & Technical College), Vivanco Marquez (Minnesota Arts Institute); ROW 1: Auryanna Owens (Cornerstone University (MI)), Anna Carlson (Seattle Pacific University), Mayra Herrera (Minneapolis Community & Technical College), Iliana Martinez (Minneapolis Community & Technical College), Abby Anfinson (University of Minnesota – Twin Cities).
Many high school students around the country associate St. Patrick’s Day with leprechauns, Ireland, green beer, and partying.
Hope Academy’s High School students spent St. Patrick’s Day in a way that would have made St. Patrick proud: spreading the gospel.
As a teenager in the 5th century, Patrick was taken into captivity in Ireland. At age 16 he committed his life to Christ. “I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God,” he writes in his Confession. He boldly preached the gospel for the rest of his life.
Right now, I am with our senior class on a mission trip in the Dominican Republic.
We arrived last Friday, and have been serving in the name of Christ since our feet hit the ground. Our St. Patrick’s Day was spent leading a Kids Club for more than 200 children, including leading songs and Bible dramas. I continue to be proud of their servant-hearted love this week.
Our sophomore class is on a mission trip as well. They spent most of St. Patrick’s Day driving, and they arrived Sunday evening in New Orleans, LA for a week-long mission. They are staying in a local church, and will be serving in a rehab center, painting, doing basketball ministry, and serving in an after-school program – all while learning to share the gospel through word and deed.
One student with me here is Jeff Holley (12th grade). He has been at Hope since his sophomore year. I asked him what has been most meaningful about his time at Hope Academy. “Definitely the mission trips,” he says. As a sophomore, he served for a week in New Mexico.
Pray with me that Jeff, his classmates, chaperones, and the people we are serving alongside in the D.R. and New Orleans, would, like St. Patrick, turn with all our hearts to the Lord our God.
As we look forward to the coming of Easter, we will pray the same for you and those you serve.
An article profiling the surprising appearance of Hope Academy’s first State Tournament athlete, Ephraim Bird (cross country).
Read the entire article here.
Russ Gregg, Head of School
Our campaign to grow Hope Academy will enable us to serve more than 500 students with a God-centered education by 2017. As we have learned these last thirteen years, we are dependent on God working through you, our Partners.
So I want to convince you and encourage you today. First, I want to convince you that growing Hope Academy for inner city youth is more important than ever. And second, I want to encourage you that your compassion is making a difference in lives here.
First, why is growing Hope Academy more necessary now?
Child Poverty is on the Rise
According to the U.S. Cen- sus Bureau, child poverty rose 56% in Minnesota during the last decade. In 2010, one out of every ten Minnesotans lived below the federal poverty line —annual incomes of less than $22,050 a year for a family of four or $10,830 for a single adult.
More recent figures suggest that poverty rates have increased even more, especially within Minnesota’s communities of color: 24.4 percent for Latinos, 37.2 percent for African-Americans and 39.5 percent for American Indians (footnote: link).
And we know that economic forecasts are predicting that this rise in child poverty is not going to change soon.
Despair & Death Among Teens
Also, teenagers are dropping out of school in record num- bers, joining gangs, and killing one another. In the last thirty days, four teenagers have been murdered in this area.
Despairing over one of the murders, a local parent said, “This is a group of kids that isn’t even old enough to drink, drive, or pay rent. I just want all the violence to stop.”
The Phillips neighborhood saw a 41% spike in theft, and a 25% spike in homicide rates from last year to this year. (footnote: link)
The most compelling reason to grow Hope Academy, however, is the loss of truth in our schools.
“Harvard is a case study of how the greatest univer- sities have lost their educational souls at the same time as they have achieved dazzling excellence.”
In 2006, the former dean of Harvard, Dr. Harry Lewis, wrote an important book called, Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education. Lewis argues that true education is not the same thing as classroom teaching. He writes:
Over the years I have been at Harvard—nearly forty, if my student years are included—the quality of everything at the University has improved, except the most important thing. The students are smarter, the faculty more distinguished, even the pedagogy is better—but students are less challenged than ever to grow in wisdom and to become the responsible leaders on whom the fate of the nation will de- pend. Harvard is a case study of how the greatest universities have lost their educational souls at the same time as they have achieved dazzling excellence.
The great civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wrote similarly in his essay, “The Purpose Of Education”:
The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think in- tensively and to think critically. But educa- tion which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gift- ed with reason, but with no morals.We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education. A complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.
Students at Hope Academy learn not only how to read and write with excellence, but also that they are created in the image of God, and therefore subject to God. They discover not only who they are, but also that God has a great purpose for their lives and how to live their lives in order to bless others.
Growing in Compassion
Second, I want to encourage you in your compassion for inner city children these last thirteen years.
Compassion is a beautiful thing in a person’s life. As a matter of fact, it’s God-like. When God declared his name to Moses, He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 145:8). Compassion is God- like.
But how does God grow compassion? I think two things are required for compassion to flourish in a person’s life.
The first is a sense of God’s blessing and his call on every one of us to be a blessing to others. Four thousand years ago, God chose a pagan man, Abram, and his wife, Sara, to become his covenant people. In calling Abram, God told him how he would both bless him and also make him a blessing to others. In Genesis 12:1-3 we read,
The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you…I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
The second thing necessary for compassion to flourish in a person’s life is a sense of shared suffering.
Compassion is developed in our lives when suffering becomes personal. Many times it’s suffering in my own life or the life of someone close to me that helps me to empathize with the suffering of others.
But I can also be touched by the needs and challenges of a complete stranger.
The key, I think, is making it personal.
For those of you who are Partners, you are compassionate because of your sense of God’s blessing in your life, and because you have made the hardship of a student here intensely personal.
Hope Academy is only possible because of our “compassionate and gracious God” working through you.
In addition to thanking God for his work through you, would you join me in asking the Lord if he might grow
his compassion for inner city youth in the hearts of hun- dreds more?
By 2017, our Long-Range plan is to serve 160 more inner-city students—a total of 550—with a God-centered education. May God’s compassion spill over from our lives into others.
Should it be His will to achieve it, may God get all the glory.
Back row (L to R): Caleb Miller, Freddie Lawler, Merhawi Temnewo, Alex Marquez; Middle row (L to R): Ashley Klos, Giovanni Herrera, Alyssa Zink, Kelly Klos; Bottom row (L to R): Leah Ferguson, Jemimah Chaisuk, ChristiAnn Miller
Jemimah Sakhounna Dove Chaisuk
Japan, Meafahlaung University; English
“I would like to thank my parents for raising me up to be the woman I am today; my friends for being there for me; Jen and Josh for letting me come into their lives and instructing me in the way of the Lord; the teachers who cared and taught me so much. Most of all, for God who put me in this school and believes in me.”
Leah Emma Ferguson N***~
“I would like to thank my teachers for always making me do more work than I thought I needed to (or wanted to). Thank you to my family for always being encouraging and to my friends for being the best classmates I could ever hope for.”
Ashley Elizabeth Klos *
St. Catherine University
“I am thankful to my family who were there when I needed them. They have been there through all the school events and college applications. I wouldn’t be anywhere without them. I am grateful for all of the love and support they have given me.”
Kelly Ann Klos **
North Central University; Children and Family Ministries
“I would like to thank my family for pushing me to work hard at my schooling and for all the love they have shown me. I would like to thank my classmates for giving me the encouragement I needed to finish my schoolwork. I love my family and friends so much! I am thankful that they have encouraged me to seek God over everything. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.”
Freddie Rico Lawler Jr.
Crown College, United States Marine Corp Reserve
“I would like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Ziegler for inviting me into their home. My teachers for helping achieve my education in high school, my classmates and friends for helping me whenever I needed them and being part of my life, my coaches for helping my body during sports as well as my education in sports. And, my parents for loving me, taking care of me, teaching me with godly intentions, and putting up with me for 18 years. Last, but not least, is God. God, there are not enough words to say thank you for everything – and I mean EVERYTHING. But, for right now and forever, thank you. I love you all.”
Messiaen Alexander Marquez
Hennepin Technical College
“I would like to thank my teachers for all the knowledge that I learned. I appreciate their help. They showed me so many new things. I also want to thank my mentor group for helping me get ready for adulthood. And, I also thank God for life and the strength to finish high school, and pursue his future plan for me. I would like to thank my family for their love and support to finish high school. I love them so much, and I hope they will keep supporting me when I’m in college and on my own.”
Caleb John Miller
Hennepin Technical College
“I would like to thank all my teachers for not giving up on me and for all the time and work they put into me to help me graduate. Also I would like to thank Mr. Johnson and Mr. Brown for being my mentors. I have learned a lot from them, and they are my role models. I thank my parents for everything they have done for me. I love them so much. Without them I wouldn’t be here today.”
ChristiAnn Kate Miller
Bethel University; Nursing
“I would like to thank my parents for faithfully driving me to school everyday and for always being there and for supporting me. Also for adopting me 18 years ago. If not, I don’t know where I would be. I love you so much! Your daughter, ChristiAnn Kate Miller”
Giovanni Herrera Presteguin ~
Northwestern College; Criminal Justice
”I would first of all like to thank God for helping me through all that life has put me through. I also would like to thank my mom because she has always stuck by me no matter what. My teachers and my friends for making my high school experience one that I’ll never forget. I’m very thankful for everyone who has helped me through these hard times. I’m very grateful. Thanks again everyone, thank you mom, but most of all thank you God. May all the glory be yours.”
Merhawi Haile Temnewo * § +
North Central University; Business Administration
“First, I would like to thank God who brought me to America and made every thing possible for me to grow spiritually and academically. I also would like to thank God for giving me loving, caring, nurturing, beautiful parents. I am so thankful for everything they have done for me. I know that God will richly reward them.”
Alyssa Susan Zink *
United States Air Force
“I would like to thank my family for their unconditional support throughout my life, and having the patience, love, and commitment to raise me into the woman I am today – I know it wasn’t always easy. You guys mean everything to me, and a simple paragraph can’t even begin to express the gratitude and love I have for you guys. I’ll love you forever, Lyssi”
by Russ Gregg, Head of School
If you’ve ever ridden on the London Underground, you’ve heard the recorded message warning travelers getting on the train to “mind the gap”.
Here at Hope we are minding a very different gap-the achievement gap. But not all educators seem to mind.
Earlier this month I participated in a roundtable discussion coordinated by the Junior League of Minneapolis. The topic was how to close the achievement gap between white students and students of color, and I was one of four panelists-two of whom were public school educators.
After I defined the achievement gap, sharing that the size of the gap is larger in Minnesota than in any other state-I expected a substantive discussion on methods our respective schools are using to close the gap.
To my utter dismay, however, the other three panelists proceeded to deny that the achievement gap was a significant problem. I sat stunned as they explained away the poor test scores in a whole variety of ways, saying things like:
“Standardized tests only measure a very narrow kind of intelligence…”
“There are plenty of people who don’t test well, but who still end up being successful in life…”
“So many students are English Language learners, and so results on standardized tests are going to be low…”
This is my favorite-
“My students have so many issues outside of school, that they aren’t motivated to take the tests-they are really much smarter than how they test…”
I couldn’t help but feel pity for the students attending these schools, and I was convinced again of how vitally important our work is here at Hope Academy.
Here at Hope, standardized testing is important for holding teachers accountable, for demonstrating student mastery of academic content, and for targeting our interventions on students who are not making the grade.
By God’s grace, we are seeing amazing results in closing the achievement gap, with 97% of our high school students with 2+ years at Hope reading at or above grade level; and 88% of these same students performing at or above grade level in math.
The greatest evidence of closing the gap, however, are the post-graduation plans of our first class of seniors, who are graduating this spring. For many, they will be the first in their family to attend college. Here are just a few examples of their plans:
Merhawi Temnewo, for example, has received the $20,000 Horatio Alger Scholarship, and is receiving additional scholarship help to attend North Central University.
Giovanni Herrera has been offered a $40,000 scholarship to attend Concordia University (St. Paul), and hopes to receive a similar offer at Northwestern College, where he is accepted.
Leah Ferguson, a National Merit Finalist, has already been offered a full tuition scholarship to Cornell College (IA); and hopes to receive a full-ride offer from either Princeton or Dartmouth.
Alyssa Zink has been sworn in to the most selective military branch, the United States Air Force.
And all of our other seniors have been accepted at places like the College of St. Catherine’s (St. Paul), the University of Minnesota, Bethel University, Crown College, or Minneapolis Comm. & Technical College.
I am so grateful for your partnership in this important work of growing oaks of righteousness here in the inner city of Minneapolis.
One of you recently thanked me for being here in the front lines of the social justice movement in our country. All I could think to say was “right back at you.”
In our neighborhood, if you see a mob of youth walking down the street at night, your first inclination is to run for safety. You know that the kids could be part of a neighborhood gang.
Two Saturdays ago, one of our neighbors saw more than one hundred students walking down Chicago Avenue, headed toward downtown. But these inner city youth seemed different–they looked mature, not frightening. She didn’t know any of the kids, but her first thought was: “those kids must go to Hope.”
Sure enough, they do. And Hope is indeed a very different sort of “gang”.
What she saw was 104 of our middle and high school students walking back to Hope from the Minneapolis Convention Center, where they attended a Christian youth conference called “Acquire the Fire.”
While other gangs were getting into trouble, our Hope group spent the entire weekend listening to teaching, singing and worshipping together, praying for one another, and asking for forgiveness.
At assembly this past week, I had the privilege of hearing our students share their experiences from the weekend. One by one, students stood before their classmates and shared what God had begun to do in their lives. Over the course of two hours, nearly every single student shared–including 25 of our high school boys.
Here is just a sampling of the things they shared:
- “It felt like God did surgery inside my heart…”
- “I had an experience with God…”
- “God showed me that I am a sinner, and I gave my life to Christ…”
- “All the anger I had at people just melted away…”
- “I struggle with sexual sin, and God is showing me that he can help me focus on what is good and pure…”
- “I broke down in tears on Saturday night. Everyone I saw that I have hurt, I felt disgusted and started breaking down and crying and asking for forgiveness…”
- “God finally got my attention-I was heading down the wrong path for so long, but now I know I can turn around and head down the right path…”
Near the end of the time, an 11th grade boy–one of the school’s spiritual leaders–shared some words to encourage everyone. He concluded with this:
“God has touched our hearts-but we need to keep on like this. We can’t be fooled and go back to living by the pattern of the world. We can fight by the power of the Spirit. We have learned that we have the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead. If we have the Spirit of Christ, we will always win over the power of sin and the devil. I just encourage each and every one of you to be real with each other, and to encourage one another in the Lord.”
Thank the Lord with me for what he is doing in the hearts of our students. Know that because of your faithful prayers and generous giving, you are helping raise up a “gang” of a very different sort–a band of brothers and sisters, united by love and forgiveness, ready to serve one another and their neighbors.
Russ Gregg, Head of School
Often I get asked the question, “You are so successful at teaching inner city kids at Hope, couldn’t you remove the spiritual component of what you do and multiply Hope as a movement of government-funded charter schools?”
I asked myself the same question with the release of Waiting for Superman, a film that documents the heart-wrenching failure of our public school system to serve our nation’s most vulnerable: inner city youth.
The question the film invites viewers to ask is, where will change come from?
The film points to education reformers and privately-run, publicly funded, non-union charter schools as the central answer.
Moviegoers may be persuaded, but I’m still unconvinced.
While there is certainly a place for successful charter schools, inner city children need something more.
In fact, recent research in Minneapolis indicates that charter schools perform the same or slightly worse than their larger, public school counterparts. (For example, see the report “Failed Promises: Assessing Charter Schools in the Twin Cities” by the U of M’s Institute on Race and Poverty. Available at http://www.irpumn.org).
Kingdom School Culture
While Hope has certain surface-level similarities to charter schools (school uniforms, small classes, non-union, etc.), there are extraordinary differences.
Kristin Johnson has taught first grade at Hope for five years. She used to teach in a Minneapolis charter school.
“There’s so much more depth to teaching at Hope,” she says.
“Teaching at a charter school felt shallow. I wasn’t allowed to point kids to an ultimate reality, purpose, and reason for their learning.”
Other educators notice too. Recently, I was leading five experienced teachers on a tour. Functioning like a special operations task force, these teachers have worked in scores of public and non-public schools throughout the Twin Cities. Take my word for it; these teachers know schools.
After about twenty minutes of walking the hallways and visiting classrooms, one of the teachers turned to the others and said, “This place has such a great vibe!”
The others all nodded their heads in agreement, and another of the teachers said, “The school culture here is amazing! I love the spirit in this place.”
Of course, you and I know what they were sensing. Don’t we?
What they meant was, “I love the Holy Spirit in this place. The Kingdom culture here is amazing.”
Holy Spirit Education
The simple answer to the charter school question is that Hope Academy couldn’t do all the good that we’re doing apart from the Holy Spirit.
Let me give you four examples of what I mean:
First, it’s only with the Holy Spirit that we can empower students to “turn the other cheek” when they are sinned against (Matthew 5:38-40).
One of our new high school boys is struggling to learn how to overlook an offense.
He’s learned elsewhere to threaten violence when sinned against, but at Hope we can teach him how to look to God for the power to forgive others and become a peacemaker.
Second, it’s only with the Holy Spirit that we can teach our students to make the vital connection that their teachers are appointed by God to serve them.
So when Hope students “listen and obey the first time” they are not only respecting their teachers, they are also honoring and obeying God. And God promises great blessing to all who honor Him.
Third, it’s only with the Holy Spirit that we can remind our students that our God is a God of justice who will defend the weak against the strong.
Therefore, we are empowered to teach students not to use their strength to bully the weak but to come to their aid to defend and protect them.
Fourth, it’s only with the Holy Spirit that we can teach students that their intellect, gifts, and talents are gifts from God. Students come to see themselves as stewards of His gifts, called to develop them and use them with excellence to the glory of God.
Of course, this kind of school culture produces academic excellence, but it does much, much more than that.
Most importantly, our prayer is that it will produce oaks of righteousness (Isaiah 61:3b), students who grow in wisdom, and stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).
Affordable for All
This kind of education is costly, which is why it is usually only found in wealthier suburban communities.
Despite the cost, I believe more than ever that public funding would effectively quench the Holy Spirit education that God has called us to provide for inner city families. As it is often said, with government shekels come government shackles.
Our financial partners, though, are doing the unthinkable. They are making Holy Spirit education affordable to all the youth of the inner city—an education that would otherwise be unaffordable for nearly all of our families.
I encourage you to go see Waiting for Superman and to weep with me at the state of our nation’s educational system. It is certainly a powerful film.
While you watch, however, remember that true change in the inner city requires much more than just charter schools and publicly-funded education reform.
True change begins in the hearts of students and parents. I only know one real Superman who can change the human heart: God. In a Christ-centered school like Hope, we have the great privilege to educate students to live for Him.
Each day, we as a community of staff and parents pray that God would send his Holy Spirit to help our students forgive others, honor authority, defend the defenseless, and see their gifts as God’s gifts.
Would you join with me in waiting on God to give true hope to more youth and families here in the inner city?
He is the only Superman truly worth waiting for.
by Russ Gregg, Head of School
Often I hear people mistake Hope Academy for a charter school. Hope is not a charter school for good reason.
Charter schools are merely another variety of public school. They receive all their funding from the government and are subject to most of the same rules and restrictions of government schools.
Not surprisingly, research has shown that charter schools, in general, perform the same or slightly worse than their larger, public school counterparts.
For inner-city students, that means more catastrophic failure. It’s like reshuffling the same hand of cards—different order, similar results.
Inner-city children cannot afford more educational failure dressed up in a new disguise. They need a radically different approach that only an independent school can provide: one that is free to teach the whole person—body, mind, and spirit.
Our laws currently prohibit devoting public funds to supporting faith-based schools. MN Statute 124D.10 Sub. 8 (c) says, “A charter school must be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices, and all other operations.”
It’s only fair that he who takes the king’s coin is the king’s man. Today, secular humanism is king in our society and our public schools. This has contributed to a downward spiral of disrespect and defiance of authority in schools that has made many students virtually unteachable.
In contrast, the Bible teaches us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Respect and honor of God is the foundation for all learning. That’s why I never grow tired of declaring, “The hope of Hope Academy is God.”
Our country’s greatness does not spring from our government’s benevolence, but from a citizenry that values liberty, initiative and enterprise. One liberty many desire, even those considered ‘poor’, is to educate their kids in the ways of God.
The Trustees of Hope Academy believe this liberty is more necessary than ever today in light of the growth of a contrary philosophy based on government paternalism.
Affirming our independence and resisting subsidization of our affairs by the Federal government, we acknowledge that failure is a possibility.
However, the Trustees place their trust in God and in the dedication and generosity of friends who share their vision.
With God’s help and your continuing efforts, we are confident that we can continue to provide inner-city young men and women with “a remarkable, God-centered education.”
Marlene Thomseth first heard about Hope Academy when she was living in a transitional home for women coming out of addiction.
“I had just gotten out of jail, and had just been reunited with my son, Treyton,” she says.
In his preschool, she says, Treyton was really struggling.
“He was so out of control,” she says, “that they had to hire a personal assistant.”
When it was time to choose a kindergarten, a worker from the transitional home mentioned Hope Academy. At the time, Marlene didn’t have much hope.
She remembers her first Saturday School when Mr. Gregg talked about reading to his children every night at dinner, and not watching TV.
“I’ve been reading with Treyton every day since. And we don’t watch TV anymore,” Marlene says.
Now in his second year at Hope, Treyton is thriving. He is doing well academically, and is excelling in our “Strings of Hope” suzuki violin program.
Treyton is not the only one blessed by the ministry of Hope Academy.
“Hope has completely changed my life too,” Marlene says.
Because of relationships formed through a Bible study at Hope, Marlene has found a good job, has dedicated her life to Christ, and has mature Christian friends.
With tears Marlene says, “I’m so grateful for how the Lord has used Hope Academy in my family’s life.”