Middle School: On a Mission
By James Woollard, Middle School Division Head
Part of Curriculum Night in the fall is planned to help parents understand and appreciate what their students are experiencing at Bear Creek. This past fall James Woollard, Middle School Division Head, explained to parents how the mission of Bear Creek is a living testament to our educational process and to the classical model. Here, his presentation has been adapted for print.
I believe Bear Creek is a great school. It is certainly the greatest school at which I have ever had the privilege of working. One thing that makes Bear Creek great is our mission statement that you can see emblazoned above our main hallway as you enter the school. “Our mission is to provide a high-quality, Christian liberal arts education in a nurturing environment that will enable each student to become the individual God intends.”
As you know, mission statements are supposed to convey the purpose of an institution in a succinct and easy to understand format. Some mission statements in the corporate world fall far short of that goal, either by lack of clarity or lack of brevity. As I was doing research on the topic of mission statements, I came across the Dilbert cartoon Mission Statement Generator
. The basic idea of this fun device is as follows: throw in a few business terms and the generator randomly mixes them up and spits out a meaningless mission statement. Here is one such mission statement: “Our mission is to continue to efficiently facilitate diverse methods of empowerment and professionally disseminate performance based deliverables to meet our customer’s needs.” Surfing the Internet, I have come to realize that these Dilbertesque
mission statements bear a close resemblance to those of some real-world companies. Schools can be equally guilty in this regard. Either their mission statements are vague and meaningless or they are too long and confusing, but not with Bear Creek.
Being a mission-driven school means more than having a clear and concise mission statement, though. A good mission statement should be a vital and living
statement that not only describes the theoretical purpose of the institution, but also encapsulates or embodies the reality of what actually happens on the ground. It should breathe. A mission statement that is not lived out on a daily basis lacks authenticity. It is dead. Bear Creek’s mission statement is good because it is clear and succinct, but more than that, it is a living statement of who we are and what we do. It is something all of us who work at Bear Creek passionately believe. And that is the main reason I love it—it is something I believe.
How is our mission statement fulfilled in the Middle School?
First, what we offer is an education of high quality
. It is something valuable, something of superior excellence, something worth obtaining. Basically, something to which not all schools can necessarily lay claim. We are not afraid of rigor or challenge, and I think, in all humility, that the education the students receive at Bear Creek is pretty special. Whether they are dissecting frogs in Life Science, discussing Shakespeare in English, running the mile in P.E., or solving complex algebraic equations in math, our students are challenged to take it to the next level.
Second, at the heart of what we do is the person of Christ. A Christian education
should ultimately point to Him because it is through Christ that we can come to know God personally. Although the Bible is not the class textbook (except in Christian Studies courses obviously), the essential truths and themes of the Bible are woven and integrated into all subjects at Bear Creek. We believe that what the Bible says about Creation, Fall, and Redemption sheds light on what is studied in the classroom. In turn, we believe that what the students learn in class can point to Christ as well as validate and confirm what the Bible teaches. Put simply, in their pursuit of truth, students come to learn that “All truth is God’s truth.” This is encapsulated in the words of Louis Pasteur, which you can see on the wall of Mrs. Wang’s Earth Science classroom, “The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator.”
Third, we offer a liberal arts education
, which is synonymous with classical education. Unlike a vocational education that constrains content, a liberal arts education is a broad-based or general education designed (as the Latin root word liber
suggests) to “free” or “liberate” students. A classical education teaches students how to think and how to learn and, in so doing, broadens their minds, their horizons, and the opportunities available to them in the future. As fellow Brit Dorothy Sayers once wrote in an essay promoting the value of classical education, “The sole true end of education is simply this, to teach men how to learn for themselves, and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain.”
One of the characteristics of a classical education is cross-curricular integration and, starting in the fall of 2011, we are restructuring our humanities curriculum so that history and English will be chronologically aligned, with grade 7 focused on the medieval period and grade 8 focused on the modern period. This will allow students more clearly to make connections between events in history and literature. At Bear Creek, we also recognize the importance of Latin as a foundational element of a solid classical curriculum. Learning Latin has a number of benefits. To begin with, it helps students learn the vocabulary of languages that are derived from Latin, including English, French, and Spanish. For example, did you know that up to 60% of English vocabulary words originate from Latin? Additionally, it helps students in their understanding of grammar and sentence structure. As Dorothy Sayers again writes, in The Lost Tools of Learning:
“I will say, at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this, not because Latin is traditional and mediaeval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least 50 percent. It is the key to the vocabulary and structure of all Romance languages and to the structure of all Teutonic languages, as well as to the technical vocabulary of all the sciences and to the literature of the entire Mediterranean civilization, together with all its historical documents.” After reading this, why would you not want your child to learn Latin?
Fourth, we offer all of this in the context of a nurturing environment
. Practically speaking, this means we strive to create an environment that communicates care for our students, including:
- small class sizes, which allow for high quality instruction that meets the individual needs of all our students;
- gender separation in the core classes that enables us to meet the specific needs of boys and girls;
- a weekly advisory program that provides training in leadership as well as academic and spiritual mentoring for the students;
- good classroom management that enables all students to learn; and
- a strong emphasis on community, relationships, dignity, respect, mercy, grace, and love, as modeled by Christ.
Fifth, we emphasize the individual. Bear Creek is not in the business of mass-producing classical Christian clones. We recognize that each student is unique, made in the image of God, and of intrinsic worth (Psalm 139).
And lastly, we have an ultimate goal in mind: the people God intends. Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us that God has a plan for our lives. He is a sovereign God, who works in our lives to accomplish His purposes. That does not discount the role of man in shaping the child, but ultimately, “It is the Lord who determines our steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
I trust that what you and your children experience at Bear Creek is an embodiment of our mission statement—a living, breathing, and vital declaration of what we all passionately believe. I should also add very loudly and clearly that none of what we do at Bear Creek could be done without your help, so thank you for partnering with us.