We recently sat down with Diane Harris, RMC director of education, and Paul Negrete, RMC associate director of education, to talk about the challenges and hopes for the future of Adventist education in the Rocky Mountain Conference. That’s part one. Next week we will look at how the economy, inflation, and teacher shortage are affecting RMC schools. And finally, we will ask Harris and Negrete how any family that wishes to enroll their child into Adventist Education can, regardless of finances.

 NewsNuggets: The last two years have been extremely difficult for teachers, and we don’t know what the effects on the mental health of children will be. As we move into post-pandemic time, what are some of the hopes for the future of education in Rocky Mountain Conference schools held by the education department?

Diane Harris: You know, it’s been this dichotomy of post-COVID. This stress has affected our kids because most of them have had someone within their family circle or extended family affected by Covid. They’ve experienced loss to a greater degree than ever before. Our poor teachers are the ones who are dealing with the students who’ve lost grandparents and who have attended funerals and then come to school the next day.

We’ve worked really hard to try to support our teachers. We have made an intentional effort each month to bring all of our headteachers and principals together for a two-hour Zoom session to just connect with them because when we can pour into our leaders, then they’re able to pour into their staff.

And many of our schools are one room. So, for them to be able to connect with other teachers– it’s just been a blessing.

Ironically, our schools have grown, and our enrollment has really grown post-COVID. We have schools wanting to reopen. We have schools wanting to add other teachers. The struggle has been that our access to the number of teachers coming into the education field has not increased at the rate of our growing students. That’s been our biggest challenge.

NewsNuggets: What is the cause of growth, in your opinion?

Diane Harris: I think the cause of the growth has really been that during lockdown, many of the public schools just went purely remote, while we, in the Rocky Mountain Conference, asked all of our churches and schools to follow their local guidelines, so they have been able to meet in person more quickly than the local public schools.

So many of the working families, including many community members, had never heard of Adventists before, but when they heard that we were meeting in person, they enrolled their students. And most of those families have stayed even though the public schools have gone back to in-person learning.

That’s why the schools’ enrollment has really skyrocketed because they’ve been able to meet the needs in a way that was different from the public schools. I think that families are really attracted to our values. Our CHERISH (is an acronym for Christ centered, honor, exploration, responsibility, integrity, service, heroism) core values are something that’s so integrated into our curriculum and into our day-to-day life.  That’s what they’re looking for. That’s what’s keeping them in our system.

NewsNuggets: How are the pastors reaching these community members?

Diane Harris: Our pastors are so incredibly supportive of the schools. I look at Brighton, for instance, and that pastor is at the school several times a week, if not every day, and knows every child by name, and that’s not unique to Brighton, but is also mirrored at other schools.

Our pastors are incredibly supportive of their schools, and much of their church budgets go to support the local school.

–RMCNews; photo supplied