"Lessons for Eternity"
October 1, 2022 | Samuel Girven | Cadillac
It is nearly impossible to discuss Adventist Education without acknowledging its rich history. The first Seventh-day Adventist School was founded in 1872 by Goodloe Harper Bell at a small house behind the Review and Herald in Battle Creek, Michigan. That school—now Battle Creek Academy—set into motion what would become the largest protestant parochial school system, with a total of 6,966 educational institutions and over 1.3 million students worldwide. In Michigan alone, Adventist education comprises 31 schools and over 1,500 students.
But while the history of Adventist Education is rich, the philosophy behind it is more profound. “Adventist Education should be part of a three-legged stool,” says Jeremy Hall, Superintendent of Schools for the Michigan Conference. “It’s the home, church, and school, working together to help create a firm foundation for students to be raised to know Jesus as their personal Savior and be equipped to share that love with other people.” The Michigan Conference Board of Education has taken a distinct position in applying this philosophical approach in something that Hall describes as “the three keys to success in Adventist Education.”
The Three Keys
The first key is bringing young people to the foot of the cross. “That means every teacher is an evangelist. I tell my teachers, ‘You teach math and spelling on the side. Your main goal is to reach a young person for the cause of Christ, and to model the love of Jesus to them beyond worships and Bible classes,’” Hall explained.
The second key is quality at all levels. “We don’t need to have the greatest buildings and the latest computers,” Hall continues, “but what we do has to be done at a high level of quality. We must communicate effectively, have great customer service, top-notch academics, and professional decorum in everything that we do.”
The third key is training our students in the message and mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. “Our young people need to be in the laboratory of Christianity. We give them a lot of theoretical knowledge of what it means to be an Adventist; but just like chemistry class has a laboratory to prove the theoretical information that we teach in the classroom, we’ve got to make sure that we have practical opportunities for young people to have proof that Christianity is real.”
Adventist Education has borne fruit for participating families in a multitude of ways, including socially, academically, and spiritually. “One of the things that Adventist Education has done is create lifelong friendships, and potentially provide a spouse that has the same beliefs as you,” Hall said. “In addition, he continued, “Adventist Education has done a phenomenal job of creating opportunities. I’ve never seen someone say, ‘I want to be a brain surgeon, but I went to Adventist schools my whole life.’”
Adventist Education has also resulted in many baptisms. “At our last quinquennial session, there were over 400 baptisms associated with students being in Adventist schools over that five-year period. Our LIFT (Lifestyle Improvement for Teens) event is the result of at least 60 baptisms every year,” Hall said.
He believes that some results are yet to be seen. “It’s only until we get to heaven that we’ll be able to see the impact that Adventist Education had on people,” he said. “It lingers with you.”
By the Numbers
Over the past several years, Adventist Education in Michigan has experienced some setbacks. Since 2013, nine schools have closed. In addition, Michigan has experienced a net loss of over 500 students in its elementary and secondary schools. “As a department, we’re looking at this and saying, ‘This is a major problem.’” said Hall. “Seventy-eight percent of Michigan Conference Adventists are over the age of 40. Only 17 percent of Michigan Adventists are between the age of 20 and 40. Older people don’t have kids. Because of that, we’ve been seeing our school enrollments shrinking.”
Hall says that another factor that has led to the statistical decrease in enrollment is the multitude of educational options and a significant homeschool trend in Michigan. The COVID-19 pandemic also contributed to the loss of students. “Through COVID, we saw our enrollment drop by about 175 students. This past year, we gained back a significant amount—almost back to pre-COVID numbers. We’re anticipating that families might start coming out of public school, not liking what they’re seeing in society, and joining our schools.”
Needs are Provided During Challenging Hiring Season
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, some 300,000 teachers and other staff left the education field between February 2020 and May 2022, a nearly 3 percent drop in the workforce. In addition, nearly 8 percent of teachers leave the workforce every year. Finding teachers to fill open positions has become increasingly difficult across the nation. “At one point there were 350 education openings in the North American Division (NAD), which is unprecedented. Even before COVID, teacher prep education programs were seeing a drop in enrollment, which means that young people aren’t as interested in teaching,” said Hall. “The fact that we have the teachers that we have now is just a straight-up miracle.”
The Michigan Conference welcomed 15 new teachers this year, and miraculously, every opening is accounted for. For some schools, this meant that their position were filled. Others are managing with a smaller staff or becoming an A.S.P.I.R.E satellite. The Michigan Conference welcomed 15 new teachers this year.
At Teacher’s Convention in August, the education department unveiled several new initiatives, including plans to transition to a four-day week and standards-based learning.
Hall says that the change to a four-day week will greatly benefit teachers, while also helping students. Students are at the heart of learning. But the teacher is the most important conduit. Fifty-eight percent of our workforce said that their biggest stressor was time. Teachers are burning out. After researching what they could do to help, and in consultation with administration, including input from principals and a teacher-principal focus group, the department proposed the concept of a four-day school week to the Board of Education. After careful review and additional research, it was determined that the four-day concept could be an option that local schools might adopt, with guidance and input from the various constituent entities, including families, as an important part of the process.
This concept is being piloted for the 2023-2024 school year and will be evaluated based upon multiple factors, one being the impact it has upon standardized test scores.
Standards-based learning is another major initiative that will be introduced to the teachers as a philosophical pivot in learning and instructional methods. The North American Division (NAD) has developed methods that teachers can use to combine subjects and teach students more efficiently. “Standards-based learning is a philosophical shift that is showing us how we can create efficiencies, cross-curricular strategies, and build in efficiencies that we hope will help teachers and students,” Hall said. Standards-based learning also enables teachers to help students understand the content they’re struggling with while engaging students who have demonstrated an understanding of the subject.
Other initiatives are also on the horizon. Administrators are exploring ways that Adventist Education in Michigan can relate to special needs, such as mental health. A.S.P.I.R.E Academy, a virtual Adventist academy, is also projected to continue to grow and flourish. Hall says the Education department would like to revisit a prior project that demonstrated the three keys to Adventist Education in an easy-to-understand way.
In addition, Hall says that he hopes to attract more teachers to the Michigan Conference through a commitment to the evangelistic mindset of Adventist Education. He says, “I think that if we are distinct about the mission that God has given us, from an evangelistic standpoint, available teachers that feel the call of God in their heart for that type of experience will come to us and join our team.”