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