For three days in August 2018, a room in the south building of McCormick Place in Chicago was filled with reams of paper, five laminating machines, packs of colored pencils, pairs of scissors — and a couple of hundred Adventist educators. Attending the 2018 North American Division (NAD) Teachers’ Convention not only provided multi-grade teachers of small schools with the chance to network, learn, and worship together — it also gave them opportunity to color, laminate, and trim all the resources for five units (half of a school year) of the new Encounter Bible curriculum.
Volunteers, both current and retired educators, operated the borrowed laminators and aided in trimming and organizing about 100 resource pages to each of the 240 teachers who signed up for the “printing party.” These pages accompany the curriculum’s lessons and the textbook, which is the Bible.
Bible as Textbook
“This curriculum only has one textbook, and that's the Bible,” said NAD vice president for education Larry Blackmer. “It’s one of the most important things that's happened in this division in the last two decades.”
“It’s one of the most important things that's happened in this division in the last two decades.”
The curriculum, adapted from the South Pacific Division’s Bible program in Australia, was rolled out incrementally over four years, with secondary education piloting it first. During those years, teachers were trained in how to use the experiential curriculum. They were also trained to instruct other teachers. This year is the final one of the roll-out.
“The online content is not available to you until you've been trained to use it,” Blackmer explained. “We're not just passing out textbooks and saying, ‘Go teach.’ It’s as much pedagogy as it is content.”
While in-services have already been provided, colleges and universities in the NAD are also including Encounter training in their methodology classes, so that education graduates will be prepared to walk into a classroom and teach the program.
“We’ve trained all of the university professors who are teaching Bible methods,” said NAD education associate director Arnie Nielsen. “We’ve trained all of those now in Encounter Bible all the way through to train the trainer. That's at least two training sessions.”
“Our Unions are the gatekeepers. They keep track of who’s trained, and then they provide additional training once or more a year for new teachers coming into the system who haven’t had it,” Blackmer added.
The new curriculum is a shift to Bible study in Adventist schools. Said Blackmer, “We’ve tended to go to content-driven, in which [students] memorize Scripture and know all the 28 Fundamental Beliefs — or we go to a relational side, in which the students know Jesus and don't worry about all that memorization. Now, we've put the two of those together, so we have a sound biblical foundation based on a relationship with Christ.”
The shift has been met so far with positive expressions and excitement.
“I’ve had about 20 teachers who’ve called me and said in tears, ‘Larry, this is the most important thing that’s ever happened in my life;’ and ‘My relationship with Christ is so much deeper because I’ve learned how to relate to Him and how to have a relationship with Christ.’ They’ve also shared that they have become ‘a different person’ [after] learning about Encounter Bible and teaching it.”
“It’s a hands-on opportunity for students to work as groups and as individuals. We provide a kit that's available to every school with tangible teaching tools, [such as] a shofar,” said Blackmer. “Kids can blow when they talk about that portion of the Sanctuary lesson and the New Testament.”
NAD’s associate director for elementary education, Leisa Standish, who coordinated the lamination event, explained the set-up in the resource room. Small-school teachers picked up preprinted resource pages for grades 1-8 and either laminated straight away or colored the black-and-white pages and sent them to one of five huge laminators, which were lent to the event by larger NAD schools. Once the sheets have come out, the teachers trim down to letter size and stack up the units. On the last day of the convention, the teachers were given a bag for their supplies and a special gift in a small bag.
“The reception has been fantastic,” said Standish. “This takes the teachers through half the year, so they can hit the ground running when they go back to school in a couple of weeks. They don’t have laminators, they don’t have color printers, so this would cost them a lot of money — and budgets are tight — so they’ve been thrilled.”
Standish said that as soon as NAD Education posted the event, people signed up. “That shows you how important it is for small-school teachers. Plus, they get to talk with one another and share ideas. When you’re on your own, or you’ve only got a couple of teachers, it’s nice to have an event such as this.”
Teachers at the laminating event said it felt like a school, with the quiet ping and hum of the machines, and the talk and laughter buzzing across the room as educators colored, stacked, and cut their new Bible resources.
Micah Smith’s exuberance could not be contained as he paced about, waiting for the laminating films to adhere to his pages. “Lamination is life! It’s wonderful,” said Smith, the teacher for grades 1-4 at New Orleans Adventist Academy in Louisiana. “This event is great. I am so glad they’re doing this for us. It saves us money, and it saves us time.”
“This event is great. I am so glad they’re doing this for us. It saves us money, and it saves us time.”
That joy was evident as Smith talked about using the new curriculum. “I see the potential in the curriculum that they wrote out, and so it is exciting to know that the kids are going to interact with Jesus in a new way. The old curriculum was good, but I think this is going to be even better in the way they’ve designed it. It’s going to bring kids to Jesus even more so than the old curriculum did.”
Joan Zollinger, K-8 teacher and principal at Woodbury Seventh-day Adventist School in Tennessee, agreed. “I’m really excited about the curriculum. And I’ll be even more excited once I figure it all out,” she said with a laugh.
Zollinger, whose laminator is broken, valued the event. “I’m thankful that [the NAD] provided this, and thankful to the schools who loaned their laminators,” she said. “You just feel that someone realizes this new curriculum is going to take some work, and they’re stepping up to meet that need. I’m grateful for it.”
She is also a fan of Encounter Bible. As she colored the sheets while waiting for laminated pages to emerge, she said, “I’ve been teaching for a long time, 36 years, and I’ve never been to a workshop I loved more than that one. While I don’t feel like I have a complete handle on it yet, I’m excited about the whole premise — it is about Jesus and everything being about saving our kids. I loved the old curriculum too, but I love the intentionality of the new [curriculum].”
Pausing her conversation with another educator, Carlene Kowlessar, from Southwest Adventist Junior Academy in Dallas, Texas, shared that she learned about this resource training event from her principal and Southwest Regional Conference superintendent. The teacher for grades 2-4, Kowlessar said she was excited to get the resources. “School starts in a little more than a week from now — this is just one less thing I have to worry about,” she said. “It’s already printed, copied, and laminated. All I have to do is put it into practice.”
“Whoever thought of this was genius,” she added. “They’re the real MVPs.”