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