What does providing Imago Dei education—the kind of remarkable, God-centered education provided at schools like Hope Academy—mean for at risk youth in our nation’s cities? It means at least these eight things:
First, the mis-education of at-risk youth should be viewed as one of the most important social justice issues of our day.
Second, it means one of best strategies to redeem and transform our cities is a great school that shapes a generation of wise leaders who love what God loves and hate what God hates.
Third, it means that all children are image bearers of God. A school for our neighbors has to be a remarkable school — not just an average one. It has to be the kind of school that everyone would want their own children to attend.
Fourth, it means that because our chief problem is sin, and because Christ is the great Savior from sin, a school must be grounded in the gospel and the teachings of Christ.
Fifth, it means that under-resourced parents should not be ignored but instead be deeply involved in the education of their children — they must some real skin in the game.
Sixth, it means doing the really hard work of holding teachers, parents, and students accountable for their responsibilities.
Seventh, it means that results really do matter, and that we actually have to work to close the achievement gap.
Eighth and finally, because it is currently against the laws of more than half the states in our country to use taxpayer dollars to provide Imago Dei education to a child, it means that brothers and sisters living outside the neighborhood will need to help bear the burden and partner with under resourced families to make this kind of school affordable for everyone.
Note: This is an edited excerpt from Russ Gregg’s recently released book, The Mark of God and Our Education Crisis (Spreading Hope).
Our pilot Founder school is Harbor Christian Academy in the Denver Harbor and Fifth Ward Communities of Houston. Watch this five-minute video to meet the leadership and hear the vision of Harbor Christian Academy. They are remodeling the education facility of Faith Memorial Baptist Church and opening to grades K-2 in the fall of 2018.
We are working closely with the founding Head of School, Roosevelt Wilson, Ed. D.
We corresponded recently over email:
1. What is your story of being called to serve at Harbor Christian Academy?
18 months ago, Harbor Christian’s board member, Jon Weichbrodt, and I met and connected over faith and our mutual passion for education. We then all heard Russ Gregg speak when he came to Houston a couple of months later, and Jon and fellow board member Beverly Smith shared their vision for Harbor Christian Academy. The Lord began to open my heart to consider taking a similar step of faith to that which Russ Gregg took. When Jon first asked if I might consider being the founding Head of School, I didn’t think it was possible at that time. But today, Octavia and I can’t imagine a better use of our lives than to aim to launch a God-centered school for our soon-to-be neighbors.
2. Tell us about your career and family.
I was a classroom teacher for a number of years. For the past five years, I served as a principal with Spring Independent School District. Before becoming a K-12 educator, I spent 23-years in the Marine Corps, serving in many capacities, including Drill Instructor, Instructor at Drill Instructor School, and Administrator at the Staff Noncommissioned Officer Academy in Okinawa, Japan. As for family, my best friend in life is my wife Octavia, who will be a teacher at Harbor Christian Academy. We have four grown children, and no grandchildren yet.
3. Why do you believe the residents of Fifth Ward deserve access to a Christian school like Harbor Christian Academy?
Whether families are from the inner city or from the suburbs, they should all have access to a great God-centered education. We exist by God’s grace to make a remarkable God-centered education accessible and affordable to families of two of the most historically underserved communities in Houston.
4. Why does Harbor Christian Academy exist?
Harbor Christian Academy exists to bring the very best of God-centered education to families who could never afford it in their wildest dreams.
5. How will Harbor Christian Academy be different from public schools?
As most everyone knows, Houston was recently hit with a hurricane. But for decades a different humanitarian crisis has plagued our city’s most endangered resource: at risk youth. Today in schools all across our city, state, and country, we are seeing the dismissal of God from classrooms, the rejection of truth from textbooks, the marginalizing of parents, disrespect for teachers, and the warehousing of students. But in God, there is always hope. We believe one of the best strategies to redeem and transform any community is a God-centered school that uses the Word of God to shape a generation of wise leaders who love what God loves and hate what God hates.
6. How will parents be involved at Harbor Christian Academy?
Right from the very beginning, we will build an authentic partnership with parents, inspired by Hope Academy. Parents will sign a parent covenant, and each fall, our teachers will do a home visit with every single student in their classrooms. 100% parent participation will be required. Additionally, twice a year on Saturday we will have Parent Involvement Days. Instead of bring-your-child-to-work day, it’s a bring-your-parent-to-school day.
7. How will Harbor Christian Academy start and grow?
Lord willing, we will launch this coming fall with grades K, 1, and 2, and then add a grade each year. Lord willing, in ten years we expect to see our first graduating seniors, as our plan is to be a K-12 school.
Learn more about the leadership and vision of Harbor Christian Academy here.
I am not only a product of Christian education myself but I have served at two urban Christian schools in Minneapolis. First as a teacher at Minnehaha Academy, and then in senior leadership at Hope Academy, a classical, Christ-centered school for disadvantaged youth, where today I serve on the board of directors.
I want to address the question of why engaging the city is essential for the future of Christian schooling.
There are three key reasons—cultural, missiological, and visceral. All three are drawn from a wonderful address given by Dr. Tim Keller to the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization back in 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa.
First, culturally. We live in a more urbanized world than at any time in history, and if we have the goal of having our shared life shaped by the gospel and the kingdom, we must focus on cities. More than ever before, the economic and cultural forces that shape our world are being shaped not by nation-states, but by cities.
Second, missiologically. Cities are strategic to God’s mission because there are four kinds of people who disproportionately live in the city: young adults, unreached peoples, cultural elites, and the poor. All of them have children who will need to be educated.
- Young Adults – The younger generation all around the world, and increasingly in America, disproportionately want to live in cities.
- Unreached peoples – Unreached people around the world are much more reachable in cities. Keller notes that when people “immigrate from rural areas or from other countries, they break their kinship ties, and are in a more pluralistic environment…they are far more open to the gospel than they would have been in their previous habitat.”
- Cultural elites – Cities are where cultures are shaped. Keller stresses that “people who tend to make the films, write the books, do the business deals” live in cities.
- The poor – Here Keller cites the fact that one third of people moving into cities around the world live in shanty towns or (in developed nations) economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. God’s people have always shared God’s particular burden for the poor.
Third, viscerally. Keller here cites God’s encounter with Jonah over his reluctance to go to Ninevah. When Jonah grieves over the small plant that was giving him shade that then dies—God chastizes Jonah. God, Keller argues, loves people more than plants, and cities are where people are. In cities, he says, “you have more image of God per square inch than anywhere else in the world”.
The city is central to God’s mission culturally, missiologically, and viscerally. Christian schools and leaders that we aim to serve with the Spreading Hope Network all share Dr. Keller’s conviction that if we want human life and culture to be shaped at all by Jesus Christ, we simply must have excellent Christian schools that serve the youth of our cities.
I was reminded of the urgency of a new generation of leadership for K-12 urban Christian education as I read a recent clarion call to evangelicals to reignite the life of the mind from Owen Strachan at The Gospel Coalition. His piece concluded with words that make me realize that the rising generation of youth are a battleground for our city’s futures—and the leadership of the church and society. Using a baseball metaphor, Strachan writes:
“whatever we do, our neighbors will not be bunting. They will be swinging for the fences. They know, even if we don’t, that the empires of the future are empires of the mind. They are structuring their schools and our society accordingly. They are competing, scheming, hoping, questing, and building. Are we?”
What is happening in K-12 Christ-centered schooling in your city? Is there a rising generation of leaders starting schools serving under resourced youth in your city? If so, praise God.
If not, perhaps God is calling you to be an instrument of educational hope for the next generation in your city. Are you willing to step out in faith?
Hope Academy is a flagship for our Christian schools. The development and growth of Christian schools like Hope Academy is so encouraging. CSI is excited by the school planting efforts of the Spreading Hope team.Jeff Blamer
I am so thankful for Hope Academy and the Spreading Hope team. We started our school for low income urban youth in 2014 and are now serving nearly 80 students in grades K-5. I simply can’t imagine where we would be without their support and direction.Doug Fern
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