Thursday, December 5, 2013

There is an Academic Side to Christian School Education

Back in October, our 10th and 11th grade students took the PSAT.  This is a preliminary benchmark sort of examination that is used to predict how well students will do on their SAT, which is a college entrance and scholarship qualification exam.  It is also a measurement of the grade level expectations of high school students in the areas of language arts or verbal skills, and mathematics.  Traditionally, students at PCS do very well in both areas, though math sometimes wins out over the verbal skills simply because of the different skills that are required.

For most of the past decade, in fact, PCS has been the leading school as far as SAT results are concerned in our three county area, and proportionately produces more students who qualify for national merit status than any other school in the region.  Overall, our students score well above the state and national averages, and it is not unusual for three fourths of the students in a given class to achieve above the 50th percentile, which is considered the average score. 

Today, the large envelope with PSAT scores for grades 11 and 10 was delivered.  Our students did not disappoint.  A sophomore received the highest score of all of our students who took the test.  Based on previous indicators, we could potentially have as many as three of our juniors qualify for the National Merit Scholar competition, and perhaps three sophomores when they become juniors and take the test again next year.  We won't know until September, of course, but we are waiting in excited anticipation. 

The success that our students enjoy is something that I attribute to several factors.  1.)  We are a Christian school that operates under a Christian philosophy of education, and the motivation that many students feel comes from a desire to do their best in everything they do, because they are doing it as unto the Lord.  2) There is something to be said for small class sizes.  We have advanced math and English courses with as few as six or seven students, with a couple of them even smaller than that.  3) The curriculum is designed to be challenging, and to raise student expectations.  Students will achieve more if more is demanded of them.  4) We have a faculty that is highly qualified, dedicated to teaching, and who want to be here in this place with these students.  They, too, understand the principle of doing "unto the Lord" as well as the responsibility that God places on parents to educate their children.  5.) Parents are encouraged to be involved in the education of their children, and they are.  Our role as a school is to support parents in their role as the educators of their children.  When things are right as far as the social order is concerned, other things, like academic achievement, will fall into place.  6.) The overall atmosphere of the school community is one that is secure, comfortable, friendly and lacking in many of the social distractions that prevent students from learning in the public schools.  We aren't perfect, and things do happen to cause distractions, but they are rare, and we move quickly to get them out of the way.

We put test scores in their proper perspective.  They are not the "product" or the result of the education we provide.  They help us examine our strengths and weaknesses, and build objectives into the curriculum where they are needed.  They are primarily used to improve our instruction.  We are proud of the students who do well on them because they represent us well, and we are very glad that some of them, at least, can discover the benefits of scholarship money when they receive them.  Join me in congratulating the students and their teachers on their successful completion of this fall's PSAT.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Religious Freedom or Free Speech?

http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-ohio-teacher-bible-20131120,0,7656274.story#axzz2lIbDAKNQ

A science teacher in Ohio, apparently a very good science teacher, was dismissed because school officals thought that his personal expression of his Christian faith was too overt. The line between personal religious freedom and free speech, guaranteed by the constitution, and the separation of church and state, and the so-called principle of "freedom from religion" is being drawn ever tighter by court rulings. The main issue in this case was the visible presence of a Bible, belonging to the teacher, in his classroom. That drew attention to some other perspectives which came from the testimony of students and parents, determining that he had doubts about the veracity of evolutionary theory. There wasn't anything that suggested his students were not getting everything they were supposed to get from the curriculum, and in fact, the evidence suggested that he was the best science teacher in the district in the way they measure achievement. Quality instruction, though, appears to matter less than political correctness does.

The court ruling that upheld the dismissal of the teacher, John Freshwater, sets a precedent for schools in Ohio in determining where the boundary between free speech, religious freedom and separation of church and state lies, and there's very little territory allocated to the personal freedom side of the issue. And this isn't the Northeast, or New York or Philadelphia, or some large metro or suburban school district. This is a small town in Ohio, in the heart of middle America, and this was a politically conservative state supreme court. The public education system is completely in the grip of secular humanists, even there.

Readers will get some small comfort from the words of the minority opinion, written by Justice Paul Pfeifer. Unfortunately, well reasoned, truthfully supported arguments not only aren't allowed in public school classrooms, they are ignored in the court system as well. If your kids are here, you should feel blessed.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Happenings at PCS

Athletics
Both the soccer team and volleyball team captured the #1 seed from their conference play this fall.  Congratulations to both teams.  The soccer team finished their SWCAC season undefeated, while the volleyball team lost just one conference game.  They will both be playing Thursday evening, the soccer team at Slippery Rock Baptist Camp, the volleyball team here at PCS. 

Our athletes have worked very hard, and they've been very committed to doing their best.  They've represented their school, and their savior, very well.  It would be great to see a large turnout of support for their playoff appearances on Thursday. 

Grandparents and Special Friends Day
Mark your calendars for Tuesday, November 26.  Grandparents, and special friends, are invited to come and enjoy a time of worship with our students, and visiting them in their classrooms.  The PFA is helping with the sponsorship of this annual event.  We deeply appreciate the support that our grandparents give to the school.

Fine Arts Department to Present "Charley's Aunt"
The fall play is underway, and students are busy rehearsing for the presentation of "Charley's Aunt," a comedy.  November 14-16 are the dates. 

PSAT Testing Wednesday, October 16
Sophomores and Juniors will be taking the PSAT on Wednesday, October 16th.  The PSAT is one of the annual progress measurements that we use.  Though the scores vary from year to year, Portersville Christian School students still demonstrate the strength of the academic program at our school by placing among the highest achieving students in the region, and by earning average scores which are well above the state and national averages.  Please be in prayer for these students as they test off campus at Grace Church in Harmony.

ACSI Nexus
Our teachers will be participating in the fall ACSI Nexus event at Christ Church at Grove Farm on Thursday and Friday, October 17 and 18.  These two days provide great inspiration and training events for them.  We are looking forward to the inspiration, and I am sure that the students are looking forward to the vacation time.


Monday, October 7, 2013

The Warrior Legacy Fund 2013-14

We are celebrating 50 years of providing a distinctively Christian, quality academic education at Portersville Christian School.  This will also be the second year for our annual fund drive, the Warrior Legacy Fund.  In 2012-13, our first Warrior Legacy Fund raised some $44,000 for the school's financial aid and technology programs.  This was in addition to the other money the school raises for other causes, including the athletic and fine arts programs.  The fund gives alumni, alumni families and friends of the school the opportunity to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and exercise the gift of giving to a school that is committed to the teaching of the gospel to children, and teaching them to minister to others in Jesus' name. 

So why do we need an annual fund?

First of all, Christian schools are private schools, but they operate under a distinctively Christian philosophy of education. Our mission and purpose is to be a ministry which supports church and family by providing instruction that is consistent with the basic beliefs of the Christian faith, and which integrates the principles of the Bible into curriculum development.  So our intention is to provide this ministry to as broad a segment of the Christian community as possible.  Finding ways to cover expenses so that families find the tuition and fees affordable is part of our ministry, and the annual fund is part of that effort.  The average cost per student runs between $1,300 and $1,500 a year more than the average payment of tuition and fees including discounts. 

Volunteer hours of parents also contribute to keeping the cost to families low, as does the commitment of our faculty and staff to provide the quality of education that they do at salaries that are lower than their peers earn in many other Christian schools.  It would take an additional $2,000 per year, per student in tuition to raise our teacher pay and benefits to a level where it would be in the "average" range for Christian schools in the US.  The annual fund makes it possible for the school to consider putting salary increases for employees in the budget each year.

Second, financial aid is a key component of making Christian school accessible to families who have a desire to see their children educated in an environment that is compatible with, and not hostile to, their Christian values.  More than 10% of our budget comes from financial aid that our families are qualified to receive based on their income.  The Warrior Legacy Fund adds to the amount of aid we distribute.  With the qualification limits on the EITC program being raised this past summer, more families can qualify for financial aid, which opens the door to their participation in Christian education.  The Warrior Legacy Fund increases the amount of money available to the school to distribute among a larger number of qualified applicants. 

Third, when there is additional funding in the budget, there is more available for critical needs that require attention.  The development of the use of technology in education is one of those areas.  The Warrior Legacy Fund, when it reaches its goals, makes it possible for us to consider expanding our technology.  You can find research which shows that the addition of more technology does not necessarily translate into improved measurements of educational progress among students, but even if it doesn't, the use of technology in the workplace means that we need to expose our students to its applications and uses.  The Warrior Legacy Fund makes it possible for us to do this.

The expectation of the Warrior Legacy Fund is to work to find those whom God is directing to give financial support to the ministry of Portersville Christian School.  There may be individuals who are part of the current school community who have the means to provide extra support, and we are grateful for them, but the main emphasis of the Warrior Legacy Fund is to move the fund raising effort to a group of people who have motivation to give out of gratitude for what has transpired in their life as a result of their years here.  So for those who are currently part of the school community, we are looking for those who want to give a gift of volunteer time to serve on the committee that helps make this effort.  And if you can point us to some alumni, or some individual in the business community who are being prompted to give, you would be a valuable part of this committee.  Please contact the school office if you are interested. 




Friday, September 27, 2013

Help! My Child has Three Study Halls!

Portersville Christian School’s middle and high school uses a nine period daily class schedule.  This works well in a small school in which teachers have multiple preps, sometimes in more than one subject area, and where there are some staff members with both elementary and high school teaching responsibilities, such as PE and music. This helps with scheduling.  And since our school is committed to exceeding state academic standards, a nine period schedule allows us to set the requirements for graduating from high school at a higher level, and leave room in the student schedule to get all of the required coursework in a four year period. 

As you can imagine, with the school day divided into nine periods, the actual time students spend in class will be about 40 minutes, which means that the extended time for guided and independent practice will be shortened.  That's why we have study halls.  They are built into the schedule to allow students to have guided practice time with a teacher in the room to provide assistance, and for independent practice.  With a Monday-Friday, Tuesday-Thursday format for elective courses and P.E., that means most students will have between 2 and 3 study halls a day, which averages out to about 80 minutes for guided and independent practice.  That's about what they would have at the end of each class if they were on a block schedule.  Study halls are NOT "free periods."  They are to be used in the same way that time left over in class would be used after the teacher has taught the objective. 

Students are required to take courses in the core subject areas of history, math, science, English and Bible, and supplemental courses in Computer Applications, Physical Education and Foreign Language.  That’s seven classes, with PE being offered two periods per week.  Depending on the electives, and the grade level, that leaves from two to three periods a day open.  So in order to meet the state instructional time requirement, those periods are scheduled as study halls.  The academic rigor of the curriculum at PCS is such that a student wisely using study hall time will not have any trouble finding enough work to do.

In order to qualify as instructional time, a study hall must be monitored and supervised by a teacher to make sure that students are involved in guided or independent practice (doing homework assignments) or are using the study hall time to prepare for tests or complete class projects.  This is the same sort of activity in which they would be engaged if they were in a class period of 60 or 70 minutes in a block schedule, the only difference being that they have changed classrooms, and are not necessarily with one of their core subject instructors. 

Teachers who are assigned to supervise study halls are given a specific list of instructions regarding the way the class is to be managed.  The expectation is that the study hall will provide an atmosphere that is conducive to study, and that the teacher will check to see that the students are spending the majority of their time on academic work.  If a student utilizes his “independent practice” time in study hall, grades will show improvement and the amount of homework he brings home will be noticeably reduced.

Both the objectives of individual courses, and the coursework requirements for graduation from PCS exceed the standards set by the state department of education.  In addition to the Bible class requirement, students at PCS are required to take one extra year of science, math, social studies and foreign language in order to graduate.  So having two or three study halls per day is not a problem, as long as students are assisted in the management of their time by the teachers, and encouraged by their parents.  Your help, and support of this arrangement, is crucial to its success.

 

 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Desired Student Outcomes: Assessing Progress and Measuring Success

The title phrase sounds like a lot of "education-ese," language which has a specific meaning for people who are involved in education.  There's a lot of terminology related to the field of education which has to be translated for those who are not involved in it as a career.  A "Desired Student Outcome" is what you want a student to be able to do with the skills they have been taught in a particular class.  One of the most popular ways to assess progress and measure success is to administer a test, hoping that the student has prepared for it, knows the objectives and is able to demonstrate his ability to put to use what he knows. 

It might be hard to pick out the potential doctors, or chemical engineers, or architects in a junior high life science or mathematics class, but the fact of the matter is that several of the students in any given group will someday achieve those career goals.  It will be inside one of their classrooms, at some point during their school experience, where their interest will be guided by their success, and from that beginning point, they will make a determination that will lead them to their career goal.

It is important to us, at Portersville Christian School, for students to have the academic success and the tools they need in the classroom to have the kind of experience that leads them toward a career goal that they have chosen because their interest and aptitude has led them in that direction.  Those are powerful motivators, and I believe God directs the circumstances of their lives in order to get those sparks going.  But it is more important to us for our students to prepare themselves for a ministry through the body of Christ, which will last for their lifetime.  Remaining faithful and committed to Jesus, and serving him through his church is our highest priority, and our most desirable student outcome.

What got me thinking along these lines was the fact that this is our fiftieth anniversary.  Yesterday, there were 24 Christian school administrators on our campus for a meeting, and out of the schools represented, there were only three that had been around longer than us.  Each year, there's been a group of students who have graduated from here, and it is those students who provide us with the assessment of our progress and the measure of success in achieving our desired outcome.

There are three graduating classes to whom I have handed a diploma since becoming administrator here, a total of 55 students, the oldest of whom are now juniors in college.  The record they are writing for themselves is a good one.  Many of them are at Christian colleges like Geneva, Grove City, Liberty, Cedarville, Houghton, and Moody Bible Institute, preparing for a vocation in Christian ministry or missions, or a service related occupation.  Many others are at state universities like Pitt, or Slippery Rock, or Robert Morris, or Carlow, or at junior colleges like BC3, living for Christ, setting an example for their peers, and preparing for some sort of service career.  It isn't easy to live a Christian life among your peers while you are in college these days.  But most of these students are following in the footsteps of their PCS predecessors, and they are pressing on toward the prize.

There are, in fact, hundreds of PCS graduates scattered all over the area, and over Western Pennsylvania, and if you find one, the chances are good that they are serving the Lord through their local church, involved in leadership, or in vocational Christian service.  I frequently encounter pastors and other church staff leaders who graduated from here.  There are also a lot of PCS grads on the mission field. One of our graduates was awarded the highest ethics award given by Duquesne University in 2013.  And a lot of our alumni have their children enrolled here.  Those are all measurements of progress and success.

We have received a good score on our achievement test....

Sunday, August 18, 2013

We're Celebrating our 50th Anniversary!

It was 1963.  Pastor Joe Morris, of the Portersville Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, and his wife Betty, decided that it was time to realize their vision for making a Christian school part of the ministry of their church.  And so, in the basement of the church building, with seven children from families who God had provided as part of the vision, including three of their own, classes began at Portersville Christian School. 

Much of what I know about Portersville Christian School's early days came from the Morris' son, Dennis, who was one of those three students that first year.  It wasn't just a matter of having school in a church basement, with the pastor's wife as the teacher.  PCS was built on both the vision, and the physical labor, of its founding families.  Dennis recalled many days when he would finish his school day, and his homework, and join his Dad, brothers, and other students and parents laying bricks and helping with the construction of the school facility which now bears their family name.  There is now a banner on the wall noting that this school term is our fiftiety year.
Fifty years, in Christian school education in America, is a long, long time.  In 1963, the number of Christian schools in the United States was about a tenth of what it is now.  Christian schools with a fifty year legacy are rare.  The vision for having one, especially in a small, rural church, in a small rural community, was remarkably futuristic and farsighted.  Who could have imagined the number of lives that would be changed, the number of disciples of Jesus who would find their Christian maturity within these walls, and who would carry that with them for the rest of their lives into whatever vocational field and community that they entered.  There are hundreds of alumni who are serving their Lord in their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth.  They are part of the legacy of the founders and their vision for a Christian school in tiny little Portersville, Pennsylvania, a place through which many footprints have traveled, representing lives that were changed in this place.

There are many others whom God has led to share in that vision over the years.  They have sent their children to school here, sacrificed hours of time, given money above and beyond the tuition and fees, and contributed a lot of sweat equity and tears to keep this dream alive, and continue providing a distinctively Christian education to children in Western Pennsylvania.  Each succeeding generation benefits from the legacy, and adds to it.  This is a perfect example of a blessing that multiplies and keeps on giving, getting larger as it does. 

There are also reminders that we have an enemy.  A Christian school that works at helping its students become strong disciples of Christ, and leads them to take their faith into places where God can use it, and bless others with it, and make more disciples of Christ is not in the plans of God's enemy.  Being here is not just a nice option, it is a commitment.  The limits of size, space, and finances are not restrictions when families come here committed to the ministry of the school.  It grows best when people discern a need and then, instead of criticizing the school for not meeting it, or leaving because we don't have it, decide they are going to use their own resources of prayer, time, money and labor to meet it.  When attacks come, as they inevitably will, the best defense is when the school community comes together as a Christian community, rather than dividing over selfish interests. 

As we look to the future, there are many challenges.  It is a difficult day for Christian schools in America.  Economic circumstances have caused many schools to close.  Government intrusion is changing the curriculum of the public education system, which undermines the Christian churches and the gospel message, especially in the minds of the young people in the system.  Christian schools are being pressed to "keep up" and at the same time, constantly battle intrusion which threatens our ability to remain distinctively Christian and independent.  Churches many times lack both the resources, and the vision, to provide the kind of support for Christian schools that they need to survive, and thrive. 

But then, think back to how many obstacles there must have been in the way of the vision of Pastor Joe and Betty Morris, in 1963, on this hill above the lake just west of Portersville.  Who would have thought that, 50 years later, there would be literally hundreds of students and thousands of people who would share in their vision, and be part of their legacy?  That's because the key part of their vision was not what they could do themselves, but what they believed God could do.  And they were right. 

It is time to celebrate! 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Pass it On: The Extravagant Love of God

"Check out the kind of extravagant love the Father has lavished on us--He calls us children of God! It's true; we are His beloved children.  And in the same way the world didn't recognize him, the world does not recognize us either."  I John 3:1, The Voice Translation

In case you didn't guess it, that's the theme verse for the 2013-14 school year at Portersville Christian School.  We're going to do something a little different with it this year, instead of just a theme verse, we will have a theme chapter, I John 3.  It isn't really easy to pick something for this purpose.  This is a concept or idea from scripture that we will visit time and time again during the year.  It needs to be something that is important, and relevant, to students and their lives as believers in Christ, and which teaches us principles that we need to apply to our lives, that we can apply immediately and effectively.  This gets into a lot of concepts that we need to make part of who we are as Christians, and who our community is as a Christian school. 

One of the most frequent, and important, questions that students ask about their faith as they grow relates to assurance of their relationship with Jesus, and their salvation.  In fact, not having doubts, not asking questions, and not wondering about where they stand with God may be a sign that they don't really care, or that it doesn't really matter to them.  The Apostle John answers the question, "How do I know for sure?" in this chapter. 

"This is how we know," says John.  "Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." 

When he says "brothers," he means the other children of God, whether they are male or female.  That's quite a statement, especially since we live in a time when we are not often called upon to give up our life for someone else.  It's not an unknown concept, especially to those who devote their lives to serving us by enforcing the law, or providing medical care, or serving our country in the military.  But it is not something that goes hand in hand with serving God and belonging to a church.  But the Christians to whom John wrote this little book faced that possibility every day, and they faced it because they were believers in Jesus.  John is reinforcing one of the two most important commandments that Jesus taught, to "love your neighbor as much as you love yourself."  And that is how you can be sure that you are right with God. 

So how does that look in a Christian school?  Perhaps a better question is how should it look in a Christian school? 

That's why this will be our theme chapter for the 2013-14 school year.  We are going to figure out, together, what Portersville Christian School should look like because we are children of God, and because we are following the example and teaching of our savior when it comes to our relationships with other children of God.  When someone can observe us from the outside, and see that there is a difference in us because of Christ, and because we are his children, we will be achieving our goal.  

Friday, July 12, 2013

There You Go Again......

The words in the title of this blog were made famous by former President Ronald Reagan.  It was his way of deflecting criticism that came about as a result of incorrect assumptions, misinterpretations and misrepresentations.  I wonder what he would say these days, with hyper-politics creating its own world when it comes to misrepresentation. 

So I'm using his expression today, because during the past year, we initiated the Warrior Legacy Fund, and in the background, I hear the faint exasperation of completing Mr. Reagan's sentence, "There you go again...asking for money."  Yes, we are.  Here's why.

More than any other Christian school with which I have been associated, PCS is committed to affordability, and to providing a level of financial aid that makes it possible for families to choose a quality, Christian education for their children that they would not be able to have otherwise.  I believe that is the way God intends for us to operate, and it is based on his plan for stewardship and giving that is Biblical.  If Christian education were only for those who could afford it based on their family income, 80% of the families who are actively involved in their local church would not be able to consider a Christian school as a viable, and in fact, superior option for their children. 

During its first year, the Warrior Legacy Fund raised over $40,000, with most of the contributions coming from graduates of PCS and their families, grandparents, extended family members, businesses and churches which are friends of the school.  Added to other funds that were given to the school by generous Christian friends, including the EITC grants, the Pennsylvania Family Foundation, the Pittsburgh Foundation, and through our own fund raising efforts here at the school in events like Workathon and Fun Run, not counting what the athletic or fine arts committees raise, and the amount comes to $180,000.  That is 13% of the school's total budget, an average of almost $1,000 per student, and for those families who qualify to receive financial aid, it is worth much more than that.  That's why we ask. 

That's more than a tithe.  And I believe that's one reason why God blesses us in so many other ways.

The Biblical model is found in the early church in the book of Acts.  It was God's intention that the church, when it came together, would share its ministry expenses, and its resources, providing for need out of abundance, and putting in place a system where it became impossible to give more than was received in the way of blessing.  As a Christian discipleship ministry, we have no other way of generating income except the tuition and fees paid by our families, and the generous giving of our friends and family, and everyone who ever went here is family.  So we ask, in order to give those people whom God has blessed with abundance the opportunity to participate in our ministry by giving.  In turn, we understand that God will bless them for doing  it.

And I guarantee you, no dollar that is given to PCS is wasted.  Our budgeting process takes into consideration every cost, every possible savings, and considers every need carefully.  The priorities go to those things absolutely necessary for providing a quality, Christian education, and I'll toot the horn of both the quality and the distinctively Christian nature of the education that is offered here.  You won't come close to either of those things in the public, charter or cyber school systems. 

We use our relationship with the Intermediate Unit, and their collective buying power to provide the school supplies our students need at a fraction of the cost that you would pay for these things if you bought them at retail price in your local department store.  For a $25 fee, your kids are getting what amounts to $125 worth of school supplies.  That's one of many examples of ways that PCS's leadership is thinking about how to help parents keep their kids here and keep it affordable. 

Every dollar given to PCS is a blessing.  We operate a school that is immersed in Christian principle, that provides a superior quality academic experience, that works hard to create an atmosphere that appeals to the interests of our students through athletics and fine arts, and that, above all, is training and raising up the next generation of leaders of the churches of this country, and beyond.  Giving allows the person who is making the gift the opportunity to participate in that, and be blessed from the experience. 

That's why we ask. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Inspiration for the Work We Do

"If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.  Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths.  Rather train yourself for godliness, for while bodily training is some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.  This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.  For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe."  I Timothy 4:6-10 ESV

Last week, I was with a group known as World Changers in Indiana, coordinating a missions project for about 230 people who came from nine different states to serve as volunteer construction workers.  The ministry is directed at elderly, low income homeowners, people who took pride in the house where they lived, but as their income dwindled in retirement, it became less of a priority than food and medical care, and they had to let some things go.  The look of joy on their faces as they see problems fixed by young, high school and college aged volunteers brings a sense of inner peace and joy like virtually nothing else can do.

Spending a week in close quarters with over 200 people, mostly high school and college students and their chaperones, is an interesting experience.  We "camped out" in a high school building, slept on air mattresses on the floor of classrooms, ate breakfast and dinner in the cafeteria, and used the locker room shower facilities.  We worshipped together each evening in the school auditorium.  We got to know each other quickly.  And I learned a lot. 

The students who come to these projects are the cream of the crop in their church youth group.  They are the ones whose faith is mature enough to lead them to an understanding of what it means to be Christian, and to follow the example of Jesus in serving others, as well as understanding what it means to have him as their savior.  The conversations with these students, and their youth leaders, lays out the reality that is faced by young Christians everywhere in the day and age in which we live, and that is the struggle they face each day not only to remain a faithful example for Christ among their peers, but also in avoiding having the things they've been taught in church and at home undermined by their educational experience.  Many of them are mature enough, and know enough about who they are in Christ, to recognize when what they are being taught in the classroom challenges what they know is truth from the scripture.

A lot of the students involved are enrolled in, and attend, Christian schools.  It stands to reason that, among the cream of the crop of a church youth group would be found students whose daily routine undergirds and supports the Biblical teachings of their church, and their parents.  That confirms the work of those teachers and school staff members in the Christian schools those students attended.  It is clearly worth the expense and the effort, and the sacrifice, to have your child in Christian school, and it is also pretty clear, from their response, that they are not being "shielded" from the real world, but that they are systematically being taught how to deal with it in a Biblical way.

Most of those who aren't involved in a Christian school have come to the conclusion that they wish they were.  They are looking for the extra support and confirmation of their faith, because they see how it is challenged, contradicted, and in some cases, outright opposed, on a daily basis.  There's a difference, they say, even in the way they are treated by their classroom teachers.  Of course, there are caring teachers in every school, some of them Christians.  But for the most part, what students tell me is that they have teachers who do not share their Christian faith or values. And for them, going to school each day requires a strong prayer life, as well as a lot of Bible study to help them gain perspective and stay committed.

More often than not, high school students are confused and then convinced that education and science are separate from something "subjective" like religious beliefs.  No wonder 80% of those who are active in their church youth group while they are in high school drop out of the church altogether before they graduate from college.  And most of them don't come back.

That's why it is extremely important for us, as a Christian educational institution, to make sure that we not only provide a distinctively Christian environment for our students as they attend school, but to teach them to stand up for what they believe, and prepare them to face the challenge of the "real world" when they encounter it, armed with truth.  That's why every sacrifice required for your kids to be here is worth it. 

 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Summer: A Time of Renewal, Literally!

Technically, by the calendar, when school ends in the spring, it's still spring.  Summer actually starts this weekend.  Once the frenzy of graduation ceremonies, field trips, and final exams was over, it got quiet in the building.  The teachers have all checked out, and we're a couple of weeks into the summer schedule.  I hope our students and their families are resting and enjoying their time away from school, as well as the teachers.  August will be here soon enough.  In the meantime, we are enjoying some blessings of renewal on our campus.  What is happening on our campus is a reminder of God's provision and blessing.

Main Building
There will be some changes on the campus when you come back in the fall.   The main hallway, from end to end, has received a facelift.  New carpet has been installed, and it already makes a difference in the appearance of the building, even though the molding hasn't been installed all the way down the hall. 

The appearance of our building is something that we sometimes either take for granted, or it receives a lower priority because funds, which come from tuition and fees, are just not available.  It may seem less important to have a new rug, as opposed to new computer equipment, or simply because we don't want to add the expense to the budget.  On the other hand, stewardship of our facilities, and care of the building is important.  There was budget money left in the maintenance account, enough to provide the carpet with the help of a couple of contributions. 

And as a side note, the high school classrooms in particular are desperately in need of new carpet.  The seams are separating on the carpets that are in the rooms now, and it won't last much longer.  If you can help out, that would be great.  It will cost approximately $20,000 to do the worst of the rooms.

Gym
The Athletic Committee invests a lot of time in fund raising enterprises like the hot lunch program, concession stand, and the magazine sale and this provides resources for the athletic teams.  Most of the sports team uniforms have been replaced in recent years.  It became apparent, during this school year, that the lights in the gym were failing, and needed to be replaced.

Instead of replacing the old style fixtures one by one as they burned out, the decision was made to replace all of the lights with new, energy efficient fixtures.  That job was accomplished this week.  A good portion of the cost will be reimbursed through energy efficiency rebates, and the lights will pay for themselves because they burn about a third of the electricity that the old lights did.  And, wow, I never realized how dark the gym was until I saw the new lights in operation!  It's bright!  The Fine Arts committee also made a contribution of funds to their installation. 

Soccer Field
Through the generosity of a neighbor and former PCS parent, excavation work this past spring extended the soccer field to regulation width and length.  There's about 15 yards added to the west end of the field, but if you didn't see the work, you might not even notice.  The grass has grown in with the recent rains we've had, and once the goal is moved, you'll never know the difference.  The netting at each end will also be replaced. 

With the improvements on our field, and in the gym, PCS has the nicest athletic facilities in the SWCAC, and one of the few schools with everything on campus. 

Archery
Through a grant from the National Archery in Schools Program, PCS obtained some first class archery equipment and introduced the sport to students through the PE classes at the end of the school year.  A number of students are excited about participating in this program as a competitive sport.

Technology Upgrades
Our elementary computer lab will be completely replaced over the summer with new equipment.  This will accompany some in-house system upgrades and improvements as well.  There are some technological advances that make it possible for us to introduce some "virtual desktop" units into the lab, rather than replacing expensive PC units. 

Does that sound exciting?  We think so.  It is always exciting when we see God provide.  None of these projects would have been possible without the generosity of people who helped by providing a monetary gift. 

There are still some projects around the school which, if God has blessed you, you would be able to help support.  We would be glad to speak with you about what you can do. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I'm on my Soapbox Again!

Thirty years.  That's how long it's been since I first walked through the door of a Christian school to accept a job.  I've lost count of the number of times I've heard someone tell me that they think students in a Christian school are sheltered from the realities of the culture, and are not being prepared for the "real world."  That we just indoctrinate our students with a literally interpreted Bible, and we don't teach critical thinking skills.  That students from Christian schools struggle in college with abstract concepts, and have trouble relating to the world when they are ready for a career.  That it takes a couple of  years in a public school to "toughen them up" and get them ready for life. 

When you can explain how a curriculum that systematically undermines a student's Christian beliefs and behavior will "get them ready for life," then I'll concede the point. 

We do teach a literally interpreted Bible, according to hermeneutical principles that are widely accepted, and we teach our students how to apply its principles to their lives.  I'd argue, though, that's not a means of sheltering students from the realities of the culture.  It is preparing them do deal with them in a proven and effective way.  If you visited one of our 11th grade Bible classes, you would hear them discussing relevant cultural issues, and determining which scriptural principles apply to dealing with them.  It's not just raising your hand with Jesus as the answer.  Our seniors get into systematic theology, not just memorizing verses and topics, but developing their own in a way that helps them explain what they believe and why they believe it.  We do this because we know that many of our students are going to have their faith challenged when they leave here and go to college and it is important that they not be na├»ve about what they will face.  That's how we teach our students to respond to the real world.

It's true that the students here come from families where at least one family member is a professing Christian.  Our high school students write their testimony in sixth grade, and if they enter here after that, they have to be the family member with the faith.  So they are in an environment with a lot of other Christians.  All that means is that they will learn from each other when it comes to figuring out what reality is.  They will hopefully learn how to depend on each other when they are dealing with the reality of the culture in which they live.  And that will make them far better prepared for it than trying to make it on their own, navigating through everything that comes through the door of the public school system.

The approach we take to preparing our students for life outside of school is to teach them the academic skills which will be the foundation that supports their ability to sustain a career, a marriage and a family, and a life.  We support the values and principles that are taught at home and church.  If we waste a lot of time trying to interpret the culture for them, they will miss out on the important part of an education, and they won't be any better prepared to face life.  So we teach them how to interpret the culture, how to respond to it from a Biblical worldview, and we hope they catch our sincerity.  Then we turn them loose and let them go.  The results, I believe, speak for themselves.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Tragedy in the Family

After forty-one years of providing a quality Christian education to students in the Pittsburgh metro area, North Hills Christian School made the decision on May 15 to close its doors.  Citing "educational circumstances beyond our control," and shedding many tears, the board and staff decided to close the school once this year was completed. 

It is not for me to judge whether or not such a situation represents the will of God.  Those directly involved believe it does, based on their evaluation and analysis of the situation, and on the time they obviously spent in prayer.  The school was a ministry of a church, and the church's ministry will continue.  However, especially in the cultural climate, and the time in which we live, any ministry that closes, especially a Christian school, is a tragedy. 

The time I have spent in Christian schools spans three decades, beginning in 1983 at the Broadway Baptist School in Houston, Texas, where I taught social studies and English.  The school was located on the east side of town, just blocks from the Port of Houston, in a working class neighborhood that was rapidly transitioning into a predominantly Hispanic barrio.  If there was an area of the city that needed a Christian school, it was the East side, the neighborhoods known as Magnolia Park and Woodridge.  Broadway was in a large facility, connected to the Broadway Baptist Church, and had, over the years, constructed a sprawling complex of buildings, including a first class gymnasium.  The school was started by the church in 1946, and peaked in the 70's with over 700 students.  Generations of Broadway graduates are still serving in ministry and missions, and in a wide variety of careers. 

Demographic changes eventually brought about the decision to close.  When I started teaching there, in 1983, the student body was predominantly Caucasian, made up of the remnants of the business community and middle class working community left in the neighborhood.  As the area transitioned, and became predominantly Hispanic, the school did too, and when I went back there for my second go round as a teacher, in 1994, it was about two thirds Hispanic, and a third African American.  But it was half the size it had been in the 80's, and the age and condition of the facility had deteriorated to the point where, in 2002, the board and administration made the decision to close.  The problem was that the school could no longer attract quality teachers, based on the tuition and fees that the neighborhood population could pay, and the quality of education, which was a main reason why parents sent their children to school there, had deteriorated.  That caused further decline in the enrollment.  A charter school has rented, and renovated, the facilities for their use.  The church uses only a part of their former facility. 

There are those who would say that Christian schools opening or closing is simply a matter of God's will, not man's effort.  It is a matter of God's will, but that utilizes the efforts of committed people who have spiritual gifts and have received training to do their job because they are following God's will.  After two decades of solid growth, and an increase in the number of students enrolled in, and thus influenced by, Christian education, the numbers are now headed down, and Christian schools are frequently closing.  For our own sake, up here on this hill above Lake Arthur, I think it is important for us to understand why they are closing, and what we can do to prevent ours from suffering the same fate. 

Financial Issues
For many schools, dependent on tuition and fees paid by families, viability from a financial perspective becomes a key factor.  Though there has been a lot of conversation over the years about schools developing alternate financial resources, and saving out of the abundance that developed in the 80's and early 90's, few were able to set aside enough to make a difference.  The suppression of interest rates has hurt those who attempted endowments.  There's a lot of competition for the Christian donation, and schools which charge tuition are not always seen as good causes for contributors because their constituents are wealthier than the average Christian family.  Then, too, the competition has increased, as many churches prefer to start their own schools rather than supporting an existing one. 

Church Decline
Obviously, most people interested in providing their children with a Christian education are Christians.  But in the past two decades, the number of available families in churches has declined, as the membership of the typical church ages and declines.  A crisis is going on, in which the church is losing 80% of those raised within its walls, and a decade ago, it was said that only half of them come back.  But now, few of them return, so the next generation isn't looking for a Christian education for their children.  And yet, there's never been a more critical need for Christian schools, with upwards of 94% of the population under 30 considered "unchurched."  Without a solid system of Christian schools, we are just a generation away from paganism.

Inside Issues
In spite of our best efforts, people allow other things besides the education of their children to be a priority.  We work hard to make certain that the academic quality of our schools is well above the state and regional standards, and we spread out resources to offer activities and athletics to help with the atmosphere in the school, and yet, we still have people who don't think that's good enough for their kid.  They're willing to let social issues interfere, or determine that the activities and athletics are a priority, rather than the discipleship and the education we provide.  They don't understand the commitment they make when they come, and they don't contribute to the environment of the school when they are here.  And in many cases, it is the student who is left to decide something that is an important parental decision.  This subtracts from our ability to build an effective program.

Competition
There is a fear, among some churches, that if their families send children to a school that is supported by a church, they might lose them to that church.  I sure hope people aren't that fickle, though sometimes that's the case.  But rather than support what could be a viable, community wide ministry of providing Christian education and discipleship to students, and helping the school to prosper, some prefer to "start their own" rather than cooperate.  That was great when there were plenty of students to go around.  Now that just means the competition makes it hard for all to be viable. 

Not only that, but sometimes parents see things like charter schools or on-line, cyber schools as viable options.  Charter schools are just smaller versions of the public system, and many of them are not well run, and as a rule, do not provide a high quality education.  Cyber education is still new enough not to have a lot of documentation of its success, but what is there shows a very low performance level, especially if there has not been a lot of parent involvement.  But a lot of parents think they are an option because they are less expensive.  So what price do you put on your child's education? 

Commitment
The commitment of the people involved in PCS over the years has been solid.  The result is that we have a Christian school with a superior academic environment, a solid program of student activities in fine arts and athletics, a functional, efficiently used facility and a staff committed to excellence.  I used to believe that if you could provide all of that, you could survive, but with an enemy bent on destroying the next generation, and leading it astray, that isn't the case any more.  We need your help, and we need to work together to keep things together.  Pray.  Support the school by keeping your kids here, and by gifts of time and money.  Be a billboard for us. 

And thanks for all you do.  May God bless us.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Achievement Test Scores are Back

We measure student outcomes in education in many different ways.  Grades are a way of measuring whether students are mastering the objectives of the curriculum.  It can be done by observation, by practical application when students accomplish or achieve something beyond what is expected, and even by their ability to take what they have learned and turn it into something practical and applicable.  This time of the year, however, we do measure student outcomes by the standardized achievement test scores they receive.

For the past two years we have given the Terra Nova test.  We made the switch from the Stanford test largely at the recommendation of ACSI, whose regional offices keep up with developments going on in the area of educational testing research.  The Terra Nova is what we refer to as a simple, straight up "achievement" test, rather than a curriculum based objective exam such as the PSSA or the Keystone Exams.  It is based on a national standard from average scores of students who take the test over a period of time.  And that's the key to understanding the test results.

Based on the number of questions in each section that the students get correct, a "percentile rank" is assigned.  The percentile rank indicates where the student ranks on that particular test when compared to the national norms.  I've heard parents get distressed over the fact that their child had a percentile rank of 55 in math.  That doesn't mean they only got 55% correct, it means they did better than 55% of the students nationally who took the test at the same general time.  That's the simplest way to measure where students are in terms of their academic progress.  If they are at or above that 50th percentile, they are well within the margin of where they should be at that particular grade level.  If they go as high as the 70th percentile, or above, that is the mark of excellent academic achievement. 

Our students did well, as expected.  In looking through the individual scores, a high percentage of our elementary students scored in percentile ranges above 70% in math, reading and other language arts.  That is always good to see, because the Terra Nova focuses on the mechanics and skills of these subject areas.  And we have a large group of students who score in the upper 10 percentile rank in those subject areas.  When you put this data on a graph, you get what is commonly known as a "bell curve."  Theoretically, the peak of the bell curve should be the 50th percentile.  But the peak of the bell curve made by PCS students is well to the right of that, on the high side.  Our students and teachers did a great job on the Terra Nova this year.

The other way to measure progress on an achievement test is to compare the previous year's scores, and see how far the student has advanced.  Each succeeding grade's test increases in level of difficulty based on grade level expectations.  There are also some other factors involved.  Going from the first grade test to the second grade test means that the teacher reads much less of the test to you. So comparing the difference between how close you were to the "norm" this year to last year's test tells you how much you learned in that subject over the course of a year.  Most of our students made higher than average  progress as they advanced from one year to the next.  That, too, is good news. 

Achievement tests are not the "product" of your child's education, not by any stretch of the imagination.  They are one of many ways of measuring progress.  In our case, they confirm that the Christian education your children are receiving here is academically excellent.  A high percentage of the schools who administer the Terra Nova are private, Christian schools, which makes our high scores even more significant.  Our students are scoring above average on norms that are set, at least in part, by students in educational environments similar to their own.  That says a lot for the quality of Christian education in general, and especially the quality of what you are getting here.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Do You Need Another Good Reason for Your Children to be at PCS? Here's one.

"RELIGIOUS LIBERTY is being redefined in America, or at least many would like it to be. Our secular establishment wants to reduce the autonomy of religious institutions and limit the influence of faith in the public square. The reason is not hard to grasp. In America, “religion” largely means Christianity, and today our secular culture views orthodox Christian churches as troublesome, retrograde, and reactionary forces. They’re seen as anti-science, anti-gay, and anti-women—which is to say anti-progress as the Left defines progress. Not surprisingly, then, the Left believes society will be best served if Christians are limited in their influence on public life. And in the short run this view is likely to succeed. There will be many arguments urging Christians to keep their religion strictly religious rather than “political.” And there won’t just be arguments; there will be laws as well. We’re in the midst of climate change—one that’s getting colder and colder toward religion." 

That's a quote from a speech made by Dr. R. R. Reno, the editor of First Things, a journal of religion in public life.  The speech is adapted in the April, 2013 edition of Imprimis, a monthly publication of Hillsdale College in Michigan, a Christian college dedicated to pursuing truth and defending liberty. 

The "left," which Reno refers to, is in control of the public education system in America.  And as a consequence of that, the public education system views Christianity in America in exactly the way he describes in the cited paragraph.  So they have implemented curriculum objectives which are intended to set students straight on those issues, and others.  They call their perspective a "Progressive Worldview."  It is designed to limit the influence of Christians on public life, and to produce successive generations of students graduating from high school and college who will perpetuate their view.  Many of those students will be children raised in Christian homes by Christian families, because it becomes increasingly harder to resist accepting and adopting the views you are taught in the classroom five days a week, six hours a day. 

Reno says that the growth of a group of people he calls "Nones," those who check the "none" box when asked a question about their religious affiliation, has contributed to the growth of a progressive worldview, and the decline of Christian influence.  Nones represent more than 20% of the current population, a significant increase from the 1950's when they represented less than 3%.  But their influence is greater than their numbers because "a great deal of higher education is dominated by Nones, as are important cultural institutions, the media, and Hollywood," says Reno.  And if they dominate higher education, then what does that say about who is training the teachers in the elementary and secondary school classrooms of this country?

The progressive philosophy has already engaged in competition to reduce the number of students studying in schools that teach a Christian worldview and integrate Biblical principles into their curriculum.  Charter schools and cyber schools pull students away from Christian education because they do not charge tuition and they offer an option that does get kids out of the public school environment.  But environment is not the only problem.  Curriculum objectives that promote values which are at odds with Christian teaching are just as problematic in a charter school or a cyber school funded by public money.  They are still teaching objectives which are counter to the Christian faith.

In recent years, a new development, pushed by progressives to advance their agenda, has been put in place.  The Common Core curriculum is a nation-wide program developed by the U.S. Department of Education to set national standards for students for the purpose of improving the quality of education offered in the public school system.  While the announced intent is related to improving educational quality, the Common Core removes local school district control over curriculum, and it includes objectives and elements that Christian educators have evaluated as anti-Christian.  There are objectives that are written to combat what progressives see as "troublesome, retrograde and reactionary" in religion, and in particular, Christian churches.  Pennsylvania is one of the 45 states that have adopted the Common Core so far. 

And that's one more good reason for your children to be in the distinctively Christian educational environment of Portersville Christian School.

Here's a link to Dr. Reno's entire article in Imprimis.
http://www.hillsdale.edu/news/imprimis.asp




Thursday, May 2, 2013

The PCS Ad on WORD-FM

We have discovered that there are some benefits to radio advertising, mainly in getting our name and some basic information about our school, which some people think has been a well-kept secret, out to the Christian community.  We've been running advertising at strategic times of the year for a little over a year now, and we are seeing some results from it.  Our new student application process has picked up, and is about 25% ahead of where it was a year ago at the same time, our open houses have been well attended, and inquiries have increased. 

The ad runs for 30 seconds, mostly on the weekend music show with Kenny Wood.  Beginning this month, it will run at several other times during the week, mainly during the afternoon talk show.  The blog gives us a little more opportunity to elaborate on the benefit of attending PCS related to the radio ad.

PCS is distinctively Christian.

A Christian school is a place where parents can send their children for help with their God-given task of educating them, and work in partnership with teachers and staff.  The school, in all aspects of the educational program, supports and undergirds the principles, values and morals that children learn from the Bible at home and at church.  This is a safe environment to express their beliefs and learn the truth about God.

We are the only fully accredited, PK through 12th grade private, Christian school in a three county area. 

Well, first of all, thirty seconds doesn't give us much time to elaborate on this.  Obviously, we are referring to the three county area where we are located, which does not include Allegheny County.  It is, in fact, Butler, Lawrence and Mercer counties.  And those are all the unique distinctives of our ministry.  We are the only private, Christian school in that area that offers educational opportunities from pre-school all the way to 12th grade that is fully accredited.  There are other accredited Christian schools in that area, and other schools.  But we're the only one that meets all of that criteria.

What that means is that parents can put their children here in Pre Kindergarten, and leave them here until they graduate from high school.  They can be assured that the course content is academically rigorous, and that their credit will transfer to other schools, and to the college of their choice.  It means that the students at other accredited Christian schools in the area can come here when they finish the highest grade level at that school, and find the transition relatively smooth, and the academic rigor similar. 

The word on accreditation is this.  Accreditation is the mark of an excellent school.  Excellent schools seek accreditation. 

For a small school, we offer a lot.

We have a fine arts program that offers students the opportunity to participate in a fall play, a full blown spring musical, band, including a choice of four different ensembles, and vocal music.  We have individual instruction in both voice and instrumental music available.  Our students can play coed soccer, girls volleyball and basketball, boys basketball, and next year, coed archery. 

Our course selections include five dual credit college courses in English, Communication Skills and Social Studies, and two AP courses in Calculus and Statistics.  Our elementary students participate in computer skills instruction, art, vocal music and physical education.  The athletic program extends to elementary level students. 

In spiritual life, we have student led worship services each week, and we offer numerous opportunities for students to participate in local service projects and short term missions, including a week long missions trip to cap their senior year. 

Our senior class averaged over 1700 on their SATs.

The hallmark of our entire academic program is excellence.  Our elementary students collectively score well above the mid point on their annual Terra Nova achievement tests.  The PSAT and SAT scores of our high school students put them among the highest achievers among their peers in our local area, and have consistently been above the state and national averages.  The "over 1700" mark was achieved by members of the class of 2012, which included a National Merit Scholarship finalist.  The class of 2011, which included three National Merit semi-finalists, came very close to that mark.

Our students usually get into their first choice college.  So they can pretty much go anywhere they want to go.

In addition to Geneva College, Grove City College, the University of Pittsburgh, Slippery Rock University and other local schools, students from PCS generally find that getting admitted to their first choice college is relatively easy.  Many of our students are in some highly selective academic programs, like nursing, pre-med at Pitt, electrical engineering at Geneva and Grove City, and music business at Belmont University in Nashville.  And a high percentage of PCS graduates choose a Christian college for their continuing education.  Along with Geneva and Grove City, groups of students from here can be found at schools like Liberty University, Cedarville University and Moody Bible Institute.  The previous article highlights one of our alumni who received Duquesne University's highest honor. 

None of this happens in a vacuum! 

We have a plan and a purpose.  We believe that we can seek, and know, the will of God for this ministry.  Our staff and faculty is expected to demonstrate competence and commitment as a direct result of their faith in Jesus.  Within the limitations that are imposed by facilities, finances, and an uncertain economy that affects our enrollment, we operate what I proudly call one of the most efficient organizations around in terms of getting the most out of what we have.  Parental involvement and an army of volunteers help us stretch our resources of both time and money.  The bar is continuously raised as we face new challenges. 

We would ask you to pray, and seek the will of God for your children.  You are welcome to join us as we move forward. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

PCS Graduate Receives Duquesne University's Highest Honor

Zach Zeigler, a 2009 graduate of Portersville Christian School, is this year's recipient of the Eugene P. Beard Award for Leadership in Ethics, the highest honor awared by Duquesne University to a member of its graduating class.  Zach is pictured here with his parents, and Duquesne's Executive Vice President of Student Life, Father Sean Hogan. 

When one of our graduates receives this kind of honor, it is a reflection on the whole school community.  We are very proud of Zach, and congratulate both he and his family on receiving this award.  We pray God's blessings on both he and his family. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Value of a Distinctively Christian Education

Apparently, having instruction in the scriptures every day, five days a week at school, makes a real difference in the lives of students.  One of our parents, watching the recent series about the Bible on the History Channel, made a comment on a social media site about how much her children knew.  I think that says a lot. 

We had a group of about 20 students, faculty and parents, who spent their spring break on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic.  Another group of about a dozen or so will spend a week this summer in Queens, helping people who were victims of Hurricane Sandy.  Over the course of the year, most of our high school students will volunteer in some capacity, either on a mission trip, working as staff at one of the local Bible camps, or in some other way to express their faith in Christ through service to others.  We're very proud of the work our students do, and it is one of the results that comes out of our committment to providing a well-rounded, distinctively Christian education. 

But the impact that students like this, going to a school like this, can have over a lifetime is immeasurable.  Let me share a very relevant example.

Are you surprised at the direction public opinion has shifted when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage?  If you've followed the presentation of the cases in the Supreme Court, including the comments of attorneys on both sides, the justices themselves, and the whole group of people who have been called on to provide support and comment, you know that the argument is being made that marriage is exclusively a civil institution, and as such is not subject to the moral arguments brought into it by a Christian worldview.  There are church leaders who voice this opinion.  Public opinion has shifted, and a majority of Americans, upwards of 60% in most polls, now believe that the federal legislation known as the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between one man and one woman, is unconstitutional. 

I'm, frankly, not surprised that public opinion has shifted.  The public education system has, for more than two decades, incorporated objectives into its curriculum that consistently teach children that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, including two people of the same gender getting married to each other, and raising children.  The emphasis on objectives related to this subject are emphasized and stressed, while views regarding traditional marriage are completely ignored.  The generations that have been systematically taught this view in the public schools have contributed to the shift in public opinion, and many of the people involved in making the arguments are also products of the same education system. 

How much different would things be if a majority of students graduating from high school came out of a school like ours, with hearts and minds like those of our students who spend their free time looking for ways to serve Jesus by serving others, and who understand that their work makes a big difference in people's lives?  How much different would "public opinion" on this issue be, if a majority of students in school had been in a distinctively Christian environment, where they were taught that marriage, between one man and one woman, forms the foundation of a family, which is the basic unit in God's design and plan for each person's life. 

I've been observing the outcome of Christian school education for something like 30 years, now, and while it is not a guarantee that every student who emerges from a Christian school environment will live their life under a Christian worldview, and in the light of Christ, the fact of the matter is that most will.  And most Christian school graduates will make a much bigger impact on the part of the world with which they come in contact than most other people.  They've had a lesson focused on a Biblical truth every day they've been in school here.  The desired outcome is that they will know what they believe, why they believe it, and how to use it to make that kind of impact in the world. 

As you consider where your kids are going to school next year, keep that in mind.  A lot of our families are making huge sacrifices to keep their kids in a Christian school, and down the road, God is going to bless that, probably by the impact their children have on their community or church.  Our teachers, and our staff, all make huge financial sacrifices to keep the tuition and fees here as reasonable as they are, in order to make it possible for your children to be here.  We're teaching our students how to be salt and light in the world, and how they can make a difference.  They need to be here. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tuition, Re-enrollment, Admission and All That Stuff

We are back at that time of the year when planning ahead for the next one comes around to re-enrollment, or a new student application and families begin to consider and count the cost and value of continuing to provide a comprehensive, academically superior, distinctively Christian education for their children.  It should be a no-brainer, but, of course, circumstances being what they are, sometimes a little inspiration can go a long way.  If you need some foundational motivation for enrolling here, or returning, let me share a few things with you.

PCS Has a Distinctively Christian Atmosphere and Emphasis
I really, really hope that our students and families never take this aspect of our school life for granted.  The contrast between the education provided by the public system, and what is offered in a Christian school in general, including what we do here, has never been sharper, nor has it been easier to see in student outcomes.  We work hard to make sure that the atmosphere in our school is as distinctively Christian as it can be, and there are a number of elements involved in doing that on a daily basis.  There are no guarantees, but students can't leave here and say they didn't hear it or see it every day.

We Are a Quality Educational Bargain!
Comparatively, tuition and fees at Portersville Christian School are among the lowest in the entire metro area for the quality and kind of education that is provided here.  In making comparisons to other schools, you need to consider that PCS is fully accredited, offers comprehensive education for students from Pre-K to 12th grade, and has distinguished itself as a school of academic excellence.  Among the private, Christian schools in the area that have set themselves apart in those three areas, our tuition and fees are the most reasonable.

First of all, accreditation is of vital importance.  A Middle States/.ACSI accreditation says that our school has put time and effort into curriculum development, a quality academic program, and has invested in a fully trained and fully certified teaching staff.  It says that we have developed a vertically aligned curruculum that meets or exceeds the state's expectations in each subject area and on each grade level.  It tells you that our student achievement is objectively evaluated each year, and that their performance exceeded the expected standards.  It says that our teachers all have degrees in their field, and have credentials which state they have taken coursework necessary to learn how to present curriculum objectives to students, and are evaluated as doing so successfully.  It means that students who graduate from here have been through coursework which is designed to prepare them for college, and that what they have learned here has accomplished that goal.  Among the schools in the greater Pittsburgh area which offer Christian education to students from PK through the 12th grade that are fully accredited, our tuition and fees are the lowest. 

Our teachers are committed to their calling, and are willing to sacrifice when it comes to salary.  Sometimes, the tuition might look pretty good at an unaccredited school, but it has been achieved at the sactifice of quality instruction.  The involvement of ACSI in our accreditation process guarantees that the Christian principles you are looking for are included in a quality instructional program. 

Accreditation also means that our students can graduate from high school, fulfill the graduation requirements, and make a smooth, directly transferable transition to the college of their choice.  Students from unaccredited schools have a much harder time getting into the selective degree programs at the schools with more competetive admissions requirements.  Our students generally get into their first choice college without a problem.

College in High School Dual Credit Program
A student graduating from PCS has the opportunity to take as many as 21 hours of college credit, earned during his junior and senior year, with him when he enrolls.  That would involve the 15 hours of basic English and Social Studies courses we offer through dual credit with Butler County Community College, and six hours through advanced placement tests in Calculus and Statistics and Probability.  A number of our students have earned all 21 hours, which is not only an advantage in that it is more than half a  year's worth of credit, but it comes at a total cost of about $1,800, which is a substantial savings.  And because the dual credit course satisfies the high school as well as the college graduation requirement, the courses are taught from a Christian perspective.

Student Life
Somehow, the impression gets around that a Christian school isn't a "real school" because it doesn't have the same level of social life as a public school does.  But that's just not the case.  We do operate on a smaller level, which is a huge advantage when it comes to class size, and academic progress, but we also have ways for students to find social expression while they are here.  We offer competetive athletics in soccer, volleyball and boys and girls basketball beginning in fifth grade, with the chance for lower elementary students to also participate in Upward Basketball on our campus.  Our fine arts department includes both vocal and instrumental music instruction, and we do a fall play and a spring musical every year that is a high quality performance. 

Christian Community and Christian Cooperation
In a Christian school like ours, people can work together across denominational lines and other barriers, and pull together to provide a worthwhile and beneficial discipleship ministry for the local churches and the community.  Families have an alternative where they can choose to send their children, knowing they will be safe during the day, and that the instruction they receive will be compatible with their family values, beliefs and morals.  As our enrollment grows and the school prospers, we receive the benefit of financial stability, and we are able to provide higher quality education at a reasonable price. 

Most parents probably don't realize that the tuition and fees they pay doesn't cover the cost of education at PCS.  That's not a mistake, it is done by design.  If you paid for the product or service you received at face value, it would cost about $2,000 more than it does now.  But because people are generous, and because God's finance plans are always different than ours, we have people who are willing to give to make it happen.  God's plan is for his people to work together, and when we do that, he blesses us. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Academic Standing of PCS

Academic achievement is one of the most important student outcomes at Portersville Christian School, though you may be surprised to hear that it is not THE most important student outcome.  As a Christian school, our most important focus is making sure that our students understand the effect that their relationship with Christ has on their every day life, and how that will look when they take a Biblical worldview out to meet God's will for their life, regardless of what God calls them to do in their career. 

Academic achievement, however, does rank very high on the list of expected student outcomes.

A recent Cardus study indicated that the perception of Christian schools as high achieving academic institutions may not actually match with reality.  There is a perception that schools which are built around a Christian educational philosophy, and focused on a Biblical worldview outcome, are not as strong in academics as, say, a private, preparatory school which selects its students based on their potential for academic achievement.  But the fact of the matter is that Christian schools operated by conservative, Evangelical churches and church groups, show measurements of academic achievement that are only slightly behind the private, academic preparatory academies, and are right up there with the rest of the best.  And that includes PCS, which, by the means available to measure academic success, is at the top of the field in our area.

Generally, we measure our academic success using a variety of test scores, our own curriculum guides, the standard state curriculum, and how our students perform in the classroom.  We also take a look at students who have graduated from here recently, and how well they are doing in college.  That information comes to us in a variety of ways, including a parent who sent us a contribution to our annual fund based on her son's first semester college GPA. 

Test Scores

Our high school students take two standardized tests.  Sophomores and Juniors take the PSAT, while Seniors take the SAT, which is a standard college entrance exam.  The scores they receive on these tests allow us to measure their annual progress, to see if learning is taking place from one year to the next, as well as specific subject areas where improvements are needed.  The majority of our students score above the national and state average scores on these test, and the class averages are generally 12 to 15% higher than the local public schools in the counties immediately around us.  In addition to that, looking at our last two graduating classes, five students achieved an SAT score which placed them in the National Merit Scholarship competition, a number that is equal to or greater than the much larger public high schools in our area. 

Our elementary and middle school classes are tested for their annual yearly progress using the Terra Nova Test, developed by the McGraw Hill company.  The Terra Nova checks for learning of basic skills by grade level, and is administered to students in first through sixth grade, and in eighth grade.  We can use the Terra Nova to indicate specific areas of strength and weakness in our curriculum, and compare the expectations of learning outcomes with the curriculum objectives we are using.  We can see if there are objectives which need to be added into the curriculum, or adapted in a different way, based on the way students answered the questions.  The Percentile Rank in each subject area tells us how our students did compared to others who took the test at the same time in other schools.  A percentile rank of 75% means that the student did better than 75% of the other students on his grade level who took the test during the same spring semester.  Most of our elementary students perform in the top quartile (top 25%) in reading and math, with the class averages in those areas being in the top third. 

Curriculum Guides and the Standard State Curriculum

Most parents are probably not aware of the extent of the curriculum guides that we possess, which provide us with the basis for the objectives which we teach in every class, on every grade level.  The starting point for these are the state-mandated objectives.  Of course, at PCS we have added Biblical integration, and higher expectations for student outcomes which acellerates the curriculum and increases the chances for academic success.  A curriculum guide is basically a document which states what a student should learn, how they will learn it, and how to measure the outcome to determine that they did learn it.  All of our core standards exceed those of the state mandates.  The measurement of the student's progress in mastering the objectives is the grade they receive for the subject each nine weeks, semester and annually. 

With core standards set as they are, that means even students who are earning average grades are exceeding the state standards in that subject area.  Obviously, our desire is that each student set a goal of receiving the highest grades they are able to earn. 

Alumni of PCS

A less formal, but fairly accurate, measurement of whether or not our school is meeting or exceeding its academic goals is to take a look at our recent graduates, and see how they are doing as they further their education at the college level.  Even as this is being written, we are working on a more comprehensive way of gathering this information.  However, with students being able, for the most part, to attend any college they want to, and with PCS graduates generally being accepted to their top choice colleges, I'd say we are doing rather well.  We have students admitted to some of the most highly competetive academic programs in the area, including pre-med and pharmacy at the University of Pittsburgh, nursing at Pitt and Carlow, mathematics at Carnegie Mellon University, and electrical engineering at Grove City College.  We have a number of students who have gone on to solid academic programs at schools with a reputation for solid, Christian value, like Liberty University, Geneva College and Moody Bible Institute.  We have alumni playing on athletic teams at Cedarville University, Grove City College, Geneva College and Lancaster Bible College. 

Students from here have, for the most part, done very well wherever they go.  I have heard, on several occasions, alumni of PCS telling their peers how they see fellow students struggle in a particular subject area at college, particularly science or math, but that they aren't having a problem because of both their prior preparation, and because when they went here, they had to study, and that works. 

Simple observation of our day to day teaching in the classroom will tell you that we are accomplishing a lot more than your average school is doing.  One of the drawbacks of moving students forward academically is that students who come to the school new, especially if they came from public school, must spend some time catching up.  We've worked with a couple of the other Christian schools in the area to assist with curriculum alignment for their students.  With some effort, most students who transfer in here wind up being successful in academics. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Discipline in the Christian School

Discipline is one of the most controversial subjects in a Christian school.  On one hand, parents expect the environment to be "disciplined" in a general sense because kids need the guiding hand of authority to grow and develop into responsible, courteous, respectful adults.  On the other, they like a measure of grace to be present when their own children are subject to disciplinary action.  Not everyone agrees on the specifics of what that looks like, even when everyone insists that they are following Biblical principles. 

The purpose of disciplinary action in a Christian school is to make sure the learning environment is free from disruptions and distractions, and to teach students Biblical principles related to self-control and self-discipline as well as respect for authority.  Since we consider ourselves to be in a partnership with parents in providing educational services for their children, the element of discipline that the school administers aims to involve parents at a much earlier point than was required under our old policy.  The expectation is that the action we take will be corrective in nature, leaving the punitive side of discipline to parents. 

The new policies we have implemented removed most of the subjective language from the old policy, and clarifies the specific steps and levels involved in disciplinary action.  The first level of discipline is administered in the classroom.  This is designed to provide opportunities for the teachers to earn the respect they deserve as a result of their position, authority and education to perform their duties.  Consequences are issued for specific behavior noted by the teacher as being unacceptable in their individual classroom, but consistent with the expectations of teachers in other classrooms, and with the administration's expectations.  Students are referred to administration when their behavior issue exceeds the limits expected in the classroom and a determination is made that administrative support is required. 

Once referred to administration, the determination is made as to whether the behavior constitutes a minor or major violation.  These are specified in the discipline code.  Students may earn two minor violations before having to serve an after school detention, but must serve immediately if they receive a major violation.  Under the previous code, a student could be written up for as many as fifteen minor violations, and could serve as many as eight after-school detentions in a school year before their parents were contacted.  The limit is now four minor, two major violations, after which the parents will be contacted and asked to take further action at home in support of the school's efforts. 

Continued minor and major violations of the disciplinary code after parents have been notified after a student has served a second detention will involve cumulative consequences.  The student's status does not return to a "clean slate" if they have gone to the point where their parents have been called.  The next set of two minor violations, or one major violation, will initiate either an in-building suspension or a Saturday detention, depending on the circumstances, and beyond that, the student's future at PCS will be reconsidered.  There is no reason why a student should continue to be a behavior problem once the parents have been consulted initially unless nothing is being done at home to support the school. 

Mandated Confidentiality
All disciplinary action taken at PCS is confidential.  That is mandated by state law, as well as by school policy.  We strongly suggest to students who are recipients of disciplinary action at PCS to avoid discussing what happened, as well as the consequences, with anyone else.  And we encourage both parents and students, when they hear things related to disciplinary action that has, or has not, been taken, not to discuss what they've heard with anyone else.  The impression that a student did something and "nothing was done about it" may simply be a sign that confidentiality has been kept.  That's a good thing. 

Suspensions and Expulsion
Repentance, confession, redemption and restoration are key concepts related to Christian faith.  When students are exhibiting behavior that is well outside the boundaries of acceptable Christian practice, especially in a school environment where they are exposing other young Christians to their behavior, discipline decisions become extremely difficult.  I can't think of very many instances where removing a student who will ultimately wind up in the public education system is the best way to bring about a change in heart leading to a change in behavior.  But there are times when it must be done for the benefit of everyone else in the school.  These decisions, like all other disciplinary action, are undertaken with prayerful consideration given to every possible means of resolving the problem in a manner that is best for the student, the parents, and the rest of the school community.

As in other disciplinary situations, the confidentiality of the student is protected.  Any student who remains at PCS and who is under any kind of disciplinary probation has been given a list of requirements by which they can demonstrate the sincerity of their desire to be repentant.  And in most cases, even when a student is dismissed, after a period of time has passed, they are eligible for admission and re-enrollment under a specified set of conditions.  Each case is considered on its own merits, and by its own unique set of circumstances.  It is not easy to get back in after being dismissed, and that is by design.  But it is consistent with our commitment to Biblical principles to make the offer. 

Questions are Welcome
Any questions related to discipline at PCS, whether they are general questions about the written policy, or specific questions about ongoing discipline issues, are welcome.  They should be addressed directly to the administrator. 

Next Blog Post:  The Academic Standing of Portersville Christian School