Editor’s note: Nikki Bowers, K-8 principal at Grace Academy, a RENEWANATION affiliate school located in Hagerstown, Md., has served at that school for the past three years. In this Q & A she shares her views on Christian education as well as her own spiritual and vocational journey.
Question: Could you start by sharing with us your testimony.
Answer: I came to Christ two weeks after graduating from high school. I was struggling with an eating disorder and during my senior year of high school lost about half my body weight. I prayed for God to heal me. I wanted it to be easy, but it wasn’t. After my first semester, I entered a treatment facility that specialized in eating disorders. I was told I would never have children and I would deal with this the rest of my life. Recovering was the hardest thing I ever did and I am only here today, by God’s grace and mercy. I am a small example of how God takes a person’s life and transforms it. I take nothing for granted and I am quite grateful for every day and season I get to spend with my family.
Question: What led you to choose education for a vocation?
Answer: I attended Shepherd University and majored in elementary education. I feel that I have always been a teacher. From my playroom where my parents put a big chalkboard and I taught my stuffed animals, to teaching swim lessons at the local YMCA at the age of 15, I have always loved seeing children grow. I taught in public school for seven years. During that time I worked at the Maryland State Department of Education where I participated in various projects in reading and science. I also was a writer for the Maryland State Performance Assessment Program. This gave me a wide experience with teachers, writing assessments and instruction at various levels. I completed my master’s degree from Frostburg University in administration and supervision.
I was blessed to spend seven years at home with my daughters when they were born. This is my third year at Grace Academy and I feel that God has prepared me for this job, during the last 20 years. To His Glory!
Question: What about Christian education: How did you get involved and why do you think it’s important?
Answer: My husband and I chose to send our first daughter to Grace Academy. We wanted the Biblical values and instruction that she was having at home, to be extended at school. I feel that you do not plant a seedling and expect it to grow in the cold winter ground. I feel the same is true with children. In order for a seedling to grow, it needs to be nourished and taken care of in rich soil that will allow it to become what God intended it to be.
I fell in love with the school and the love that they had for the students. At the K4 level, that is what most students need. I was concerned about the academic component, but continued to pray for the school and the teachers. The administration asked me to provide professional development for the school and I did. That is how I first became involved instructionally with the school.
Question: When a parent chooses to send their child to a Christian school, what should they expect that school to provide for that child?
• a strong spiritual foundation (beyond memorizing, but instilling critical thinking at all levels);
• heart development;
• adequate practice at discussing/defending their faith (verbally and in written expression);
• a strong academic foundation (critical thinking skills: application, analysis, evaluation); and
• to develop good readers, good writers, good problem solvers (academically and socially).
Question: How does a school accomplish that?
Answer: That is a loaded question and cannot be answered in one newsletter. We began by asking two simple questions:”Does it honor God?” and “Is this best for kids?” You can take the second question and fill in the blanks. For example, “Are our instructional practices best for kids?”
Question: What, in return, should a school expect from the parents of its students?
Answer: A school should expect parents to be actively involved. This communicates to their child that you value education and it is important. The parents should help build a community that supports the school and its mission. You can do that by praying for your school, praying for the administration and faculty. Building a community takes action and we cannot be passive when growing our children for God’s kingdom.
Question: What is the key to having good parent/teacher communication? What should that communication include? What does it look like, practically?
Answer: Administration and teachers set the tone for this. We greet parents and students in the morning. We are available. We are open and honest with one another. We tell our parents that we expect to know if something is wrong. We can’t help children grow when we don’t know what is keeping them from growing. We give surveys to our parents twice a year to get their feedback. We give our students surveys to get their feedback as well (this aids in teacher evaluations as well). We send out assignment sheets weekly so parents know what is being taught that week and when tests/projects are due. We use Edline to post announcements so that parents are aware. It is a work in process.
Question: What characterizes a good teacher?
Answer: Loving, flexible, qualified (you wouldn’t send your child with a heart problem to the optometrist), creative, energetic, relevant, consistent, passionate about God and their vocation, constantly growing and transforming.
Question: What do Christian schools need to do better? How do they accomplish that?
Answer: What I have seen, Christian schools need to remember that first they are a school. Parents are sending their children not to JUST be loved; they are sending them for an education. The spiritual and academic education needs to be top notch and integrated together. It is an exciting time for Christian education. As the world crumbles around our children, we need to give them the hope that is found in Jesus Christ and supported by an education that will allow them to impact their world no matter where they grow and go.
Question: Why do you believe RENEWANATION is important to Christian education?
Answer: RENEWANATION is going to raise the bar on Christian Education. Creating Christian school systems is going to provide opportunities for students and teachers to have experiences they never have had before. RENEWANATION is going to pull people together to do what is best for kids that can impact the kingdom for eternity. It is exciting to see their passion for their vision and we are blessed to be a part of it.
Question: What else is burning on your heart that you want to make sure gets said?
Answer: Something we need to think about is: Will our children be spiritually, academically and socially prepared for the opportunities and challenges they will face in the 21st century? Our kindergartners will graduate in the year 2024. This is a very important question because the world has changed significantly over the last 20 years and the pace of change is only accelerating. Globalization, outsourcing, the exponential growth in information and technology, terrorism and significant social changes are just a few of the challenges and opportunities facing our children. Many of these changes threaten the moral foundations of our nation and of our families. If we do not teach them to stand firm and be able to take their place in society, who will?