April 8, 2009

10CN: Romanian Adventist Schools Shape Nation's Educational Landscape

Romanian Adventist Schools Shape
Nation’s Educational Landscape
Petrescu makes case for church-run education
capWhen Romanian parliament member Ivan Buciuta visited his childhood village a few years ago and asked the locals what was new in Poienile de sub Munte, he learned Seventh-day Adventists were operating a fledgling kindergarten school in the northern Romanian town.
Locals introduced Buciuta to Maria Oncsa and Daniela Oncea, two Adventist teachers from a 40-member congregation who initiated the idea to assist parents in the village by establishing a kindergarten.


KIDS AT PLAY: Two preschoolers play with dolls during a break at the Moisei school. The percentage of Adventist students in each school varies from 10 to 40 percent, depending on the location. Church leaders say Adventist students who stay in church-run schools are more likely join the church when they are older. [photo: Valeriu Patrescu]

It all started in 2006 with 14 children, only half of whom came from Adventist homes, Buciuta learned during that visit. The Oncsas didn't initially earn a salary -- instead, they volunteered their time to teach at the kindergarten, he learned. "We will see what the future holds," the Oncsas told him at the time.

Moved, Buciuta offered to pay for one annual salary out of his own pocket, in what amounted to a yearlong financial experiment.
Today, with 41 students, the Oncsas no longer worry how they'll finance the school.
For Valeriu Petrescu, director of education for the Adventist Church in Romania, the kindergarten in Poienile de sub Munte illustrates the church's growing sphere of influence in Romania.
On the heels of the country's 1989 revolution, the Adventist Church launched an education experiment that today boasts 64 schools, including 52 preschools, four primary and four secondary schools and a nursing school with an enrollment of 129.
The ratio of students from Adventist homes varies from school to school. In Bucharest, only 10 percent of students at the Adventist high school come from the community. But in Craiova, students with an Adventist background make up only 40 percent of the student body.
Petrescu says he recognizes the capacity of the country's 70,000-strong adult church membership to influence the community. "[I want to] go beyond where we are today," he says. "I can see that we could have between 200 and 300 kindergartens, 30 primary and 20 secondary schools."
Petrescu is also eager to see the church develop a first-class theological university-level institute, with 1,000 students in two or three satellite campuses. Currently, the church's Theological Institute in Cernica, near Bucharest, offers masters degrees in theology and education, with an enrollment of more than 320.


ADVENTIST PRESCHOOLChildren study at the Speranta Church preschool in Targoviste, Romania. The Adventist Church launched an educational system in Romania after the country's revolution in 1989. Today Romania has 64 Adventist schools, including 52 preschools, four primary and four secondary schools and a nursing school with an enrollment of 129. [photo: Valeriu Patrescu]

Romanians haven't always enjoyed the freedom to choose between public and private education for their children, Petrescu explains. Over the past two years, national debate spurred a new law that permits private parochial schools in the context of freedom of conscience. This allowed Protestant denominations in Romania to access state funding for salaries and operational expenses for schools that teach grades one through ten.

"We can take advantage of this situation, which for decades we could not enjoy," he says.
Petrescu is quick to add concerns that run parallel to his vision of Adventist education in Romania. Because Adventist education is a new concept in the country, he says changing the mindset of many church leaders who may underestimate "the importance of this work" is a challenge.
"I am traveling around the country explaining and showing that our education ministry is at the heart of our mission. This is a long-term investment based on our evangelistic interests," Petrescu says.
He recalls one particular meeting with a local congregation. "'We already have a school in our village. Why establish our own school?'" one church member asked him.
"There is no paradigm for Christian education among the older generation," Petrescu says. As he makes his case for opening more church-run schools, Petrescu says only Adventist educators are able to supplement the general curriculum with the church's beliefs and values.
Petrescu, who is currently finishing a doctorate in sociology at the University of Bucharest, explains to Adventist congregations and pastors that parents and their children who attend church-run schools are the best testimonies in support of Adventist education.
"Parents are amazed to see the changes in their children," he says. Petrescu has also observed that many, if not most students from Adventist high school join the church. "These children are now committed to being involved with the church."
"We impact communities where we operate our schools," Petrescu says, adding that two-thirds of enrollment in Adventist schools in now made up of community members. 
"We are excited about the potential [these schools] offer to our mission," he says.
                                                                                                    -- Reported by Adventist News Network