Hillcrest Recognized at Top 16 Place in Fergus Falls

Last week Admissions Director Wayne Stender sat down with a reporter from the Daily Journal. The local newspaper recognized Hillcrest as a top 16 place in the area. The following article is adapted from the Daily Journal article. The article was originally written by Briana Sanchez. It has been adapted for this journal to correct historical aspects of the story:

Hillcrest Lutheran Academy has a century of history in the books and, according to Wayne Stender, Director of Enrollment, the school isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Hillcrest Lutheran Academy lands at No. 16 on the Daily Journal’s list of the Top 25 favorite places in Fergus Falls.

The school started in Wahpeton, North Dakota in 1916 and later moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota. The Church of the Lutheran Brethren bought Park Region Luther College in July of 1935 to house the education wing of the synod.

Park Region completed a $67,000 renovation on the building in the 1920s, but fell on financial hard times during the Depression and sold the school building to the Church of the Lutheran Brethren for a mere $26,000.

Stender said that the Church of the Lutheran Brethren used the newly purchased school for Bible school, seminary, and high school classes when they first bought it. “The Church of the Lutheran Brethren owns Hillcrest Academy and the Lutheran Brethren Seminary. We are now subsidiary organizations under the Church of the Lutheran Brethren,” Stender said. He noted that the two schools have expanded their ministries to the point where they must have their own boards to manage their specific foci. 

“At the time when they bought it there were under 30 churches in the entire United States that funded the Church of the Lutheran Brethren. When they bought this (the former Park Region building) they were essentially serving 20 churches for this boarding school,” said Stender.

The Church of the Lutheran Brethren was established in the mid-1800s with a goal to fund foreign missions around the world. “In due time, they created a Bible school and seminary to train people to do that,” Stender said.

The high school department, now known as Hillcrest Academy, emerged in 1916. The mission of Hillcrest Lutheran Academy is the same today as it was when the church body was created. It is a place for high school students to think through matters of faith while receiving a high school college preparatory education. When the school was founded there was an emphasis on attracting what the leadership called, “good moral students.” Stender noted that that same tenor is present today. “It isn’t a reform school. We are not taking in troubled teens or teens that have severe developmental issues. Really we are a discipleship training school.”

In 2016 there were 215 students enrolled at HLA. Half of those students were dormitory students and the other half were local students. Tuition is roughly $21,000 a year for international students and roughly $9,000 a year for local students. Stender noted that Hillcrest is one of the most affordable boarding schools in the nation. “Most schools we compete with cost anywhere from $20,000-35,000 for domestic students. We're at $16,000 for dorm students.”

Hillcrest receives nearly all of it’s funding from private donors. “Because we have local students who pay taxes we are entitled to some services from the state.” Stender said. “Basically we receive some state sanctioned text books and have funding for a few employees.” However, Stender explained that the costs in operating the boarding school and enhancing the campus are covered through private donations. He noted that over the past decade the school received roughly $10 to $15 million in private donations through alumni and the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.

“We’re still using a 100-year-old building, and we’re not going to stop. There is no need to stop. Everything is working. We are making renovations as we go along.”

Recent additions to the school include a new gymnasium, an updated classroom section, and a student union and new cafeteria.

Hillcrest differs from public schools in the teaching of religion. Stender noted that faith is introduced into every subject at Hillcrest Academy. He said that Hillcrest’s approach combats what he calls relativism that he believes is in the public school. “We’ve lost this sense of logic and reason, basing something on some time tested truth or reality, and in that we’ve lost this sense of virtues.”

Stender said that Hillcrest’s curriculum is based on what he called, “The Three C’s.” Stender said that the C’s are the cornerstones of learning; consistency, coherency and completeness.

“When you look at the world and say, ‘Oh, it is all an accident’ that does not follow logic. When you look at the world you have to say there is order, and there is organization. You don’t look at Mount Rushmore and say, ‘wow, look what millions of years of wind, rain, and erosion did.’” Stender went on to explain that he believes the world has order and if there is order there is someone or something that placed it into order. The world has consistency, is able to be understood, and has laws that are true around the world. It's the three c's, according to Stender.

When asked how students are impacted by Hillcrest’s approach, Stender said he is hearing that graduates have a better sense of who they are. He said students leave the high school more confident.

“If no one created you, and you’re an accident, there is a lot of identity you have to build. You don’t build identity yourself. Even your name does not come from within you. Someone gives that to you. Any identity or sense of belonging needs to come from something besides yourself, logically. If God created the world, God created mankind, and according to the Bible, mankind is made in God's image. Students have a better sense of identity with this teaching.”

Stender also said that the school uses some secular curriculum in their classrooms because they are not afraid of secular ideas. He said instructors will use the three C’s to test the textbooks.

The school receives accreditation from MNSAA, the Minnesota Nonpublic School Accrediting Association. Every seven years representatives from MNSAA visit Hillcrest for a thorough, in person evaluation of the school.

As the school has grown it has increased its international population. Stender pointed out that Hillcrest has a distinct Christian perspective of this as well. He noted that the school’s main goal is to create an intercultural student body, as opposed to a multicultural group.

“Multicultural says everyone is their own culture and you continue to operate in that,” Stender said, highlighting that in some boarding schools international students create boroughs in the dormitory and don’t integrate into the student body. “At Hillcrest, we aim to make it intercultural. So every student has a roommate from a different country.” Stender said that international students are more often than not very pleased with their experience at Hillcrest because they’re not held out as a special class, but are naturally a part of the student body.

“We believe everyone is made in the image of God. Everyone has the same originator. There is a difference in how they have grown up, but everyone has value because we are all made in the image of God.”