Features

Hope in the heartland

"Hope in the heartland" Continued...

Issue: "De-coding Morsi," July 28, 2012

Academic results from Hope students suggest the school is succeeding: Some 97 percent of high-school students who have attended Hope for two years or more read at grade level. Teachers also talk about the spiritual lessons both they and students learn. Hoilien tells how one of her fourth-graders persistently bullied a classmate, and she begged principal Gregg to suspend the girl. Gregg refused to do so unless Hoilien first talked with the girl about the gospel and gave her a chance to repent.

Hoilien says she didn't want to: "My heart was hard." She did, though-and a surprising thing happened. The bully broke down in tears and asked for her classmate's forgiveness. Then she asked for God's. Hope students here seem to hate one another at times, Hoilien said-but then "have these moments of glory where they see Jesus."

Parents also have moments of glory. One of Hoilien's students, Treyton Bailey-Thomseth, had it tough five years ago. I talked with his mother, Marlene Thomseth, who was recovering from drug addiction at a nearby halfway house at the time. She says she didn't want to care for Treyton, but she then attended a moms' Bible study at the school. She saw how kindly the parents spoke and acted toward their own children. She was surprised-and intimidated.

Thomseth said the moms and Hope teachers emailed and called her: They "patiently and so lovingly" taught her about the heart issues fueling disobedience in her son. Now she volunteers in Treyton's class as often as possible, and Treyton recently wrote a note to her on blue construction paper: "Thank you mom for loving me each and every day and forgiving me when I don't deserve it."

A job to do together

By Daniel James Devine

Bugg and his children (Photo by James Allen Walker)

Before classes began at Hope Academy (hopeschool.org) one day in April, teachers at a men's Bible study sat in a circle and talked about Psalm 51 and confession. Second-grade teacher Scott Watkins told the group he had to teach some students how to say, "I'm sorry." No one had ever apologized to them before.

"I get frustrated and snap on kids in gym," added athletic director Hugh Brown. That becomes an opportunity to confess his own wrongs to students, he said, and maybe soften the hearts of those who harbor grudges: "Our students will try to mask what's going on."

Principal Gregg says the relationship-building needed to remove masks best occurs outside of school hours. He takes students out for cheeseburger Happy Meals and Minnesota Timberwolves basketball games. Hope teachers meet with students in mentorship groups and annually visit each school family at its home.

With some parents, deeds of kindness help break down ethnic barriers of mistrust. Gregg once corralled five volunteers and two pickup trucks on a Sunday afternoon to help a student's mom move out of her apartment, and in doing so changed her attitude: "The next week I was meeting with a completely different person."

Wayne Bugg, whose 12- and 13-year-old children attend Hope, speaks of how the school has helped him grow as a dad. Bugg meets with the school's board chairman one Friday a month to get guidance on finances, family, or Bible questions. The mentorship has prompted Bugg to make changes in his home, including monitoring what TV shows his children watch.

Even though it's inconvenient sometimes, Bugg appreciates Hope's annual requirement that all parents volunteer at the school for at least 10 hours and attend "Saturday School" twice: "They're not saying, 'Just give me your child and we'll raise him up.' They say, 'No, we've got to do this job together.'"

Money Box

By The Editors

• Hope Academy received $2.86 million in 2010, including special contributions for a building fund and rental income from Minnesota Teen Challenge, which leases the school's third floor.

• Expenses were $2.52 million.

• Principal Russ Gregg had a salary of $73,000.

• Hope's net assets were $1.86 million at the end of 2010.

• The school, which employs 24 full-time and 16 part-time staff members, has about 240 regular volunteers, most of them parents.

Listen to a report on Hope Academy on WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It.

Vote for the 2012 winner and read profiles of finalists and winners from 2006 through 2012 on WORLD's Hope Award page.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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