Monday, September 11, 2023

The Locker Removal and Installation Behind Our Decision to Dismiss Class on Friday

We have a long list of physical needs at our school which, as God provides the resources, we are able to meet.  There have been times during the past five years that I've been here, when the needs, measured against the resources to meet them, seemed overwhelming.  But God's provision has shown us, every time, that he is able to do what we sometimes think is impossible.   Midwestern Christian Academy is now in its 66th year of ministry, counting multiple blessings, all clearly by the hand of God, for its ability to continue to serve as one of the few remaining Evangelical Christian schools in America's third largest city.  

We are dismissing class on Friday because of another opportunity to receive a blessing.  In the middle of much bigger needs over the past few years, locker replacement has been put on a back burner.  Lockers take a beating, and no one is certain just how long these have been in place.  People who were students 40 years ago remember them, even in their current condition.  

One of the church elders noticed some lockers that were part of a property auction at a business that had closed.  At the end of the auction, they had not received any bids for the lockers.  Our interest was communicated to them to ask what would be the absolute minimum bid they would receive to sell us several sections of the lockers.  Some money would be better than none, right?  We got word over this past weekend that they agreed to an amount well within our new equipment budget for this year, a significant savings for us to get something we need.  Because of the timing of the auction, and their need to have all items removed from their premises by Friday, we determined that it would not be safe to try and do all of that work with students in the building.  

We are also limited on physical ability to make this happen.  We have no place to store the lockers, and we have limited availability of volunteer time to get this done.  We are "borrowing" maintenance staff members from Phantom Ranch to help, because they are available during the week, as this is their off season.  We hope that some of our parents, Dads or Moms, can come to help on Friday. We don't have a place to store them and with limited availability of help, and the deadline of the company to pick them up by Friday, taking this day is our best option.  

An Inconvenience for Parents at Short Notice

There are many factors which go into any consideration of closing school.  We understand that many parents who both work must find child care for their children.  Snow days and bad weather, or other similar emergencies, while difficult decisions to make, do involve circumstances beyond our control.  However, something like this, while not the usual circumstances for most schools, is one of those things that we live with as part of the reality of living within our means and keeping our budget size and tuition costs as reasonable as possible.  

One of the reasons that this particular business didn't find bidders for their lockers is that most schools would simply put the purchase of new lockers in their budget, and their maintenance crew would do the removal and installation over the summer.  That would require having a maintenance crew, which we don't have, and enough money in the budget to purchase lockers, which we also don't have, and which is one of the reasons we have gone as long as we have without replacing ours.  I've been in Christian schools for 35 years, and this is often the way we are blessed with having our needs met.  We're grateful when we can make it work for us.  We try to be good stewards with the resources we are given, which includes the tuition parents pay, and of our time as well.  

At a previous school, we needed to replace old, wooden folding chairs we used when we turned our gym into a theater for plays and musicals.  We wanted about 500 of those stacking plastic chairs with casters on the legs.  New, those chairs run up to $50 each.  A school district just across the state line in Ohio, about 40 minutes away, was auctioning off everything from their old school facilities because they'd just built a new school.  I stayed up until 2 a.m. to protect my bids on 5 lots of those chairs, 100 chairs per lot, some maroon, some blue.  I got them for $50 a lot, 50 cents a piece.  I had to pick them up one week from the auction, so I got the parents of the boys in the senior class to give their permission for them to come along, load up the chairs and unload them at our school.  They got a half day "field trip" out of the experience.  

I've bought a lot of school equipment that we wouldn't be able to afford otherwise at school auctions.  Many of the desks our younger students here now use came from Deer Creek Christian School in Homewood, when it closed a couple of years ago.  We did get that done in the summer, but we got about 60 desks and chairs, cubbies, file cabinets, and a lot of the PE and sports equipment we have, along with reading tables, teacher desks and office chairs, for a fraction of what we would have paid for it new.  We consider the availability of things like this, and our ability to put them to use as gifts from God.  

Good Stewards of Resources and Blessings

God has richly blessed our school with a committed church that believes in and supports its ministry, parents who see the benefits it provides to their children and by making things we need available to us in his way, from his wealth and riches.  We've been able to renovate our facilities over the past few years, first the main building and Pre-K, and then the gym.  Funds for the main building came from the sale of two lots that the church and school owned at Cornelia and Keating, which had multiplied in value during the decades they were owned by the church.  A foundation that was unknown to us, and for whom we were unknown, came up with the money to renovate the gymnasium, along with several other contributors.  Several outside donors paid for the better part of the playground equipment we recently acquired.  

So there are times, like this, when our schedule gets altered by something that helps us meet a physical need at our school.  It's different, perhaps not something that might happen at other schools, but it's a reality in good stewardship of resources.  It's a Philippians 4:19 kind of moment.  

We had hoped that the removal and installation of the lockers would wait until October 5th and 6th, when teachers have professional development days, but that turned out not to be the case.  However, in consideration of the fact that some parents need to find child care and will incur some expense for this day, we will move our professional development into one day on Friday, October 6th, and have school on Thursday, October 5th.  That might be a trade-off for this coming Friday, at least as far as child care expenses go.  

Friday, September 8, 2023

The Value of a Christian School Education vs. the Cost of a Christian School Education

The beginning of the school year is always a great time to talk about the cost of tuition and fees, and how that affects decisions parents make about placing their children in a Christian school. After 35 years of experience working in education, 30 of that in private, Evangelical Christian schools, I've made a lot of observations about value, and how that is determined by parents who are constituents of the schools, and by the schools themselves.  

Christian schools exist mainly because the increasing public ownership and control of public education, which has expanded significantly since Horace Mann first proposed a public education system with compulsory attendance in the mid-1800's, has made public schools "religiously neutral" in their philosophy, leaving out Bible instruction, prayer, and Christian influence in curriculum development in favor of a more secular, humanist perspective.  

Court rulings determined that the easiest way to achieve religious neutrality in public schools, and avoid violating the establishment clause was to remove all references and practices associated with any religious belief, rather than to try and balance "community influence."  That created an opening for humanism to completely take over the curriculum.  And that prompted Christian denominations and churches to establish their own schools.  

How to finance an education that had previously been supported by tax dollars created some problems.  Initially, the Catholic Church established a "Ministry of Education," and committed a fourth of the church's national budget to support schools.  Declaring them as a ministry of the church permitted church servants committed to a vow of poverty to become teachers, saving schools the expense of teacher salaries.  Evangelical Christians, who are scattered among dozens of different denominations and independent, autonomous churches, and which did not have the funds to commit so much to ministries that only served a small percentage of their memberships, resorted to tuition payments from parents to cover expenses, that, along with the use of church facilities for classes, and the generosity of teachers willing to work for well under the established salary scale, helped establish and maintain schools.  

How Much is a Christian Education Worth to You?

There's really not much question at all about the effect a public education system, controlled by secular humanists, has had on American Christianity, especially its younger, school-aged generations.  Spending five days a week, 7 hours a day in an educational setting where the things learned at church are not mentioned and nothing is integrated into the curriculum takes its toll.  In a Christian home, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe, worshipped and revered, and trusted to bring personal salvation from sin.  At school, he doesn't exist, and what is revered and worshipped is the educated human intellect, as the solution to all humanity's problems, its own salvation of itself.  

Not all kids submit to that, but those who are only engaged in their local church for the worship hour on Sunday, or maybe an hour three times a month in youth group on a midweek night, are vulnerable, and that's, frankly, more than the majority of church-affiliated families are engaged with their Christian faith.  And while there are some Evangelical ministries and data-trackers who insist that the loss of membership they've experienced since the late 1980's isn't real, the census data that shows a 20% drop in Evangelical church membership since 2000 matches what individual churches and denominations report in their membership statistics.  

The younger generations are missing from the church rolls.  

The Catholic Church saw this happening in the early half of the 20th century, and committed a fourth of their budget to their schools with the promise that a Catholic family who wanted their children to remain Catholic could send them to the parish school, pay little or no tuition, and they'd virtually guarantee the commitment as part of the expected outcome.  The church still spends a significant percentage of its budget on its schools, though the "vow of poverty" volunteers have declined and expenses have increased, a Catholic student can go to a Catholic school for an average of less than $5,000 a year in most cases.  

So how much is a Christian education really worth?  

The Association of Christian Schools International, ACSI, of which MCA is a fully accredited member, says the average tuition and fees in its schools in the United States is $18,225.00 per student per year.  That includes an average of $5,000 in financial aid, scholarships and in-kind expense coverage.  And while that doesn't guarantee that a graduate of a Christian school will remain a faithful, committed believer and member of a local church into adulthood, it certainly makes the odds of that happening better than the 78% of church youth who now leave the church before they graduate from college. 

Oh, and about 85% of those students in Christian schools meet or exceed academic benchmarks on standardized tests in reading, language arts and mathematics.  Most state departments of education are happy if half their students make those benchmarks.  

Comparatively, the national average cost per year per student in public education is $21,264.00.  That means, over the course of elementary school through high school, slightly more than a quarter of a million dollars will be invested in just one student's education.  That amount varies from state to state, as do the measurements of their academic achievement.  But let's just say that most state superintendents of public instruction would be through the roof excited if their proficiency percentage was 85%.  Nationally, in math, it's dropped below 30% since COVID, in reading, and language arts, its in the low 40's.  

In Illinois, the per pupil cost for a year in public school is $20,124.00, and that actually drops to $18,532.00 in Chicago.  There've been reports from some media sources indicating that Chicago's cost has soared to over $30,000, but this figure is arrived at by taking the school district's total budget, and dividing it by the number of students.  That's for 2022-23.  In Illinois, proficiency in math, reading and language arts has dropped into the 30% range over the past two years, from a high of 41% in 2018, and in Chicago, it's actually a little higher, 36%, down from 44% in 2018.  

Of course, the amount that each individual adult parent pays in school taxes to support their child's education in public school is far, far less than what they would have to cover with tuition in a private school.  All taxpayers, including businesses, and those who don't have children in school, share in the cost of public education.  The average per household nationwide is less than $1,000 per year.  In a private school, a parent has to pay tuition to cover the cost of providing their child's share of the education.  

At MCA, the "cost per student per year" when the whole value of what is provided, comes out to more than $15,000.00 per year.  But a good chunk of that is subsidized, so the tuition and fees are not anywhere near that high.  Midwest Bible Church subsidizes this cost by providing the use of debt-free facilities with no lease or rent, a value equal to $2,000.00 per year, per student.  Our teaching staff, all of whom are educationally and professionally qualified, add $3,000 per year, per student to the value of a year's worth of education here by working for salaries that are more than 50% lower than their public school counterparts.  It's a sacrifice made with the understanding that this is a ministry, and one which benefits parents.  

The actual cost our parents pay, including scholarships and discounts which more than a third of our families qualify to receive, is under $6,000 per year, including the registration fee.  It comes out to about $5,500.00.  For that, your child is in a distinctively Christian school atmosphere every day, with teachers who are committed Christians, fully accredited (most religious-based private schools in Chicago are not), where the proficiency in mathematics, reading and language arts exceeds 85%.  

Treasure His Word in Your Heart

How can young people keep their way pure?  By guarding it according to your word.  With my whole heart I seek you. Do not let me stray from your commandments.  I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you. Psalm 119:9-11, NRSV

As I said before, there are no guarantees that sending your child to a Christian school will end up producing the kind of results parents expect.  But what we can guarantee is that while they are here, the written word of God will be integrated into every subject area, it will be taught every day, and God will be worshipped as the creator and sustainer of the universe.  Although academics are a very important consideration, and our desire is to provide the best to our students, I've heard parents with kids who aren't high achievers still express gratitude for the Christian influence their kids got from the Christian school they attended.  It was, they said, "worth it." 

Since I started in Christian school education, I've come to believe that this can, and should, become a true ministry of the church, one which brings Christians together, out from behind our theological, doctrinal and traditional walls into a spirit of unity in Christ.  What if our churches would, collectively, invest a fourth of their budgets in Christian education, which means spending it on children and youth in schools?  What kind of difference would it make if 75% of the children and youth in our church pews and Sunday school classrooms each week were in one of our Christian schools, instead of just the 10% who currently can afford it?  

A vision takes different priorities and commitments, and results in God multiplying the blessing.  

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Be Strong in the Lord and in the Strength of His Power

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  Ephesians 6:10, NRSV

This is the theme verse for Midwestern Christian Academy for the 2023-24 school term.  We have gathered together just over 200 students for the fall semester of this school year, had our first day of school on August 28, and are ready to bring glory to God, which is our purpose, this school year. 

For the past several years, our theme has focused on the relationships which the Bible's writers describe as happening between people who have found the grace of God through a salvation experience in Jesus, receiving the gospel through the Holy Spirit indwelling within each soul.  Human beings have not yet been able to achieve, through the strength of their own intellect, any kind of recognition of equality or peace in society.  Though we are all, according to the scripture, created in the image of God, the sin that was introduced into the world in the Garden of Eden continues to keep that from happening.  Being a peacemaker is one of the greatest attributes of the Christian gospel, those who are described as such are called "Sons of God."  So it is possible to live by grace through faith, with the Holy Spirit's transforming power.  

This is what we want our students to understand.  

I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.  John 17:15

Jesus said that his followers, like himself, were not of the world, but were in the world as a testimony to God's grace and salvation in himself.  In this prayer, before his crucifixion, he asks God to protect them from the evil one.  That's great assurance, but to parents, raising children, and worrying about keeping them from worldly influence until they have a chance to respond to the gospel on their own, knowing that they are being supported by their child's teachers at school, instead of having the moral principles and spiritual values of their home undermined can bring peace of mind.  

The passage which follows Ephesians 6:10 is known to most of us as the Armor of God.  Paul, the author, illustrates standing strong in the Lord by comparing it with a soldier dressed in armor to protect his life while he is in battle.  The spiritual protection that is characterized as armor includes truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the word of God.  Those are all things which are taught here at school, integrated into every subject area, emphasized in Bible classes and chapel, and practiced every day in the school community.  Our educational philosophy and operational principles are based on those principles.  

In our school handbook for parents and students, there are several paragraphs under the heading, "A Christian School is not a Public School."  The basic educational philosophy of a Christian school is based on the belief that God exists, is the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present creator of the universe, and is, by virtue of his very existence, the sustainer of life.  That belief is integrated into every subject we teach, it is practiced in our school community and is the objective basis of our curriculum objectives, instructional pedagogy and expected student outcomes.  We seek solutions to all problems related to students or school through prayer, and expect answers to come from the written word of God. 

We don't create a "bubble" which is intended to isolate our students from the world.  There's not any real way to do that, as those who have attempted to throughout the history of the church have discovered.  Rather, equipping believers to be committed to the biblical principles which instruct their practice of Christian faith, showing them how to handle things which come their way from the world, rather than be tempted by them and fall into sin, is the approach we take.  Students are under our care and supervision seven hours a day.  That provides multiple opportunities to put principles of scripture into practice in a supportive environment. 

The difference is most definitely noticeable.  I can point to specifics from the years I spent teaching in public high schools, including one suburban school, and one alternative high school. From the threshold of academic expectations to the conduct and behavior of students on the campus, the differences are noticeable.  At the alternative high school where I taught, I will never forget the excitement when 40% of the freshman class met or exceeded the grade level benchmarks.  In the Christian schools where I've taught, not getting higher than 85% of students meeting or exceeding benchmarks would be a huge disappointment, with the expectation being all students ranking that high.  

Our achievement, and the community spirit that we have on campus, is due to the spirit's presence here, called upon by those who teach and work here, and by parents who also pray for us, for their students and four our success as a partner in their child's education.  We are not perfect by any means, but we are working to achieve the outcome of bringing Glory to God, and that does make a difference.  There are some studies which show that students who attend Christian school for most, or all, of their grade school years are much more likely to understand church membership as a part of their Christian experience and to become a member who gives back through personal sacrifice.  

Pray in the spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.  To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.  Ephesians 6:18, NRSV


Give Thanks in All Circumstances, I Thessalonians 5:18

But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord, and admonish you; este...