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.