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.

410 Students; Prayer & Praises for 2014-2015

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.

PRAISE
 
> For 410 students starting school at Hope Academy!

> 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 >>
PRAYER
 
>> STUDENTS, FAMILIES, & STAFF >> Be in prayer for our students and families, especially those in difficult circumstances; & our teachers & Family Ministry staff and volunteers, and Emerge Mothers Academy coming alongside our families. Learn more here >>  
 
>> ALUMNI >> For our 39 alumni, with more than 30 of them still enrolled in a 2- or 4-year school. Read about them here >>.
 
>> GIVING >> For Partners for 53 of our new Students. Learn more about Sponsoring a Student here >>.
 
>> VOLUNTEERS >> For volunteers for our various volunteer opportunities, lncluding Mentors for Mentors for Hope. Learn more here >>.
 

 

RSVP

 

>> PARTNER DAY >> We can’t wait to have you join us for Partner Day on Thursday, Sept. 25 from 11am-1pmPlease RSVP to Dan Olson at dolson@hopeschool.org or 612-721-6294 ext. 106.
Grateful for your partnership in the gospel,

Russ's signature 

Russ Gregg

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 dolson@hopeschool.org.

 

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 dolson@hopeschool.org.

(5.6.14) Dr. Ben Carson Speaks at Hope Academy

Dr. Ben Carson’s life story has been an inspiration to our work at Hope Academy since the very beginning. Dr. Carson grew up in a rough neighborhood of Detroit, and his parents divorced at an early age. His mother couldn’t read. With a deep faith in the Lord, though, Dr. Carson persevered in school and beyond, eventually becoming the director of pediatric neurosurgery of Johns Hopkins Hospital at the age of 33. He is credited with being the first surgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the head.
Dr. Carson, now retired from medicine, spoke to a packed house at Hope Academy at an all-school assembly from 3:40-4:15pm, Tuesday, May 6. In addition to our entire student body, approximately 150 parents and guests were in attendance.

On Mission Like St. Patrick

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.