Culture Currents Pull Students into Nine Monday Challenge

Students hustle to Mr. Isaac’s worldview class. “I forgot my book. I’ll be right back!” A student’s voice trails down the hallway as he darts from his friends to his upstairs locker. There is a level of expectancy when students go to class. Students are looking to grow at Hillcrest. That’s what they’re doing in Mr. Isaac’s class.

“We started class today on a prompt I received, from the other worldview instructor actually.” Mr. Isaac recounted his class while in sitting in an office in the front hall. His Understanding the Times textbook had papers sticking out from it. Evidence that his students were working on review questions in his class.

“We’re in the middle of a chapter on ethics, in our worldview class.” Principal Isaac’s eyebrows raised as he continued explaining the background of his class, “Ethics are taught, morality is caught. It started with that. They had to think about that, what does it mean…I didn’t really give them any context.” His class referenced the family to understand the quip. If a dad doesn’t live out what he’s teaching at home, the family isn’t going to either. “Then we took a look at 1 Corinthians 15:33…in summary, it’s the verse that says, ‘bad company corrupts good character’.”

The chair slowly leaned back as Principal Isaac continued, his hands folded as he explained how his class identified the historical scenario surrounding the passage. “They looked at the context of the paragraph. Then, what’s happening at Corinth at the time, and then what are the principles that we learn from this.” His hands unfold as he makes the connection between understanding historical context and making a tie for students to modern issues.

“So in that context, at the time, Paul was talking about these false teachers that were coming up.” Principal Isaac’s voice raised a little bit. His posture changed as he started to unpack the way the culture in Corinth sought to distort Biblical truth. “He goes on to talk about, ‘You’re listening to sources of information that aren’t true. What’s happened to you?’ Then he goes on to say, ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’”

He sat back in his chair again, relaxing as he continued explaining how his class responded to the lesson. “I asked them, ‘What are the avenues where false teaching comes to us?’” Principal Isaac explained the response from students. Some mentioned how many see Youtube as a credible source of information. He said he directed their attention to find grounding in Scripture. That from Scripture students can understand ultimate reality. “What we came up with from that is what prayer and reading the Scriptures does for us.”

Principal Isaac then shared some of his experience with riptides in California. He educated the students that if they’re caught in a riptide they need to swim sideways, even a little further out to sea, to get out of the current that is pulling away from shore. He explained that the process of fighting a riptide is exhausting. “If we’re going to swim in these currents of culture we’re going to find ourselves farther downstream than we had intended.”

He closed the class after explaining the challenge of living in a culture that pulls. “I said to them, ‘We have nine Mondays left...I’m giving you a nine Monday challenge. What would it look like if, spiritually if we practiced feeding ourselves with God’s word.’” He then covered some things the students could eliminate that is bad for them. Distracting habits, practices, and devices that want to pull them into the stream of culture. “We plant spiritually in the fall and harvest in the spring. While they might not have been ready to hear about a nine Monday challenge in October, they’re very receptive to hear about a nine Monday challenge in March. That’s part of what the Lord does in our classes here.”

Open House Reveals Unique Approach at Hillcrest

“Our school functions on three core values. They all go together. We want to develop student’s intellect. We want to build their faith. And we want to strengthen their character.” Principal Isaac stood in front of Hillcrest’s chapel full of parents and prospective students. The audience was attending a Tuesday night open house to learn what students enjoy about Hillcrest’s learning environment. What they found was direct and Bible-focused.

“It isn’t as if we’re going to take this class over here and now that’s going to develop your intellect.” Principal Isaac continued in his welcome address. “It’s not compartmentalized that way. We throw around the term it’s the integration of faith and learning.” Principal Isaac broke down the God-designed process of learning that integrates faith and learning, specific to Hillcrest’s program with a full-dormitory program that unites character formation in with intellectual development and spiritual formation.

Parents, armed with an understanding Hillcrest’s philosophy of faith formation and intellect development broke into groups after Principal Isaac’s address. Notes were folded into packets as parents started walking down the halls of Hillcrest. The word omnibus was scribbled at the top. One paper had a dash next to the word that said, ‘Junior High Bible, History, and Literature’. One group of parents walked up the stairs to the classroom section and entered first into Mrs. Foss’ classroom. A sign next to her door read ‘omnibus’. Books were strewn on tables. They were about to receive an education.

Mrs. Foss waved her arm to draw the large group into her intimate classroom. Chairs were placed in attention behind the tables in display of what a normal day would look like. On the tables were books by Eusebius and G.A. Henty. Beowulf was referenced as a book students were reading at the time. Mrs. Foss spoke to teaching the students to see Biblical themes in classic literature. A handful of Bibles were on the book shelf behind Mrs. Foss. As she spoke it was clear that the texts students were reading was consistently explained through reference to Biblical truth.

From there parents were escorted down the classroom section, past a series of lockers, into Mr. Undseth’s room. The layout was different, desks change every quarter in Mr Undseth’s room as he highlights different learning techniques through the various sections students engage in literature. Mr. Undseth started the presentation saying, “English is the most important subject. God created with words. The Bible says he spoke and the world was created.” Mr. Undseth went on to detail how students in his class will read and study literature while finding character reference inside Scripture. It was a meld of general revelation and special revelation. A clanking of the hammer as the minds of students are shaped and sharpened for God’s service.

Down the hall the group found Mr. Preston’s history classroom. In providing greater context, Mr. Preston said, “Oh, Mr. Undseth always says ‘English is the most important.’” Mr. Preston then went on to detail how his class was important to consider in the race of importance because students learned to engage the world in history. He lifted his hand to point to the numerous flags in his classroom. “This is what Hillcrest looks like. This is a flag from every country I have taught.” The flags of Russia, Germany, and Brazil were flanked by Norway, South Korea, and Vietnam. At the front of the classroom stood the American flag. Mr. Preston went on to give an explanation of its importance.

Mr. Preston helped the touring group understand the significance of the American experiment. He referenced the strong Biblical foundations in America, going on to share how Hillcrest’s Biblical perspective powerfully equips students in deciphering history from novelty. He shared how his class uses secular texts in an effort to sharpen students’ minds. He pointed to texts, pulling out examples of interpretations in history that are in the text but are unfounded in primary source documents. He explained how his class will read the text, engage in primary source documents, and challenge students to process, understand, and explain the disparity in some interpretations in history. In all, Mr Preston clearly explained the power of the Gospel in his classroom, where students can come to hear and see the way God is shouting to humanity.

The group slowly left Mr. Preston’s classroom, shuffling through another parent group touring through the open house. They congregated outside the science wing. There they found Mrs. Riestenberg. “I like to have fun. I think learning should be fun.” A short skip emphasized the fun and approach she takes in her classroom. Mrs. Riestenberg went on to explain how students learn to see God as the foundation for science in her classroom. Through biology and chemistry students see that the world is uniquely and powerfully designed. It was easy to see why many students love Mrs. Riestenberg, and how she was able to quickly start a Bible study at her home that includes at least four different nationalities who meet Sundays to pour over the Bible.

The touring groups visited a few other classrooms in the Castle. In each room they found a teacher speaking to how their subject matter was a tool used to engage and study the character of God. When they transitioned to the basement at Hillcrest they found two classrooms of expression on two very different ends of the spectrum.

On one side of the basement is the art studio. Mr. Peterson spoke to his Bible class that teaches apologetics. In a backdrop of pottery wheels and wire sculptures he went on to explain how his classroom is also a place of creation. Students engage in the arts, learning form, design, and technique as they hone artistic communication skills. Mr. Peterson’s classroom is a place of mentorship, where students often pour out their thoughts as they create. Mr. Peterson not only guides their artistic endeavors, but walks students through thought processes as they creatively live lives that seek to honor the Lord.

Down the hall from Mr. Peterson the group found Armin Jahr’s maker space. 3-D printers were humming away as Mr. Jahr greeted the group. Parents looked around the expanse in wonder. A lecture area sat to the left, with tables and chairs setup in a horseshoe pattern. To the right there was a barrier setup with crude machines standing inside. Trophies sat on each window sill, some barely able to fit inside the four foot space. They were signs that what Mr. Jahr does in his classroom is earning accolades in competitions around the area.

Mr. Jahr went on to explain his engineering and robotics program. He spoke of the environmental science course he teaches, and their ongoing project in forming an observation park on Hillcrest’s campus. He pointed to a series of robots that students were building, sharing how they program components to complete tasks. The information sounded space-age to many parents who excitedly looked around the classroom, taking in that students in Mr. Jahr’s room are working with more than simply theory.

As the group closed their tour they ventured into the Student Union, Hillcrest’s most recent renovation. Here they heard where students wrestle out the day-to-day work of living out their faith at Hillcrest. Some do it around fun trivial conversations. Others wrestle out their faith with a textbook before them and a group of friends around their table, working to organize their thinking to fit reality and what they're learning in Hillcrest’s Bible program.

The evening closed the way it began, in prayer. Parents heard how their investment in educating their children at Hillcrest was something that would pay dividends in years to come. Students attending Hillcrest not only receive a Biblically-based education, but engage in a culture that is forming Christ-like character for students to live lives of eternal significance.

New Teacher's License Standards Meet Resolution in Biblical View Held by Hillcrest Staff

Hillcrest’s Teacher Mentor, Michele Foss visited my office last Monday to update me on the new Minnesota teaching licensure requirements. The changes in these requirements reflect how distinct Hillcrest is from our state counterparts.

The new requirements require cultural competency training. Cultural competency sounds like a good thing. It sounds like the goal is to have a greater understanding of the various backgrounds of students and families served to help them achieve. There seems to be a respect of others while all are moving toward higher academic achievement. Unfortunately, the new requirements show this doesn’t appear to be the cultural competency they’re requiring.

Although the traditional issues one would associate with culture are present in the training, a significant emphasis is to have teachers identify and adjust their personal bias toward topics related to gender and fluid sexuality. Whatever one's thoughts on the requirements, they point out that even our government understands that the values teachers hold translate in the classroom, and the state is working to make sure those values are as much aligned with a godless system as possible.

The new requirements remind me of Luke 6:40. “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.”  It doesn’t say a student will be like their curriculum, or like their activities, but “like their teacher.”

Being like one's teacher makes sense, especially in regards the number of hours students spend with teachers on a weekly basis. One of the things I repeatedly hear from parents is the wonderful role models the Hillcrest teachers are to their kids. I agree.

Our teachers love God. I know because I assess them. I know that each and every one of our teachers have a living relationship with Jesus Christ that is lived out in front of their students on daily basis. Our students are spending a good deal of their day with meaningful adults who regularly point them to the Biblical truth. This truth informs students that they are created in God’s image, and that the answer to their identity is found in Jesus Christ.  

As we press toward the goal that God is laying before us as a school, we welcome the opportunity to walk alongside students in building their faith. Our students are taught that what’s going on in the culture is not a surprise to God.

We practice habits that build perseverance and character that will be necessary for our young adults in the years to come. Our students are learning to articulate the Biblical perspective in a way that draws people to the truths of the Bible. It’s all part of building faith, strengthening character, and developing the intellect of each Hillcrest student.

Students Lead Students in Spiritual Formations Groups
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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