By Shawn P. Nowlan, Esq
My great-grandparents met at a little Adventist school in Hemingford, Nebraska, in the early 1900s. Both my parents graduated from Platte Valley Academy and Union College. My mother taught at Boulder Junior Academy, where I myself was a student from grades 1-10. Today, I volunteer at Vista Ridge Academy. Adventist education is in my DNA.
Still, I often get the question—why spend money on Adventist education when there are so many good schools— and while we pay our tax dollars to support public education? What is it about Adventist education that makes it important?
I answer: Because Adventist education at its best feeds the whole human creature—the mind, the body, and the soul. And it prepares us for life and being a part of the larger society. I found a quote online from Ellen G. White’s Fundamentals of Christian Education. Chapter 9: “The fear of the Lord lies at the foundation of all true greatness. Integrity, unswerving integrity, is the principle that you need to carry with you into all the relations of life.” This is what I learned at my Adventists schools.
For me, that focus on academic excellence combined with personal integrity continued from Boulder Junior Academy through Campion Academy, and on to Union College. I had teachers and professors like Dorothy Simpson and Karl-Heinz Schroeder who both challenged my mind, and taught me what it means to bring God into how I handle everything in my life—not just on Sabbath but in everything I do.
And the sense that one should do one’s best intellectually while integrating God into what happens every workday continued when I left the bubble of Adventist education and began studying law at the University of Nebraska. At the university, I discovered the true value of the education I had received. I can’t say that I was 10 times better than my peers (see Daniel 1:20). I do know that I was in the top 10 percent of my law school class. This confirmed to me that what I had received in Adventist education made me able to compete with my peers who had gone to other schools. Moreover, I gained the confidence of seeing how my values—particularly integrity—instilled in the Adventist setting could survive contact with the larger world.
The sense of ethical integrity excellence guided me through clerking for judges and working as an attorney at the Nebraska legislature. I found all I had learned about Daniel and how he dealt with Nebuchadnezzar served me well when I found myself working for the government.
Today, integrity is what I want to help the current students of Vista Ridge Academy develop. When I watch and listen to Principal Sandy Hodgson, I see that same dual focus on both academic excellence and strong personal integrity that I experienced in my years at school. Recently, I talked to the mother of a new student at Vista Ridge Academy, who couldn’t stop talking about how different being in that environment was for her daughter—someone who had been struggling at another school, but was flourish- ing at Vista Ridge Academy.
At Vista Ridge Academy, we say that we inspire learning for life in a Christ-centered environment by promoting creativity, excellence, integrity, respect, and stewardship. In doing this, we are seeking to:
Create an environment where staff and students view God as the most wonderful Person in their lives and the joy of this relationship is openly shared on campus and radiated to the community.
Establish a curriculum which addresses the needs of students so all can attain their potential.
Nurture interpersonal skills and emotional growth among community, family, and peers.
Promote a community of parents and church constituents who work together for the greater good of the school and the success of its individual students.
Make the benefits of Seventh-day Adventist Christian education available to all who desire it while ensuring the financial integrity of the school and the proper maintenance of its facilities.
I see in what is happening at Vista Ridge Academy the same commitments that have shaped my life. This is why I value Adventist education—both because it shaped my life and because I can see it transforming the lives of the students who are currently experiencing it. This is a treasure well worth preserving.
Shawn P. Nowlan, Esq., is an attorney in Denver, lives in Boulder, and is board chairman of Vista Ridge Academy.