Are you worried these days? Do you have sleepless nights? The economic environment in recent months has been depressing. The future looks bleak. Stocks and shares have tumbled drastically; 401Ks have decreased in value, and you wonder if you need to keep working instead of retiring this year. You have lost all faith in investments. But, there is one investment that does not crash and tumble even when the Dow Jones falls. It’s an investment that yields great dividends. Yes, it’s our investment in Adventist education! It’s our investment in children and young people who attend Adventist schools. Are we willing to invest time, energy, and financial resources in them?
I believe church elders can play a significant role in encouraging members to send their children to Adventist schools. When elders are passionate about Adventist education, they can impact parents in their congregations. Through the years many parents have attacked the Adventist school system as inferior, complaining about lack of facilities, small class size, poor teaching, and low achievement. But do they know what recent research shows?
A landmark division-wide research study, CognitiveGenesis, which began in 2006 and was conducted at La Sierra University, surveyed 30,000 students, grades 3-9 and 11, who were enrolled in Adventist schools across North America. The two goals for the study were:
• To determine the achievement (and ability) levels of students in Adventist schools, compared to national norms.
• To examine relationships between student, parent, teacher, and school factors related to achievement (and ability).
The latest preliminary results from the first three years of the study show both positive outcomes and areas for further investigation. The following are the results for the United States.
• Above average in achievement
• Above average in ability
• Above prediction in achievement
• Above average and above prediction in all subjects
• Above average and above prediction for all grade levels
• Above average for all school sizes
• Above prediction at all ability levels
• Yearly gains in achievement greater than expected for continuing students
• Yearly gains in ability greater than gains in achievement
• Yearly gains in achievement and ability greater for more years in an Adventist school (see graph below)
AREAS FOR INVESTIGATION
Some subjects and grade levels have tentatively been identified as areas for further study. In most cases these areas show satisfactory results, but the results are not as superior as the results for other subjects and grades. Examples include:
• Math computation—The North American Division has appointed an ad hoc committee to study math computation. It has met, analyzed the CognitiveGenesis data, and is now collecting additional data based on classroom observations and interviews with teachers. It will meet again to make recommendations for practice based on all data collected.
• Social Studies
• Grades 4 and 5
According to Elissa Kido, CognitiveGenesis project director, this rigorous research is validating and shows that overall, Adventist school students perform better than the national average. Although 60 percent of Adventist K-8 schools are considered small schools (schools with three or fewer teachers), students in these schools perform just as well. The study also shows that children attending Adventist schools not only achieve half a grade level higher in all subjects than predicted based on their ability scores, they also gain the benefits of Adventist education shown by other research in strong spiritual lives and healthy lifestyle choices.
Indeed, Adventist education offers great potential for our children and youth! We need to acquaint the parents in our churches with the value of investing in Adventist education. When I first joined the Adventist Church as a teenager, my head elder was passionate about getting me and my friend into our Adventist school. We were rather reluctant at first because we had heard about the low standards of these schools. But after attending one quarter of classes, it changed my life!
So, church elders, here are some things you can do in your churches to promote Adventist education.
Preach about Adventist education. Whenever there is a special Christian Education day or a special Sabbath offering designated for Christian education, elders can seize this opportunity to preach a sermon on the values of Adventist education. Inspire the members and parents with your testimony of how Adventist education has impacted you, your children, and others; or study the Spirit of Prophecy’s counsels on the importance of supporting Adventist education.
Ellen G. White strongly advocates the operation of church schools when she says, “In all our churches there should be schools, and teachers in these schools who are missionaries. It is essential that teachers be trained to act well their part in the important work of educating the children of Sabbathkeepers, not only in the sciences, but in the Scriptures. These schools, established in different localities, and conducted by God-fearing men or women, as the case demands, should be built on the same principles as were the schools of the prophets.” 1
In her counsel to parents and teachers, Ellen White again reiterates that “[all] our youth should be permitted to have the blessings and privileges of an education at our schools, that they may be inspired to become laborers together with God. They all need an education, that they may be fitted for usefulness, qualified for places of responsibility in both private and public life.”2
Hold question-and-answer sessions with parents. Before the beginning of a school year, elders can work together with the pastor to organize a meeting with parents to answer questions about Adventist schools. This is a good time to supply parents with information on the various church schools that are available for their children, the types of scholarships offered, or tuition discounts that are available. Such a meeting can be valuable to parents who are looking for guidance in making a decision.
Model your belief. Elders need to practice what they preach. If elders believe in Adventist education, they will send their children to Adventist schools. Such a consistent lifestyle helps to build confidence in parents who may be wavering in their decision and helps to dispel misconceptions about Adventist schools.
Provide tuition scholarships for members’ children. Elders can encourage their church to set up a special education fund to help parents whose children attend church schools. Children can be given tuition scholarships annually as a support to parents. Some churches provide a 50 percent matching fund to assist members’ children who attend our schools. Elders who have good contacts with willing donors can encourage them to contribute to this special scholarship fund for young people. It’s an investment that will yield great dividends.
Celebrate special achievements of children and young people. Church elders can initiate a celebration to honor young people who have received an achievement award or are graduating from elementary school or academy. If it is the pastor’s children, the elder is in a better position to suggest such a celebration. Celebrating achievement provides an opportunity for the church to rejoice together with these young people who are the fruits of their investment. Graduating seniors can participate in a special worship service of thanksgiving to God.
Support church school activities. Elders can encourage other members to support all church school activities whenever possible. If the children or youth are raising funds for a mission project through a Walkathon, walk with them, but don’t forget to rally other members to support these young people, too. If students are participating in a musical production, get your church to attend the performance. Promote such activities enthusiastically from the pulpit; enthusiasm is contagious! Such moral support impresses upon the minds of young people the value of Christian education.
Pray for the children and youth. Our children and youth today face many challenges at home, at school, and in the community. It would be wonderful if the church prayed for them regularly. The head elder or any other elder can work with the pastor to design a prayer announcement on the back of the church bulletin each Sabbath. It can list the names of two to three children or youth who will be the subjects of prayer that morning. In one church that I attended, the elder called these young people up front before the pastoral prayer and asked them if they had special prayer requests. It was heartwarming for these young people to know that the church family was praying for them. This will undoubtedly help our young people feel that they belong to the church and will most likely “keep them in the church.”3
Yes, considering the recent CognitiveGenesis results, we can be proud of our Adventist schools. This study can provide elders, pastors, principals, and all of us with a new, powerful marketing tool. In the past, parents have lost confidence in the academics of the Adventist education system. Now elders, as well as pastors, teachers, and all church members, can rebuild confidence with this documentation of student achievement, which can also be shared with parents. Church elders can become active and strong advocates for Adventist education. Get your church on board to invest in our children and youth. Their dividends are large in achievement, changed lives, character development, and spiritual growth!
1. Ellen G. White, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1913), 168.
2. Ibid., 332.
3. Myrna Tetz and Gary Hopkins, We Can Keep Them in the Church (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2004).
Linda Mei Lin Koh is director of Children’s Ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.