Students Lead Students in Spiritual Formations Groups
huddle study.jpg

You can hear their singing down the hall on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays. The doors to the chapel are propped a bit. That's where the sound escapes and rushes down the hallways. It’s a movement of the Spirit of God that is gracing Hillcrest three times per week before school begins.

The group is a sample of students at Hillcrest who are earnestly seeking the Lord. They come from Norway, Africa, Asia, and throughout the United States. For this year they are banding together as they grow in knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. They are finding purpose in Hillcrest’s program, namely the Huddle Groups.

“What are some temptations in your life? How do you respond to them?” A group of students look at the ground in thought. The leader leans in. He was in the chapel earlier this morning praying and singing with other students. Now he is leading a huddle group through a study on knowledge and self-control.

If you sat near this group earlier you could’ve heard them reading Luke 4. It might have been difficult to hear, because there were nine other groups following the lesson nearly in unison.

A few students were taking notes on the questions. The leader called it a story board. In the middle of the sheet of paper was a hexagon that held the theme verses for the study, “Add to goodness knowledge, and to knowledge self-control.” The story board filled-in with definitions of knowledge and self-control. Concepts from Proverbs 1:7, 1 Corinthians 9:25, and James 3:17 were scribbled on the left hand side of the sheet. The story board acted like a funnel for the studies. Guidance from the Bible shaped answers for the opening questions. The final round of inquiry for the study had the ten groups in the Chapel sitting in silence.

“What are some of the temptations you struggle with?” Some students wrote feverishly. Others sat in thoughtful silence.

The quietness broke in the final two questions. “What is something you learned in Today’s lesson that can help you when you are tempted?” Some groups asked each person to contribute. Other groups directed students to write their responses.

In closing their time together the groups folded their hands. Prayers from the leaders hung in the air as the group closed out the study. Huddle groups have met nearly every month at Hillcrest. They are focused spiritual formations groups, led by student leaders, guided by Hillcrest’s Chapel Coordinator, driving students to practice meeting together in focused Bible study and prayer.

Wayne StenderComment
Comets Soar in First Math Competition - Set Bar for Area Schools

Hillcrest launched a competitive math team after a student researched the competitions. A few meetings followed with Hillcrest’s guidance counselor, Principal Isaac, and the math department at Hillcrest. After registering for the competitions with the Minnesota State High School Leauge (MSHSL), Hillcrest ventured to their first competition, excited to see how they stacked up against the competition.

The group of seventeen students nervously took their individual test. Concepts from Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, and Calculus had students running fingers through hair as they focused on solving the complex problems. Hillcrest’s approach to mathematics is different than some schools, and even some of the background of their own students who transferred in this year.

Earlier in the year a handful of students commented on how difficult it was to use a pencil and paper in math class. Math classes in their former schools used computers or iPads to help chart paths on a graph and calculate large sums. One student commented on how Hillcrest’s approach is stretching him to work out sums in a sequenced pattern. Previously he was able to simply plug in numbers and formulas into a computer, but at Hillcrest he walks step-by-step through problems, learning the form and function of each sequence along the way. The approach is paying dividends for the math team.

Seven schools make up the competition field in Section 6A for the MSHSL. After completing a personal test scores are posted for teams to review. Hillcrest students crowded around the board, reviewing their standings. The hype that normally would follow a Final Four Basketball Tournament bracket in the United States transferred to the Hillcrest students around the results board. They started to plot their course to success, excited to see their names and their school in a high placing before the start of the team round.

After the team round Hillcrest found themselves leading the pack. Their scores fell ten points below the top school in the division above them. Divisions are broken down by number of students in the school. Hillcrest’s 182 person student body fared well against the next division, that boasted over 1200 students.

Hillcrest is leading Section 6A standings, having won the first meet on Nov. 6. The seventeen students returned to campus excited to begin practicing for their next meet, having scored first place with little to no formal practice prior to the competition. The first place finish reveals some of the ways Hillcrest students are striving for excellence in the classroom as they continue to build faith, develop intellect, and strengthen character at Hillcrest Academy.

Wayne StenderComment
Comets Leap Frog East Grand Forks to Earn Second Seed in 9-2 Win

Hillcrest found a greater path in the playoffs Monday after beating East Grand Forks (EGF) in a slippery match. With rain falling the Comets quickly jumped out to a lead and displayed greater will to be the second seed entering playoffs on Saturday.

Iver Honningdal put the Comets up early, stealing a ball in the seventh minute at midfield. He lofted a pass over the defense to find Eirik Primavera, who quickly put the ball in the net. With the Comets up 1-0 Hillcrest forced pressure at midfield. When EGF crossed the line into Comet territory there were a rush of midfield players who descended, forcing EGF back to defense. Hillcrest found success in this style, with Honningdal and Primavera both earning goals before the fifteenth minute of the game.

Hillcrest was up 3-0 when Primavera earned his hat trick. A volley from midfield by Fluge found Primavera who one-timed the pass into the net at the sixteenth minute. The next eight minutes had the ball nearly sitting on the EGF side with the Comets working to strike, finding little room for shots as EGF started filling the box with defenders.

To combat this, Hillcrest started to attack from outside the box. Senior Tri-Captain Nick Foss received the ball at midfield, dribbled through two defenders before reaching the wall of EGF defenders. After a touch pass from Primavera, Foss placed a strike on the net from outside the box. The ball darted through the defensive line and found the EGF goalie in front of the net who couldn’t handle the strike as the ball deflected off his hands and into the net.

Primavera scored again at the 31st minute, and EGF answered with an attack up the right side of the field to send the Comets into halftime up 6-1. The weight of the game settled into the Comet’s mind, who were conscious about finishing the game well, knowing they were likely seeded behind EGF for the upcoming playoffs, the third seeded team likely to meet powerhouse Bemidji in their pairing of the section tournament.

The Comets leapt out of halftime with greater intensity than they closed the half. The Comets looked to spread out the defenders in the box, after Hillcrest found great success up the middle of the field. Primavera came up the left side five minutes into the half, finding Honningdal in the box on a cross. The goal put Hillcrest up 7-1. Primavera continued the Comet attack, finding his fifth goal minutes later off a pass from Markus Fluge. Fluge’s pass to Primavera marked his fourth assist of the game, and was only warming up as he found Primavera three minutes later on a cross from the right side of the field. The three man scoring show by Primavera, Honningdal, and Fluge ended when Primavera nailed a hard volley off the EGF keeper, where Honningdal gathered the deflection and put the ball away. The goal marked the Comets’ ninth of the afternoon, and eded scoring for Hillcrest. EGF was able to sneak one more goal past Hillcrest at the seventy-sixth minute of the game.

“The Comets played their best game of the season, both offensively and defensively,” Coach Rod Jensen noted after the game. The statement meant a lot to the Comets, who faced incredible challenges with the field on the rainy afternoon. “We realized excellent midfield defense and ball control from Senior Tri-Captains, HeeTae Nam and Camden Hoganson, as well as Joel Ystebo, Alex Knutson, Trym Thomassen, James Cho, Klaas Grundmann, Ethan Ness, and Ian So.  We saw superb efforts from our defenseive backs, Trevor Antuna, Jowell Seymour, Kenneth Murage, and Cole Peterson.  Overall, it was a great game to end our regular season with.”

Hillcrest enters playoffs with a 10-5 record, and will play host to their cross-town friends at Kennedy High School in the first round of playoffs. Hillcrest faces the Otters at 3pm on Danielsen field at Hillcrest Academy.

Wayne StenderComment
Wutka Named Commended Student in National Merit Scholarship Program

Hillcrest Lutheran Academy is excited to announce that Elise Wutka is a Commended Student in the 2019 National Merit Scholarship Program. Elise received a Letter of Commendation from the school and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC).

Nearly 34,000 students throughout the nation are recognized for their exceptional academic promise as Commended Students. Although they will not continue in the 2019 competition for National Merit Scholarship awards, Commended Students placed in the top 50,000 scorers of more than 1.6 million students in taking the 2017 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT).

“The young men and women named Commended Students demonstrate outstanding potential for academic success,” commented a spokesperson for NMSC. “These students represent a valuable national resource; recognizing their accomplishments, as well as the key role their schools play in their academic development, is vital to the advancement of educational excellence in our nation. We hope that this recognition will help broaden their educational opportunities and encourage them as they continue their pursuit of academic success.”

Jeff Isaac | PrincipalComment
Hillcrest Lists 29 Clubs for Students

Students blocked the entrance of the Student Union during Hillcrest's club rush. The smell of cotton candy filled the air as Dawn Synstelien stood with one leg back as she looked to the ceiling to collect her thoughts. Students surrounded the table she stood behind. Two other tables flanked the one she manned where she explained what happens in the cooking club. Students at Hillcrest have a lot of opportunities to connect, and the twenty-nine clubs listed at the school's club rush are a prime example.

Over twenty-six different adults lead the specific clubs Dawn is organizing. Speech club and a medical career club called HOSA are a few new additions. Student favorites like the Cooking club and Hiking club needed to use two sheets of paper to collect the names of interested students. Ministry clubs like the Evangelism club and Junior-Senior mentors are kicking off this month to train students in Christian discipleship and apologetics. 

Some clubs started the year in high gear. The Hillcrest worship collective started the year organizing a number of students in worship mentorships. The mentees organize chapels, plan worship times, and are planning a worship tour to Minneapolis with chapel coordinators Ryan and Amy Garvin.

The Hiking club started their year with a simple walk to Lake Alice, visiting the Fergus Falls River Walk. Principal Jeff Isaac started the club to introduce students to the beauty of mid-western Minnesota. In two weeks the group will visit Maplewood State Park. The group connects with former Hillcrest instructor Lowell Quam who teaches students basic plant recognition and often takes students to his favorite fruit trees and plants on their walk to show some of the wild fruit grown in the area.

The clubs are kicking off this month, with many organizing ways to communicate to their members. Some clubs meet later in the year. The skating club is waiting for colder weather. The Knowledge Bowl club is looking forward to the winter months before they kick off as well.

With twenty-nine clubs organized Hillcrest is excited to see the varied opportunities for students to not only experience a new program but to make more friends in unique settings. If adults are interested in volunteering to support the club program through mentorship they should contact Dawn Synstelien at

Wayne StenderComment
Comets First Day Marks Beginning to Thoughtful School Year

"Introduce yourself and give us one world issue you think is important." Mr. Preston stood at his podium with a list of names and pencil. He started directing students to their assigned seats. The coming moments gave him a glimpse into how his students view the world.

"I think the plastic straw thing in California is interesting." "For me, what's happening with Iran is a big deal." Students started spouting off issues they'll dive into in their Global Studies course. The syllabus doesn't list a text book. Instead, the students will engage in media reports daily, analyzing the way news stories are framed as they engage in social issues and deep dive into the history behind them.

One student raises her hand. She transferred to Hillcrest from a school in New York. "I am really interested in the Iranian issue. We studied that a little bit at my former school, and I'm wanting to learn more about it." A student from Norway looks back and nods. Norway is closer to Iran, and the issue is impacting Europe in greater affect. In front of the girl from Norway sits a student from Wisconsin. Next to him is a student from Africa. The myriad of cultures in the class will likely open lively debate and shed light on how the world engages in different social issues. Welcome to Hillcrest Academy.

Down the hall from Global Studies sits a group of seniors. The start to their class is very different. "Ok, welcome," Principal Isaac starts, cutting through the pre-class chatter to focus attention in the room. "I'd like you all to stand. This is how we're going to start class every day." Principal Isaac runs through a set of procedures he has for his class. The students stand in attention. He closes the introduction with a special phrase. "And at the end of each class, before you pack your books up, I will say, 'you are made,' and I'd like you to repeat, 'in the image of God.' Let's practice that." The students wait for their cue from Principal Isaac before joining together in a chorus of declaring their origin in Christ. It's a unique way to cut through the ideas and cultures that can divide to refocus a classroom on what unites.

In the ensuing bell that marks the end of class there is a beckon to the next course of study. Students shuffle papers that direct them to different classrooms. In entering the foreign environment of a new room students find teachers who are eager to greet them. One teacher calls the week a sprint. Another refers to it as plowing ground, a metaphor used at Hillcrest that refers to the cultivating that will occur in and out of the classroom.

In the middle of the morning the bell calls students to the center of the Hillcrest building. Students coagulate in front of the main doors, where many entered as nervous students hours before. Now they stand in hoards of friendships. They gently file into the Chapel, where music causes a few to pick up their step and smile. Chapel is not a classroom.

As students settle in Mr. Garvin jumps on stage. His tie pops over his shoulder as he flies to the microphone and gives a loud greeting to the students. For the next fifteen minutes Mr. and Mrs. Garvin lay out the general theme for the school year. Practice makes purpose is written in bold letters behind the married couple who lead chapel. Object lessons help bring clarity to what it means to reflect God's character. The theme is more tangible after their presentation. The students hear that their practice of their faith doesn't make them perfect. Their faith practice draws them deeper into their purpose found in Jesus Christ.

Students fly through classes. Lunch time is filled with teachers asking students how their first day is going. Staff ask students if there is anything they can do to make their life easier. Dropping math class is not one of the options. 

Students shuffle through their final class periods to venture to their dorm rooms. Some plop down on their bed in exhaustion. Others make lists of the school supplies they need before Friday. Sports practices carry the rhythm of the school to the next beat. Character is formed in the football player who gets knocked down and resolves to get up again; the volleyball player who misses her mark and needs to collect herself, make an adjustment, and approach the line again; the soccer player who gets cleated while dribbling the ball and needs to push through the pain to touch the ball to a team mate. Resolve is learned best in practice. The theme wafts throughout nearly every aspect of life at Hillcrest. Practice makes purpose.

Wayne StenderComment