Articles From the April 1995 Unification News
New Hope Academy: An Example That Is Working
by Joy Morrow-Landover Hills, MD
In 1988, I gathered together a group of mothers who were unhappy with the day cares and public schools their children were in. We worked for 2 1/2 years to open New Hope. When we started we were families all from Unification Church. Now over 40% of our New Hope students are not Unificationists. There are families at New Hope from over 20 different religions and churches. We have teachers who are Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Mormon, Unificationist, Catholic and a wide range of other Christian denominations. There are over 30 nationalities represented between the teachers and the parents who have children in the school. New Hope is not a church school. It is a private school based on spiritual principles.
We have chosen not to teach religion classes at New Hope. We feel that is the job of the parents and the Sunday schools. But we start each day with a brief, 15 minute morning service, say grace at meals and speak freely of God. We have found that regardless of race, nationality, or religion, conscientious parents want the same things for their children: an excellent academic program and an atmosphere which supports a child in their development into a moral, deep- hearted, good person. This is what New Hope is all about.
Being a parent-founded and parent-run institution we try to address the needs of families in our programs. We have a co-op program to support their efforts to keep the tuition affordable. If parents donate one hour a week or four hours a month of their time to the school, they can take $10 per week or $40 per month off their family tuition.
This has another purpose, as well. As the children grow older, they are very aware if their parents are involved in the school. It helps to keep them accountable for their behavior. Children spend a majority of their waking hours in day care and/or school, and, as children get older their peers become more important to them. As parents, it is imperative that we know our children's friends and their parents. Then we can better assess what our children will experience in visits to others homes. By coming to know the parents we can build relationships of mutual trust that will ensure that our children will receive loving guidance and discipline when they are with the other families, and they can know that when their children are in our care we will provide the same.
Children need to know that they are going to be held accountable and watched over by all the adults in their lives. New Hope's tries to find ways of supporting this. With families hailing from all over the world, most do not have the support network of extended family . Therefore, it is essential that we create such a network by establishing a sense of community in our schools. The African proverb is true, "It takes a whole village to raise a child." We must create that village experience within the greater society at large.
Do We Need to Create Schools?
This is definitely a hotly debated issue in the Unification movement. As the founding principal of New Hope Academy and Day Care I have heard all sides of the argument over the years. At this time I want to share with you my conclusions.
Many people ask, "Why do we need to establish our own institutions? Can't we just work within the existing schools and systems to bring about change?" I personally think both are needed, but neither is easy. When my children were in public school I tried to work within the PTA structure to bring about what I felt were needed changes in such areas as student teacher ratios. But I found that I hit brick walls. Public and parochial schools are not held to the same standards that are often required of private schools. It not unusual to find classes of 30-40 students in both public and religious schools. This is their policy and school boards, and superintendents are not even open to dialogue on such issues. I appreciate the need to fight the long-term battles on such issues, but in the meantime what happens to the students who trying to learn under such policies?
For me, one of the main concerns was also whether my child was going to be placed in an atmosphere where he would not feel emotionally or spiritually safe. If a child has to expend a great deal of effort every day worrying if they are going to be beaten up on the school bus, or ridiculed and humiliated for their name or how they dress, then it leaves much less energy that can be applied towards learning. And children growing up in such a spiritual "war zone" are not happy. Our fallen society has placed burdens on our children at such an early age that are more than they should have to bear.
When we were young members joining the movement, 18 - 25 years of age, True Parents had us live in centers, why? Father said we were like small trees that were buffeted and beaten down by the spiritual storms and elements around us. If we were alone on the plain we would probably not survive, but by planting such small trees in groves they protect one another and support one another against the elements.
I had an older Blessed girl about 15 years old say to me, " My school is like a spiritual sewer. All I hear all day long is who is sleeping with who, and what beer and drug parties they went to. All day long the guys are hitting on the girls. I'm sick of being leered at and groped when I walk down the hall, and asked if I want to screw. I have to avoid the bathrooms so I don't get beat up." Another high school freshman related to his mom how he watched a friend being beaten senseless and kicked in the head. No one did anything because they knew if they did they would be next, and the bully was known to carry a weapon.
When we were 18 or even 25 many of us found the temptations to drink, do drugs and have illicit sexual relations to be more than we could resist on our own. This was back when cultural mores were stronger than they are now and the dangers were less. Today, with AIDS in the picture, and crack instead of pot being the drug of choice, the potential consequences for not resisting such temptation carries a much greater price. Yet we expect our 10-15 year olds who are being exposed to such temptations to be able to do what we couldn't at 25....."Just say no!" They too need the spiritual support of peers who share similar values. They need an environment where "It's Cool to be Good".
Attending Sunday school helps, but it may not be enough for many children. That is why I think it is critical to begin our own schools and day cares. Then we stand in the position to determine the atmosphere the children are growing up in each day.
Will We End Up Hot-Housing Our Children?
Some say that to begin our own school is to "hot-house" our children, setting them apart from the real world. They feel it is better for the children to just face whatever they might encounter and learn to deal with it.
My response to that is that in the world we live in there is no way we can completely protect our children from the reality of evil, nor should we try to do so. Father said it is important not only to teach the ideal, but also to teach the reality of sin. The problem for many children is that their exposure to the ideal is extremely limited. The reality of sin is on the other hand constantly in their little faces.
Whether our children are in a school that we start or not, they will be faced every day on the television, in the movies, and in their neighborhoods with the reality of overt sexuality, immorality, drugs, racism, meanness, cruelty, violence and fear. But at least by creating our own schools our children will have the chance to retain their innocence for awhile and grow up knowing that ideals can also be reality, not just hopeful dreams. Children deserve to learn in an atmosphere free of the concern we just listed. And we as parents have a responsibility to try to provide them with as clear and wholesome an atmosphere as possible. We must safeguard their innocence and their childhood as long as possible. Being a Protector is still one of the roles of parenthood.
We must remember that our children do not belong to us personally. They are God's sons and daughter who have been entrusted to our care, for us to raise and to nurture into adulthood. To understand the value of a Blessed child we must think of Father or Mother. If God told you that you were being given the mission of raising the Messiah that would lead the way into the Kingdom you would go to any lengths to keep that child pure and safe. Well, that is in fact, the mission God has given to each of us as parents of Blessed children. These children will become the messiahs of the next generation and the world, but only if we can support them to stay pure, and help them to understand their true value and their responsibilities. We must be able to fully trust the care givers and teachers that we place our children with each day.
The Need For Pre-Schools And Day Cares
Pre school children are like little spiritual sponges. They absorb the atmosphere around them. They don't miss a thing. If children are exposed to the sordid soap operas every afternoon that their babysitter watches, they may be sexualized at a very early age, and the amoral behavior they witness on the tube will seem not only commonplace, but normal. If children are not given clear standards of acceptable behavior at age three it will be virtually impossible to start trying to guide them properly at the age of 13. The basic character of a child is formed by age 7, so the preschool years are critical in shaping the future teenager and adult. Yet many parents leave their children with providers who they hardly know, and they do not know what goes on during those 8-10 hours each day while they are at work. We often don't know the parents of the other children or what influences those children may be bringing with them. I have become aware of numerous blessed children who were molested by older children in their home-day care situations. Of course we would never knowingly place our children is such spiritual danger, but it is often what we don't know that ends up being the problem.
I encourage Blessed mothers who are at home, and who have the natural inclination towards teaching, to take a course or two on pre-school or day care curriculum, and consider opening a licensed in-home day care. Several mother working together is even better. It solves the problem of isolation that often occurs with in-home providers. There are many wonderful, simple preschool curriculums that you can use. At New Hope we emphasize basic phonics, the sounds the letters make, beginning at three years of age. The SRA, Hooked on Phonics is a good example for home use.
Basic math begins with correlation such as counting out seven oranges or using a numbers board to count out 37 cheese crackers for snack. Simple hands-on is best!
Starting Elementary Schools
The older the children become, the more they are at risk. I am especially concerned with the junior high and early high school students. New Hope only goes up through grade 8, so the development of a high school is virtually unexplored territory. At this time I can only address the feasibility of a K-8 program. Though I must state that I think a model high school is absolutely essential in the not too distant future.
Elementary schools need a reasonable student teacher ratio of no more than 20 students per teacher. A solid commitment to a phonics based reading program, hands-on math using manipulatives, and an emphasis on development of technique, skills and creativity in both writing and the arts is important. School must be balanced. If it ceases to be fun the children will lose real interest. If it doesn't provide enough meaty academic challenge the children will not only be bored but also academically disadvantaged when they try to get into a good high school.
The key to success is having excellent, committed, open-minded staff who are willing to try new ways of doing things. Teachers must also recognize the various learning styles different children have and be willing to make the effort to be flexible in order to meet their needs. Staff are the very heart and soul of the school. My own personal experience is the best way to really know someone's personal standards is to hire them to substitute. All the wonderful non- Unificationist teachers at New Hope were originally subs. I have found that beyond the credentials and the experience the people who make the best teachers are those who are deeply grounded in their religion, have a deep personal relationship with God and are truly living His values. It simple doesn't matter of which faith they are members. Individuals, regardless of their credentials, who lack a deep personal relationship with God and a strong prayer life will not be good models or teachers. The truths we as Unificationists expound on are actually very universal in nature. Our commitment to unity of all races and nationalities as one family of God's people is the umbrella under which we stand.
What Does It Take To Start A School And What Do We Stand For?
I won't kid you, starting an elementary school is no easy undertaking, but it definitely is do-able. It takes a minimum of two very committed people, who are tenacious and willing to stick with it for the long haul. These two need to have the full support of their spouses, because the spouses will end up doing double duty at home while the school is gearing up. This whole project can take anywhere from several months to several years to do, depending on the circumstances and the other support available. What is needed in addition is a core group of committed individuals who are willing to give their time to serve on working committees which will investigate such issues as policy, curriculum, state regulations, buildings etc...
Most states offer, through their State Department of Education, support to achieve accreditation or certification by assigning you to a Certification Specialist to help you go through all the steps necessary to start a school.
The hard part is often finding enough families who are financially able to handle the cost of a private school education for their children.
I personally believe the first year it is important for a school that is being newly organized to plan on making its appeal largely just to the Unification community for both students and staff. The reason I say this is that I have too often experienced our members' apologetic attitude about who we are and what we stand for. We often have watered down our own values and standards in order to accommodate, or not offend others. That one year where we can unite on the common base of our beliefs, values and traditions can lay a firm foundation for the future.
I do also believe however, that a wonderful school can be created without any need to exclude non-Unificationist children. At New Hope we have never taught religion, yet we clearly teach our values, honor True Parents and freely express our relationship with God in all we do. We just try to be inclusive to people of all faith, especially in the choice of words we use to express universal concepts. We even teach Korean as a second language, and incorporate the oriental tradition of bowing to show respect (not worship) by doing three bows each morning to God, the ideal of True Parents and teacher and student bow to one another.
We also hold excellent "Parent Education Programs" each month, or topics such as, "How to Teach Your Child About the Facts of Life", or "Effective Discipline". We often co-sponsor such programs with the local WFWP chapter and bring guests.
Regarding the academic program at New Hope, we have given all students in grades K-8 the Stanford Achievement Tests each spring, for the past three years. Our school-wide average has placed us in the top 25% of the schools taking the tests in the country. Since most public school in large urban areas no longer will even take such a test because they were scoring so poorly, it is reasonable to conclude that our student are probably near the top 10% in the nation.
We emphasis hands on, small classes, individual attention, and mastery of the material. Our reading program is phonics based and begins in our preschool program. Most of our students begin reading by Kindergarten. Our second graders are writing incredible stories, which they learn to edit for spelling, grammar and punctuation. The program is creative and incudes art, music, foreign language and several performances each year. We have optional after school programs in dance and martial arts. Our after school care programs are the least expensive in the county at $85 per month! We are clear and firm in our discipline and our use of consequences, and parents are expected to back up the school by holding children accountable for their behavior in school. The parents, teachers and administrators work as a team to support each child in their growth and the fulfillment of their full potential.
In conclusion I would like to say that if you are being called to start a school you will know it in your heart. I believe in all sincerity that if God wants a school He will endeavor to bring it about. He simply needs warm bodies through whom He can work, but He will do it and make the way clear. On that concluding note, I would like to offer my help to any group of parents who are interested in starting a school or day care. Please contact me: Joy Morrow, New Hope Academy, 7009 Varnum St., Landover Hills, MD 20784 Ph: 301 459-7311 FAX 301 459-2813
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