Head of School Blog

My GRACE Experience Part 2

This post was written by Head of School, Eric Bradley

Last week, I referenced Joshua’s leadership on the journey out of the wilderness and the dedication of the twelve stones to symbolize God’s blessings on the community. I also noted that this was part of Joshua’s standard operating procedure: seek God’s direction, follow God’s guidance, pause to give thanks, and then move forward. This week’s post focuses on the idea of moving forward.

Celebrate GRACE in many ways is our version of Joshua’s memorial stones on the banks of the Jordan River. It was a time to honor God for the blessings he has poured out over our community as we paused from our crazy schedules, gathered together, and told stories of God’s goodness. From that place of remembrance and thanksgiving, we look forward. As we look forward, my vision is that our future GRACE experience will include the following:

  • We will be a school where each student is known as an individual and knows that he or she is loved first and foremost by God, but also by the adults who surround them.
  • We will be leaders in the use of technology, something that we can already celebrate as a strength, but an area that requires near constant investment and a vigilant eye on the horizon.
  • Our teachers  will have the best opportunities for professional development, and a system within our school that supports and rewards those teachers who dare to innovate and inspire our kids.
  • We will be seen as leaders in growing students academically, spiritually, and emotionally.
  • We will cultivate students who are thinkers and dreamers, filled with hope of what they can do with God’s help and the gifts He has given them.
  • We will help to instill in our students a joy that can only come through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

In the Old Testament, Joshua used the stones to symbolize God’s love for His people. In the New Testament, Peter uses the imagery of stones somewhat differently. In First Peter chapter 2, Peter describes Jesus Christ as the living stone who is the foundation of our faith. He also calls us to be living stones, building a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood. One commentary on this verse states, “What God does in us together is important. He is building something out of us together.” Teachers, coaches, fellow parents, and classmates are some of the living stones in our children’s lives. It is our prayer that when they look back on their years at GRACE, they will remember those that invested in building their spiritual house, but, as living stones, they will always look forward to opportunities to serve God. May these living stones be a testimony to all that God has done to bless our community.

My GRACE Experience – Part 1

This post was written by Head of School, Eric Bradley

In March, I participated in a mission trip to Costa Rica with eight high school students, and two other members of the GRACE staff. It was an incredible experience. I was amazed by what our students were able to accomplish, and proud to be part of their community. During our time in Costa Rica, we studied the story of Joshua during their transition from the time in the wilderness to their arrival in the Promised Land. Joshua chapter 4 shares the account of the Israelites crossing the Jordan River. After they crossed Joshua gathered 12 stones, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, and stacked them up together as a remembrance of what God had done. The stones were there to make sure they never forgot the experience.  Then they moved forward into the Promised Land. Throughout the book of Joshua, this pattern is repeated: pausing before or after big events, taking time to remember and honor God’s covenant, then pushing forward.

Each member of our community has a GRACE experience. Every student, teacher, parent, grandparent, and staff member have a story to tell about how this community has impacted their life. Each story is different. Each story is personal. My GRACE experience began a little over a year ago with a telephone conversation with JB Baker, the board member in charge of the Head of School selection committee.

  • My GRACE experience includes families who reached out to my wife, Amy, and I as we moved to this area making us feel welcome.  
  • It includes the experience of my middle school daughter, Amelia, and volleyball tryouts when all she could talk about was how kind and encouraging the players and coaches were.
  • It includes watching middle and high school English teachers abandon Plan B and scramble on the first day of school when we received our certificate of occupancy for their new classrooms fifteen minutes before the first bell rang.
  • My GRACE experience includes moms who send notes to let me know they are praying for me and dads who meet the first Friday of every month to eat donuts, share a devotion, and swap stories about their glory days.
  • My GRACE experience includes spending time with our youngest students at  lunch, having staring contests, showing off my goofy socks, and wrecking the ten minutes of quiet that their teachers are trying to establish.
  • It includes getting doused by middle and high school students with colored powder during the color run, and the memorable moments on the 1101 campus when the students occasionally have been kind enough to say hi to the awkward new guy in the hallway.
  • My GRACE experience includes being allowed to participate in the high school retreat, celebrating state titles in cross country and swimming, joining the record crowd of over 1000 people at Homecoming as our football team beat our cross-town rivals, cheering our basketball team with big wins over our cross-town rivals again, and watching our kids perform in Annie and in The Miracle Worker.
  • It includes attending a funeral and hearing incredible testimonies of lives impacted by GRACE teaching assistant Sherry Lunsford during her tenure at this school.
  • It includes praying with staff members dealing with the different challenges that take place during the life of a school, life in a community.
  • It includes participating in the artSpark walk downtown.
  • My experience includes more than a dozen coffees with parents to learn about their GRACE experiences.
  • Perhaps most importantly to me, My GRACE experience includes hearing my children talk about how much their teachers love them, and watching a community welcome them into the fold.

What is your GRACE experience? Have you stopped to thank God for what he has provided through GRACE? Before you click, take a moment to think about your GRACE experience and the impact this community has made on you and your family. I have been blessed over the course of the past nine months to hear countless stories of God’s blessings over members of the GRACE community. Next week, following Joshua’s lead, I will share some more about my GRACE experience, as well as take some time to share thoughts about the future of GRACE.

Fighting Fake and Biased News

This blog post is written by Daniel O’Brien, our 7th-12th grade Media Specialist and originally appeared in the 21st Century GRACE blog on February 4, 2017.

I am currently working with our Senior Seminar classes during a 3-day mini-unit in which we investigate news. As it turns out, many students have a difficult time interpreting the news — but truthfully, who doesn’t have difficulty interpreting news when we are constantly bombarded by sensationalized headlines from all points on the political spectrum every time we check a social media account?

During this mini-unit, we take time to look at how fake news is created. We study the example of Eric Tucker’s tweet that falsely claimed to have found “paid protester” buses at a Trump rally, how it was picked up by message boards, reposted, shared on Facebook, and then re-tweeted by the President himself; and how, despite reaching 16.7 million people, the story was completely false, debunked and admitted to later on. We also examine the article on “Fake News Sausage Factories,” as well as Cameron Harris, examining why websites publish sensationalized, fictitious, and inflammatory stories, and exactly how easy it is for them to publish these stories. (Hint: They want the ad revenue from when you click on the link — it is all monetarily driven). We also talk about tips for evaluating if a story is true, or sensationalized and re-shared opinions.

We then shift gears and investigate bias within news. After talking about what elements of the news contain and portray bias, we take a look at a neutral tragic event, like the San Bernardino or Sandy Hook shootings. We choose one of these events because it is a starting point; everyone can agree that these events are tragedies. Each student is given an article published by a news source, ranging from fairly unbiased to one of the many conspiracy-laden “news” sources on the internet.

After evaluating the article, they try and place the source on the following spectrum:

  • liberal conspiracy theories/garbage
  • left bias
  • left-center bias
  • least biased
  • right-center bias
  • right bias
  • conservative conspiracy theories/garbage.

Students need to back up their placement with reasoning. Next, they take a look at a heavily political article of their choice from the same source and repeat the process. They’re given the opportunity to re-examine and change their minds in light of a heavily politicized and opinionated issue.

After this second round, I introduce them to Media Bias Fact Check. Media Bias Fact Check is a resource that is invaluable when assessing the onslaught of news posts and publications we see each day. Not only do they create and explain a methodology for evaluating the bias of any particular news source and list sources that fall under different biases, they also take into account and inform you of conspiracy websites, “questionable sources” (aka fake news), what sources are least biased, and even provide a Google Chrome Extension that activates and provides this information when you visit a news source.

We then finish by discussing the importance of following more than one viewpoint in the  news, and talk about how to cross-cut your news feed with unbiased sources as well as sources from across the political spectrum — thereby breaking yourself free of the echo chamber that so easily occurs in our normal news consumption and social media curation.

As time goes on it will only become more difficult to determine legitimacy and bias within news, and that it is incredibly important to teach our students that you can’t believe everything you read, and that it is possible to be intentional and smart about the choices they make as they grow up in an age of information overload.

MLK Day and Education

“Intelligence plus character, that is the true goal of education.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

As educators, we invest in our students to develop their intelligence; however, our prayer for all students at GRACE Christian School is that they will develop a faith in Christ that will equip them with the character necessary to successfully navigate and persevere through life’s challenges.

In the nearly half century since his passing, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has taken his place alongside great figures of American History including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. As often happens with historical figures, it is easy to forget that Dr. King was a living, breathing person who felt fear, pain, and joy. It is important to remember that he was not always a larger-than-life figure. In one of his sermons, Dr. King speaks of sitting alone in his kitchen late one night, terrified of what the days ahead held for him and his family. His description is not of the iconic quotable figure speaking to the masses on the National Mall, but rather of a new father and young pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama. As he sat at his kitchen table, shaken by death threats and considering his future, he prayed. According to Dr. King, he was comforted by a sense that God would never leave him. Three days later, a bomb destroyed his front porch. In the coming years, death threats came daily. Dr. King was beaten and arrested on multiple occasions, but continued his mission of peaceful protest, emboldened by the knowledge that his Lord would not forsake him. In multiple sermons, Dr. King cited the prayer in his kitchen as a defining moment that prepared him for the trials ahead.

As followers of Christ, it is important for us to remember that salvation does not come with a promise of an easy life. Rather, the decision to follow Christ brings a promise of great difficulties. However, our foundation in Christ enables us to persevere, a theme found in Dr. King’s life and throughout the New Testament. We do well to remember the words Paul shared with the believers suffering in Rome:

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5

 

Diversity & Educational Technology

As we begin the second semester, I thought you might be interested in reading about one of the many ways our team seeks to use technology as a tool to teach our students. Quite often, the most important lessons taught in the classroom relate to those life skills that go beyond the lesson at hand: collaboration, respect for others, analytical skills, etc. Please continue reading to see how GRACE’s use of educational technology can help students better appreciate the value of diversity.

This post is written by Laura Warmke, our 7th-12th grade Technology Coach and originally appeared in the 21st Century GRACE blog.

Ok, that title is bit misleading because this is not a blog post about the usual educational technology (edtech) diversity topic: how we need more girls and minorities in computer science (although of course we do). This is a post about how diversity–in race, in gender, in socioeconomic class–is valuable and what edtech can do about it.

I just finished reading this fabulous article: How Diversity Makes Us Smarter. Katherine W. Phillips presents fascinating research showing not only correlation but causation between diverse groups and innovation. One study found that “being with similar others leads us to think we all hold the same information and share the same perspective. This perspective…is what hinders creativity and innovation.” Diversity shakes our assumptions that others think like us, which makes us work harder and more creatively to come up with solutions. That, in turn, leads to more innovation and better problem-solving.

At GRACE, we are moving towards doing more and more open learning (e.g. 20% time, design thinking, project-based learning) where student innovation is a major goal. So how does this research affect us?

There are many non-tech ways to answer that question, but considering that I’m the Technology Coach, I’m going to think about it from an edtech perspective:

  • Random groups: If students are left to themselves to choose their own groups, they most likely will choose people who are like them and minimize diversity. Perhaps teachers should consider doing more projects with truly random groups. It’s hard to be completely random, so using something like an online random group generator could help.
  • Brainstorming: Making groups diverse does no good if certain group members’ ideas are always shot down. This can be fixed by good brainstorming rules, but it can also be helped by edtech tools. Dotstorming allows anonymous group voting on ideas. This way students feel more comfortable voting on the best idea, not just the one presented by the most popular student.
  • Mentors, part I: Educational technology can be wonderful for getting mentors’ diverse perspectives into the classroom. Even if it’s just having sophomores mentored by seniors, that’s increasing diversity (age diversity) in a project and should lead to greater innovation. However, it’s hard to get a senior and a sophomore physically together, so that’s where technology comes in. Perhaps mentors build a Padlet or Google Doc to document their interactions.
  • Mentors, part II: This is a strong argument for collaborating with other classrooms outside GRACE.  The best place I’ve found for finding people who want to collaborate is the Google+ Connected Classrooms group. It’s an all grades, all subjects group where people seek out U.S. or worldwide connections. [Hint: If you join, you can turn off the notifications if you want so you aren’t overwhelmed by then.  It can be a bit much.] Then, of course, you’ll run your collaboration through edtech: emails, Skype/Google Hangouts, Google Drive, Kahoot, Popplet, Twitter, Stormboard, Voicethread.  The important things here is not the edtech tool you use; it’s exposing your students to people who are different than them.
  • Blogs: If you have access to a computer and the internet, you have access to an astonishing number of people who post their opinions online. For free. Sometimes those opinions are derogatory, hateful, or wrong, but other times they are just different or (I’m going there) diverse. One way to get students the benefits of diversity without having to set up a connection with another classroom is to have students read blogs and leave helpful comments on a post. Hopefully, this process of interacting with people who don’t think like them forces students to think more and results in more creativity.
  • Real-world exhibitions and launches: a major part of project-based learning is exhibiting your work, whether that work is a drawing, a presentation, or a digital artifact. If there is some way to do this where students anticipate a diverse audience reacting their product–say, if the artwork is going to be displayed in NC State’s art department–this should prompt students to consider more deeply their product’s design and execution. Bonus points for allowing viewers to leave feedback for students (perhaps via Twitter?) and then having students take those into account on the next iteration of their product.

A final note: actively seeking out diversity in the classroom probably won’t be easy, on you or your students. As Phillips notes, there are positives and negatives to diversity: “people work harder in diverse environments both cognitively and socially. They might not like it, but the hard work can lead to better outcomes.” Be prepared for some push back from students who find it easier to be with others who think like them. But also be prepared for diversity to push students to new ideas they never would have developed before.

2016 Christmas Message

Over the past several weeks, the word JOY has repeatedly entered into my life. I believe it began when my wife, Amy, brought home a five-foot tall white sign with JOY written in large red letters to use in our Christmas decorating. At GRACE, we have “JOY” written in large red letters in the main hallway of our TK-6th grade campus. Additionally, the word resounds through the stream of Christmas songs playing on our radios and the dialogue in every Hallmark channel movie. “JOY” is probably one of the most used words during the Christmas season, even though we may not hear it too often the other eleven months of the year.

The word “JOY” showed up as part of the devotion Assistant Principal Isaiah Whelpley shared at the December Donuts for Dads meeting. Isaiah read from John 15 and shared the importance of abiding in Christ. This is the passage where Jesus shares that He “is the vine and [His] Father is the vinedresser.” The illustration that follows in verses 2-10 discuss the importance of abiding in Christ. Abide has several meanings, including to remain with, to wait for, to accept without opposition, to act in accord with, and to remain faithful to. As part of the devotion, Isaiah did a fantastic job of sharing the need for all of us to abide in Christ at all times, and emphasized the need to do this amidst the busyness of our daily lives, and especially at Christmas. When we abide in Christ, it shows through our actions, especially to those who are closest to us. When we abide in Christ, people notice. When we abide in Christ, we become more like Christ in our thoughts.

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:9-11)

As Isaiah wrapped up his devotion that morning, I couldn’t help but get caught up in verse 11 — “These things I have spoken to you, that My JOY may remain in you, and that your JOY may be full.” So as you experience this hectic present-shopping, package-wrapping, parade-walking, carol-singing, midterm-grading, Hallmark movie-watching, college football-bowling, family-visiting, and sweet-eating time, remember that the key to finding JOY amidst all of this is to abide in Christ. Phillips Brooks, the author of O Little Town of Bethlehem, must have understood this when he wrote the line, “O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.”

“O holy Child of Bethlehem | Descend to us, we pray | Cast out our sin and enter in | Be born to us today | We hear the Christmas angels | The great glad tidings tell | O come to us, abide with us | Our Lord Emmanuel | O come to us, abide with us | Our Lord Emmanuel” (O Little Town of Bethlehem)

We are thankful for every GRACE family and hope your JOY is full this December as you abide in Him, and throughout the new year. Please enjoy this 2016 Christmas Video that was filmed and edited by our 6th grade Multimedia Elective class.

Our Trying Times

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in the crisis, shrink from that service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”  Thomas Paine, December, 1776

When Thomas Paine penned The Crisis two-hundred-and-forty years ago, the United States of America was little more than an audacious idea. Independence from Great Britain had not been won. The Constitution and Bill of Rights had not been written. Paine could not have envisioned a Civil War that would end slavery or the struggle for equality that would follow. He had no idea that the very loosely connected confederation of states would eventually become the greatest economic and military power the world would ever know. However, what he did see with uncanny clarity was that he was in the midst of an event of historic importance. He grasped the magnitude of the moment.  Specifically, he understood that if the colonists failed to respond to this moment with action — tangible, impassioned, purposeful action — the moment would be lost.

I feel we have reached another crisis point in American history that requires action, albeit a very different type. The 2016 election results revealed empirically what we already knew emotionally — our nation is deeply divided. We are challenged by passionately held economic and philosophical differences, as well as racial divisions dating back generations, that reach well beyond political party ideologies. Disappointingly, there is an inability or unwillingness among our population to acknowledge that reasonable, well-intentioned people can have differing viewpoints. It is important for us to think back to Paine’s words. We may be guilty of esteeming our freedom too lightly, forgetting that it was paid for dearly by those who did not shrink from serving their country, the very veterans we honored last week in the days following the election.  At Gettysburg, Lincoln poetically acknowledged the sacrifice of the men who “gave the last full measure of devotion” so that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The sacrifices of those men, as well as the men and women who both preceded and followed them, must not be in vain. Those individuals sacrificed for our right to worship as we please, to protest peacefully when we feel the need to do so, and to elect our leaders through democratic means. Today, billions of men and women around the world dream of the freedoms that we too often take for granted. As Americans, we owe a debt that cannot be fully repaid. We honor the sacrifices made by demonstrating the proper respect for and practice of those freedoms that have been so dearly won.

Furthermore, as ambassadors for Christ on foreign soil (2 Corinthians 5:20), we have an even greater responsibility in service to our eternal King. As was the case in 1776, this moment requires action. There are people throughout our nation who are wounded, angry, and frightened. We have the great responsibility and awesome opportunity to demonstrate to these individuals the love of Christ, whether we find common ground over political ideologies or not. In his book Serious Times, Dr. James Emery White writes, “The heart of Jesus’ strategy for transforming the world was unleashing a force of transformed lives…This is how the world will be changed: individuals who have had their lives touched by Christ turning around and touching the lives of others.” In the midst of this volatile season of American history, I encourage you to be counter-cultural by demonstrating a love and respect for your neighbor that sets you apart from others. Allow the joy of Christ to shine through you in such a manner that others cannot help but be drawn to it. Seek to be the difference-maker in your community through acts of servant-leadership. Speak truth, but do so in love. Demonstrate compassion under challenging circumstances. In so doing, we will play our part in healing the wounds of our nation, but, more importantly, we will live out our calling from Romans 12 to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.”

Contributing Author:

  • Eric Bradley, Head of School

Open Learning

As GRACE grows and takes fuller advantage of our technology resources, you may hear the term Open Learning. Open Learning does not mean GRACE is getting rid of curriculum, standards or teachers. Open Learning means that teachers provide students with real life problems or questions and students work on possible solutions. In the process of grappling with these questions, students learn the curriculum while sharpening their collaboration, divergent thinking, and inquiry skills. Teachers may use pedagogical techniques like design thinking, project-based learning, gamification or flipped learning to facilitate this process.  At the end of the unit, the students will produce a result that demonstrates understanding of the information as well as creativity and innovation in the solution.

Open Learning is built upon the foundations of technology and the 21st Century learning skills of collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking. GRACE wants our students to be “lifelong learners who know how to research, analyze, and synthesize new information and present it professionally.”  Open Learning helps us achieve and advance this goal with an emphasis on student choice, inquiry, and creation for real world audiences.  All of this will help students gain skills they need for college and the workforce as well as prepare them to impact their world for Christ.

In the process of working on bigger picture projects, teachers impart the skills needed for students to succeed at all levels. There will always be times when the best way for students to learn is a teacher sharing their knowledge. Additionally, teachers are actively involved with students designing questions and guiding projects, mentoring, monitoring, and coming alongside students to enable them to get the most out of the experience.

GRACE teachers are focusing on building collaboration across subjects.  For example, students may be working on a project that achieves curricular goals in history, English, and Bible simultaneously. This approach ensures that students are not overloaded with projects in multiple classes within a span of time. This cross-curricular collaboration also helps students see the relevance of their studies in multiple areas and the real-life relationships between subjects. Our students are poised to be leaders in their generation. GRACE is preparing them for this role into the future.

Contributing Authors:

  • Mandy Gill, Principal, Grades 7-12
  • Laura Warmke, Technology Coach, Grades 7-12
  • Daniel O’Brien, Media Specialist, Grades 7-12

Greetings from the Head of School

Welcome to GRACE!

Welcome to GRACE Christian School, “a loving community that spiritually and academically equips, challenges, and inspires students to impact their world for Jesus Christ.” Our mission provides us with more than words on a wall or a nice byline for our stationary. Our entire community is committed to making these words a reality in the lives of our students.

We talk about community a lot at GRACE  because we understand the importance and value of a Christ-centered community. As a Christian community we are unapologetic in our commitment to place Christ first in all things. These are interesting times for families as technology has created a culture that has the power to unite people across the world, but also to isolate us as individuals become increasingly focused on their digital lives. Our loving community seeks to help young people engage in healthy relationships built upon a reliance on Jesus Christ, understanding that their value is not based on the number of likes or followers they receive, but on the fact that they are children of a loving God.

We commit to engage our students both spiritually and academically, striving to develop well-rounded individuals equipped to take on the challenges of the twenty-first century marketplace. Our goal is for each student to maximize his or her talents, whether academic, athletic, artistic, or spiritual, to God’s ultimate glory. We accomplish this through the work of our teachers, lifelong learners committed to engaging in best practices in the classrooms and beyond. Author Henry Adams famously wrote, “A teacher impacts eternity; he never knows where his influence stops.”  Our teachers are eternally minded, teaching from a Christian worldview and incorporating biblical truth into their instruction. Our commitment to best practices includes integrating technology throughout the curriculum. At the earliest elementary levels our students are introduced to the basics of coding, keyboarding, and digital citizenship through the use of Smartboards and laptop computers. In fourth grade, each student learns to use a laptop for daily work. From fifth grade through graduation, every student receives a laptop computer as part of our 1:1 laptop program. Significantly, every teacher receives personalized training and support in utilizing the computers as an instructional tool.

We are excited about what God is doing here and look forward to sharing the news with others.

Blessings,

Eric Bradley, Head of School