High School at GCA
This essay was written by Emma Barnhouse, of the class of 2018, on life as a GCA High Schooler
Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Grace Classical Academy is, as Mr. Bradley says, “A Christian community with an emphasis on education.” GCA provides not only the education that a student needs, but the encouragement from a family of believers that a young Christian requires. Children must be trained in the proper way, and GCA works to prepare children to become young adults that share the gospel of Christ. Teaching children facts gives them the base they need to build their faith, but teaching them to love truth and reason well allows them to strengthen their faith and make it stand. GCA accomplishes both while teaching students that God must be at the center of everything they do.
Teaching facts to children achieves nothing if they are not also taught to organize them and reason through them on their own. The same holds true for teaching children about religion and faith: if they cannot form their own ideas based on truth, they have simply been filled with useless information. What good does it do a student to be given information but not taught how to fit its practical usage into their life? How can a future leader be trusted to make informed decisions if they are not first taught to reason well? Educational specialists have noticed the glut of information but poor usage among recent high school graduates. Anna Aldric, MIT graduate and tutor at PrepScholar (a company that tutors kids for college placement tests), calculated the average of the ACT scores nationwide from 2004-2014. She showed that, in the last ten years, the test scores have gone up substantially. Although scores have gone up, ability has not. David Brooks, writer for the New York Times, says this about the upcoming generation: “When I ask veteran college teachers and administrators to describe how college students have changed over the years, I often get an answer like this: ‘Today’s students are more accomplished than past generations, but they are also more emotionally fragile.’ That rings true to me. Today’s students are amazing, but they bathe one another in oceans of affirmation and praise, as if buttressing one another against some insecurity. Whatever one thinks of the campus protests, the desire for trigger warnings and safe spaces does seem to emanate from a place of emotional fragility.” Though this is an incredibly smart generation of teenagers and young adults, there is no toughness to their person. Any small critique becomes a brutal punch to their self-esteem, and challenges and accountability are often seen as an assumption that someone is not adequate. Because of this, our society today is one that no longer teaches people to challenge one another but is instead breeding teenagers who can’t think for themselves.
Grace Classical Academy fights this trend by providing the spiritual encouragement, nurturing, and challenges young Christians need. The school’s atmosphere of accountability and prayer is a rare example of love in a dark world. When senior student Rachel Bulger talks about the difference she sees in GCA versus other schools around it, she states, “I think the main difference is that GCA has its priorities straight. God, community, and relationships are top priority. Academics is obviously the main “business” (I mean, it’s a school) but it’s not solely a place of academic learning. It’s a place that prepares you for the real world and fosters godly friendships. You don’t just get a good education, but you learn how to properly defend your faith and live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Freshman student Silas Garrison says this about the school: “It [GCA] is a positive environment that has created a space for us to learn how to defend our faith, and it is a great place of education.” Just like finding an oasis in the desert, this school provides an atmosphere of love for its students that inspires them daily. GCA then follows through on this idea with their emphasis on teaching students to build their own faith and share it with others. Class prayer meetings are not uncommon, and teachers urge the students to involve themselves in one another’s spiritual lives. This school teaches something different than those around it: God is the center of everything, and Christians must share that news with the world.
The staff is passionate about seeing their students do great things in the name of the Lord. Their passion creates memorable lessons. Mr. Cymbaluk taught a lesson to his 8th Grade Bible Survey class that many remember to this day. He reminded his students that they are sinners. They are no less a sinner than the man who cheats on his wife or the man who deals drugs to kids. The world sees these men as worse, but God sees sin as sin. He taught students this because he wanted us to remember that we weren’t better than anyone else. The class would laugh and repeat, “I am a dirtbag,” in the most comical voice that each student could muster, but (all joking aside) they remembered that very important lesson. Many long-time students of GCA still recall the lessons taught by Mrs. Flores, the kindergarten teacher. One of the greatest lessons she teaches students is about her time as a shepherdess. As her small students sit in the classroom and listen to her stories, she gently reminds them of their all-loving shepherd who longs to protect them in his fold. In Mrs. Winkler’s seventh-grade science course, she never fails to show the complexity of science, and how all those complexities are amazingly evidence of a divine creator. Every day in school, students learn from those who communicate their love for God in all subjects or grades they teach.
Many of the high school students have stated that it is these open discussions and debates about faith, and the inclusion of God in every other discussion, that have really sharpened their faith. Many said that in other schools, sports, music, drama, or science are priority number one, but GCA is not that way. Sophomore student Samantha Sellers encourages, “In our world, it is more important than ever that we know WHO we are and WHOSE we are. GCA teaches the foundations of our faith integrated into the subjects we study. When people are brought up knowing the Lord and the Truth, it is that much easier to share our faith with others.” Freshman student Katie Cullins also replies, “The fact that we can take any type of discussion, like a discussion about crafts, and turn it back around toward God is awesome. That shows me how, when having a conversation with an atheist, I can turn it into a discussion about faith really fast.” God is kept at the center of everything, and the staff enforces every day the idea that Christians must be vessels of God’s love, and that it is never our own goodness that should shine through us, but only God’s. It is this idea that makes Grace Classical Academy a truly rare and beautiful find. Junior student Josiah Williams, when talking about how the school has trained him, summarizes it the best: “I’ve attended GCA ever since PreK, so I’ve never really known anything else. Nonetheless, I still go through the same trials, feel the same temptations, and endure the same afflictions as those not in GCA. Because Grace Classical Academy provides a Christcentered curriculum, I have been taught to approach a situation with a Christcentered attitude. When distressing situations do arise, instead of relying on my own understanding in an attempt to comfort myself, I offer up those hardships to Christ. Not only has Grace Classical Academy provided insight into how discomforting scenarios should be handled, but also a Biblical guide into how numerous other real-life situations should be approached.”
Yet, some of the best lessons at the school do not come from the teachers but from the students themselves. There has been a movement toward the mission field in the past several years, but this year in particular. GCA students traveled to Haiti, Zambia, Tanzania, Nicaragua, and many accomplished mission work within the US as well. Not only that, but students also formed their own after-school Bible studies and prayer meetings, seeing this fellowship with and encouragement of one another as a crucial part of their Christian walk. When asked what she admired most about her peers, junior student Paige Steelman says, “[I admire] the fight in them for Christ, the love for one another, the drive to do hard things, and the common distaste for being complacent or comfortable.” Paige’s fellow classmate, Eden Barnhouse, talks about how she admires the same ambition in her fellow students, and says about them: “I admire how on-fire and passionate they are. Most of them don’t do things halfheartedly. When they’ve decided that something is worth doing, they do it well.” The line between “classmate” and “family” becomes more and more blurred as some of us reach the end of our time at GCA, and senior student Christina Burks acknowledges that when she talks about her experience with her class. She says that they accepted her with open arms and says, “I admire how much love they’ve shown me, how they’ve been there for me through both the ups and the downs, and how they seek after the Lord. They’ve encouraged me to be a better person, and I thank God almost every day that they’re in my life.”
In the end, Grace Classical Academy shapes the hearts and minds of students and their families in an undeniably important way. GCA shows a rare form of encouragement—the encouragement to show the love of Christ. Christians see the glory of God as a gift that must be shared with someone, and the beauty of this gift can be seen when the person who hears grows into a leader for others to follow. God has raised up GCA and allowed it to be a light to so many people, and it has truly been a blessing for us, the students.