“There is no reconciliation until you recognize the dignity of the other, until you see their view. You have to enter into the pain of the people. You’ve got to feel their need.”
- Dr. John M. Perkins, Christian minister and civil rights activist
Perhaps there’s never been a time in our recent history when true reconciliation among people from different ethnic or economic backgrounds is more needed. One local Christian school has found the most effective way to accomplish this mission happens when we reach the very youngest among us.
Founded in 1996, New Hope Academy (NHA) in Franklin is committed to building unity through racial and economic diversity down to the number of seats it fills in each classroom.
Fifty percent of the student body is comprised of non-white children from African-American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Native American or other ethnic backgrounds. The school relies on fundraising and local support to help offer financial assistance to more than 61 percent of its pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade student population, enabling children from a variety of economic positions to attend school side by side.
Headmaster Stuart Tutler says New Hope functions as a school where families can learn from each other and grow in relationships through an educational experience that priorities purposeful community and begins with embracing a key gospel mandate.
“We believe every single person who walks through our doors holds intrinsic value and dignity because of his or her God-given identity,” says Tutler. “We know Jesus has an interest in every individual person, including every single child. No matter their background, strengths or challenges, they matter to God. Consequently, they matter to us.”
Creating a culture where students, families and teachers continually affirm this perspective has become the secret to the school’s flourishing, Tutler believes.
Inspired by this vision, a group of individuals from at least a half-dozen churches have recently formed a missional community group to support the school and its pioneering work – called New Hope Academy (MC).
Throughout the last two years, with support from its leadership team, Susan Garvey has spearheaded a mentoring program that pairs members of the missional community group with a NHA student. For one hour each week, the mentors work individually with each child, building relationships through playing games, reading books, or working on math or reading skills. The time is particularly valuable for students who have parents both working fulltime and are limited in their ability to help with homework or other skills.
Upon completing the 2017-2018 school year, the mentoring program grew to include eight mentors from several area churches!
Garvey has personally mentored the same young student for the past two years and says she’s found great joy in watching the girl grow in her confidence and self-esteem. “Over the course of playing games or creating a craft, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about life skills,” Garvey says. “We’ve discussed how to lose graciously, how to play fair, the importance of telling the truth, and how to receive a compliment.
“It hasn’t been perfect every time,” Garvey says. “Sometimes she’s got things going on in her life and she’s not in a good place. But those have become teachable moments as well. We talk about the importance of using words to express yourself and how to deal with frustration.
“A highlight for me occurred when we were reading Green Eggs and Ham together,” Garvey continues. “This sweet little girl didn’t realize she could read. Suddenly she started saying the words off the page and her eyes got huge. She could do it!”
Garvey says a male mentor spent time throughout the recent school year developing a relationship with a pre-kindergarten boy as they used tools to take apart and then rebuild an old telephone. “The mentor wasn’t sure this sort of activity would even interest the boy but it ended up being the highlight of the student’s year,” she says.
In addition to the mentoring program, the missional community group also helped host several annual events, including a parent dinner in August and a school-wide Cinco de Mayo celebration in May, which drew 400 people and allowed many Hispanic and Latino parents to share their culture with the school as they cooked for the large crowd and offered a variety of games and crafts.
The overarching purpose of this missional community group is to support the parent community at NHA, Garvey says, whether it’s through offering opportunities for parents to connect and build relationships or investing in students as they continue to realize their worth and potential.
“It’s an incredible school with a powerful mission so needed in the world today,” Garvey says. “We feel privileged to come alongside a place that is truly transforming lives and culture.”