A place for longer education reflections and position pieces, generally titled Thoughts of Hope.

BECAUSE HE FIRST LOVED US

By Kevin Farmer

When I think back on my elementary years, one event that brings back both fond and disappointing memories is Valentine’s Day.

I attended a small, Catholic, school in Philadelphia, PA, and every year there seemed to be a competition around who would receive the most Valentines.

As you can imagine, this created a host of problems. The popular kids got showered in candy and cards, while quieter kids with less friends only received a few. It appeared as though Valentine’s cards were reserved for those with the most “friend value.”

This behavior created a divide in our class. Those with the most cards saw themselves as super loved and important. They were the chosen ones. Those with less, felt unappreciated and somehow less special than their peers.

Sadly, these same thoughts are still prevalent today. Many students (and even adults) believe that their personal value is achieved by receiving gifts or affirmation from others.

But…

The good news is we can be set free from this way of thinking! We are each uniquely loved and valued by God. We don’t have to wait for a Valentine’s Card to know that God loves us – He does so generously and has since the beginning of time.

In fact, God loved us so much, He didn’t allow our sinfulness to keep us from being united with Him. In the book of Romans chapter 5, verse 8 we read these words;

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

So, what’s our response? Our response is to love God with everything that we have! Our response is do what God instructs us to do. Our response is to love others in the same way that God loves us.

So, help your children know that there is a love that is greater than any Valentine’s Day card! Help them to know that God loves them, that He values them and that they’re not alone. And then partner with them to extend that love to family, friends, and even to strangers.

Because that’s exactly what God did for us.

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Hispanic Heritage Month

From Garbage Dumps to Graduation: An Amazing Story of God’s Handiwork

[aesop_parallax img=”http://nateanderson.us/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/KAT_2218.jpg” parallaxbg=”off” caption=”“Ten years ago, I was digging through garbage dumps for food. Today, I’m on my way to
college.”” captionposition=”bottom-left” lightbox=”on” floater=”on” floaterposition=”left” floaterdirection=”down”]

[aesop_image imgwidth=”175px” img=”http://nateanderson.us/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/IMG_1807a.jpg” offset=”20px” align=”left” lightbox=”on” caption=”“Knowing that God has given me this talent has helped me to glorify Him instead of myself.”” captionposition=”left”]
“Ten years ago, I was digging through garbage dumps for food. Today, I’m on my way to college. I stand before you now as a living testimony of God’s amazing handiwork,” shared Ephraim Bird in his Hope Academy graduation address.

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.

 

 

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“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.”

 

[aesop_image imgwidth=”150px” img=”http://nateanderson.us/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/156-Efrem-Hagos.jpg” align=”left” lightbox=”on” caption=”“Everything was new for me. I didn’t know any English. The culture, the people, everything was totally different.”” captionposition=”left”]

 

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.”

[aesop_parallax img=”http://nateanderson.us/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ephraim-Senior-Photo-1.jpg” parallaxbg=”off” caption=”“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.”” captionposition=”bottom-left” lightbox=”on” floater=”on” floaterposition=”left” floaterdirection=”up”]

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].”

[aesop_parallax img=”http://nateanderson.us/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/KAT_2212.jpg” parallaxbg=”off” caption=”Ephraim and his father, Jeff” captionposition=”bottom-left” lightbox=”on” floater=”on” floaterposition=”left” floaterdirection=”up”]

Black Lives Matter at Hope Academy

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.

-Russ Gregg
Head of School

A Stable Miracle & Giving at Christmas

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.

Character, Poverty, Health & The Gospel

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.

A Window Into Remarkable Teaching

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.

Thank you.