"ASPIRE: A New Idea Sparks Change"
Judy Klein | Communications | April 1, 2022
It was 1872 when Goodloe Harper Bell came to Battle Creek Sanitarium to recover from an illness. During his stay at the sanitarium, he began tutoring some of the local children. It went well—and from there, he opened a one-room school. Adventist Education had come to Michigan. That one-room school in Battle Creek was the first Seventh-day Adventist school.
From these humble beginnings which, like the rest of Adventism, have deep roots in Michigan, Adventist Education has grown to become the largest protestant educational system in the world.
Michigan—where Adventist history is as abundant as pine trees, where early reformations took place, where education was originally one room schoolhouses and scattered tutors—has come a long way from those early days. We can only praise the Lord for His blessings, for without Him, all that we have would be nothing.
Michigan’s Adventist Education system has grown to an organization with 35 diverse schools. Some have just one room and one teacher, others are multi-teacher organizations. Our conference is also home to one boarding academy and three senior day academies.
Although there has been a decline in numbers over the past decades, K-12 enrollment in Michigan stands at 1,500 children, with about 100 teachers conference wide.
Michigan Conference Superintendent of Education Jeremy Hall reports that for the past couple of years, enrollment has dropped across the state. When the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the world and forced everything—including school—to go online, Hall and his team knew that something had to be done. “You don’t waste a crisis,” Hall says.
The COVID-19 crisis was a blessing in disguise because it propelled the Education team to think outside of the box. “Our enrollment numbers were calling us to do something different,” Hall says. It was out of this crisis that ASPIRE (Adventist School Preparing Instilling and Redeeming for Eternity) was born.
ASPIRE is an online synchronous school room, for grades 1-10. The program process began late, in Spring 2020, but the same God who saved a thief dying on a cross is not restricted by 11th hour planning. Two full-time teachers were hired and they kicked off the school year with eighteen students between grades 1-8.
According to Hall, this school year growth is up by 118%, with ASPIRE’s enrollment at 56 students, two more full-time teachers and an expansion to ten grades.
ASPIRE’s successful first school year was not a sign for Hall and his team to sit back and say they had done enough. They plowed forward in faith, instead. With approval from the Michigan Conference president and the Lake Union, they expanded the grades. ASPIRE now teaches grades one through ten. Of the 56 students, 18 are enrolled in high school.
But the Education Department isn’t planning to stop here. As they work with the Lake Union and the North American Division, they wish to add 11th grade next year, in the hope that within two years, they can become a senior academy, serving grades one through twelve. Hall says there is a demand for ASPIRE to become a senior academy, as the tenth graders of this year would like to continue with ASPIRE next year and the year following as well. There are other families not currently enrolled in ASPIRE who have also expressed interest.
ASPIRE has aided in preventing other Adventist schools from shutting down. In the fall of 2020, the Pine Mountain Adventist school was struggling. They had lost a teacher due to a medical issue, and without the teacher, the school would have been forced to close had it not been for ASPIRE. All the students would have most likely gone to a nearby public school.
ASPIRE was there to help. Ben Zork, ASPIRE principal, and the Education team worked together to hire two facilitators. Six students enrolled and the facilitators and Zork ran an ASPIRE satellite.
The children came to the school building every day, logged onto their Chromebooks, and did school as normal, except their teacher was online. The facilitators assisted with technical issues and kept the children on task. The best part? “All six students,” says Hall, “were from a non-Adventist home.”
Stop and think about that. Without ASPIRE, those students would have gone to a public school. But with ASPIRE, the six non-Adventist students were given a chance to see Jesus through Adventist Education.
That’s what Adventist Education is all about: leading students to the foot of the cross. “The work of evangelism has to happen in the classroom,” says Hall. Without this, Adventist Education is not successful.
ASPIRE has already seen the fruit of her labor. One student who lived over an hour and a half from the nearest Adventist school was able to receive Adventist education through ASPIRE, and was baptized as a result.
And as for Pine Mountain, ASPIRE “bridged the gap,” says Hall, “it kept the school running.” Pine Mountain is running as usual this year, with fifteen students—over a 100% increase in enrollment, thanks to ASPIRE!
That, truly, is the blessing of ASPIRE. You can be anywhere and still have access to Adventist Education. “ASPIRE is pulling students out of the public schools,” Hall says. This new program could help reverse students from leaving Adventist education and going to the public schools.
Alex Winkler, an ASPIRE student, says he enjoys the “ASPIRE experience [because] is it a community of people. We get to communicate and talk to each other,” he says. “If we don’t understand something, we are able to ask the teacher or our classmates for help.” When thinking about ASPIRE, it is important to understand that this a live classroom, just like any other classroom, except it’s online.
Alex’s parents, David and Serena, share their son’s appreciation for ASPIRE. “The ASPIRE program [provides] an Adventist online classroom experience that still receives some of the benefits of in-person Michigan Conference youth and education programs. We love that…our son is receiving Bible-based instruction and is still able to build friendships and interact with like-minded Christian young people.” It is indeed a different set up, but ASPIRE is providing the essentials--the essentials that every other Adventist school supplies.
These essentials are, simply, bringing students to the foot of the cross, training young people in the message and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and equipping young people to take the message to a dying world.
ASPIRE is in its second year of operation and has grown from 18 students to 56. It has expanded its grade range by two years and would like to continue expanding in the years to come. None of this would be possible without the Lord’s guidance.
Sometimes doing the same thing for years works. Sometimes things need to be revised or modified. ASPIRE’s story is an inspiration for us. Perhaps we have things in our lives that we have held on to for too long. Let’s examine ourselves and see if there is anything the Lord may want us to change.