When the new principal arrived eight years ago, he found his teachers frustrated by growing drop-out rates and limited resources. He walked into a school rated “academically unacceptable” and in which attending college was the impossible dream. Located in an older neighborhood with a large number of economically disadvantaged families, gangs defined the rules and kids joined to belong somewhere.
The Israelites wanted to belong, too. To be like other nations, with a king to dictate standards and fight their battles. God’s children ignored warnings about the consequences of submitting to an earthly king, who would fall prey to putting his personal desires above the people. They turned their backs to the One who planned to set them apart and make them a holy nation.
Would these middle school students make the same mistake? The principal wanted to set his new charges apart and transform them into a school of excellence. He wanted to make the impossible dream possible. But, could he create an environment that inspired students to exchange a gang “norm” for one of college-bound graduates? Would they, unlike the Israelites with God, listen to him? Or would they grumble and insist on being like other area schools?
Several weeks ago, I volunteered to teach 7th grade math in this same school as part of a one day national program. I found students were listening.
Teachers decorated their doorways with mementos from their college alma mater …Grambling, Baylor, Universities of Texas and Oklahoma, and A&M named only a few. Pictures of college life spilled into hallways and on a canvas of lockers. “Our aim is to help kids qualify and attend college. And we recruit only the best teachers who will make a difference.” the principal noted.
Arriving at my classroom, I found 20 students engaged and clamoring to solve the teacher’s questions. The “Road to Success” filled a bulletin board with steps to college entry. Another poster listed goals to math skill mastery. Already, 91% of the students had crossed the finish line.
Because of one principal and a host of teachers committed to break the mold and set students apart, Texas now rated this school “Recognized,” the 2nd highest possible rank. Because students heard the hope and believed, two-thirds of them are on track to attend high school and TAKs scores have steadily improved. A survey captured student sentiment…college is a possible dream and current studies were the ticket to rise above adverse conditions.
I left the school that day in awe of what the principal and teachers accomplished in eight short years. The experience prompted me to wonder, “How does God want to set our nation apart? Like the Israelites, will we reject Him as King? Will we insist on being like every other nation? Or will we listen?”
“You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” (Leviticus 20:26)
But the people refused to listen…”No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:19-20, NIV)