It’s no surprise that the pandemic had significant effects on student learning, including in Seventh-day Adventist schools. The University Seventh-day Adventist Church (UChurch) in East Lansing, Michigan, United States, saw this as an opportunity, however.
In September 2022, by unanimous vote, the church board approved the pilot of a new initiative called UChurch Young Scholars. This innovative academic program for grades K-8 was designed and launched by a local Adventist educator, focusing on four main components: learning enrichment opportunities; school/homework support; individualized tutoring; and educational consulting for families.
Families showed immediate interest as application forms were distributed. While this pilot program is subsidized by UChurch, the parents pay registration and session fees. Tracy Ferreira, a board member and a Young Scholar parent, said she couldn’t be happier about this program launch.
“We feel that God answered prayers when this started, and we feel so blessed to be part of it,” Ferreira said.
Once a young scholar is accepted in the program, parents are asked to provide documentation of their child’s academic history. This includes a copy of report cards, test scores, and other artifacts to generate a comprehensive picture for each student. A series of assessments are also given to gauge the level of understanding. This information is then analyzed to help develop academic goals and an educational plan for each student.
Rachel Huddleston, another Young Scholar parent, explained the benefit she sees in this process. “Young Scholars offers [my daughter] encouragement and individual attention, and I appreciate the feedback I receive about her growth from a dedicated educator.”
One focus of the program is the weekly meetings, held on Tuesdays from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m., when the students come together to receive general study help with schoolwork. The first portion of these group meetings includes an enrichment presentation from a local member of the community. The purpose of bringing in guest speakers is to broaden the scope of learning beyond what is taught in a traditional classroom.
So far, through this enrichment segment, the scholars have learned about a variety of topics including homesteading, creative arts, and public service. The UChurch pastor, Jermaine Gayle, who also serves as the chaplain of the East Lansing Police Department, said he has used his network to invite speakers such as a local postal worker and a police officer with his K-9 police dog.
“We believe this is an opportunity for our youth to not only meet and learn from critical members of our city, but it allows our church to make meaningful connections,” Gayle said. “During their visits, we’re able to pray for these individuals and bless them for the work they do,” he added.
The young scholars write each of the guests a thank-you card, and for some of the guests, a little gift is given. Sometimes these gifts go a long way.
One guest speaker for UChurch Young Scholars was the mayor of East Lansing, Ron Bacon. He shared about the work he does, and he expounded more as the students asked questions that they had prepared ahead of time. At the end, Bacon was presented with a gift that included a wooden art piece signed by all of the students, which read: “May your faith be bigger than your fear.”
Before Bacon left, the young scholars and parents were able to circle around him and pray that God would grant him wisdom and courage to lead the city. He said he felt confident that the Young Scholars meeting was a divine appointment, and he brought that gift with him to an important press conference that evening.
God’s hand is guiding this unique ministry. The students are growing, the community is willing to share their skills and knowledge, and everyone is blessed as a result. Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The opposite appears to be true as well. Where there is vision, God’s people thrive.
“I’m so thankful UChurch loves and invests in our children. It takes a village,” Huddleston said.