High School That Fits Us

by Norwood Shank

How do school staffers work with a community that is historically cautious about education to operate a high school with nearly 100% graduation? In order to gain this support, Hickory Hollow Christian School offers a creative structure that embraces the traditional emphasis on apprenticeship. Students attend classes three days a week, and the other two are spent at home or at work. Norwood says that this model has allowed Hickory Hollow to hire a diverse set of teachers while providing students with an accredited high school experience.

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It started because there were a couple young ladies who wanted to go a little further and so they approached me. I thought it would be independent study and I would just kind of tutor them or help them along. However they had talked to this conservative Quaker lady, and she had a college degree and she had a little different for her. So, her thought was more of a traditional classroom, and so out of that we developed this model of having traditional classroom, but then we were also very much aware of the pushback we might get from the community of “higher education.” So a compromise was three days a week.

The mission statement is that “Hickory Hollow Christian School shall teach and nurture children and young people, assisting them in developing the academic skills necessary to live in the world and the spiritual depth to not become part of the world. It shall teach the biblical foundation under Christian beliefs, guiding young people to live the faith as a fruit of their own conviction.”

Then, after that, we developed a philosophy for each of our courses that “We are to use Bible as the foundation for establishing truth. We want to teach allegiance to the kingdom of God, and we want to recognize the legitimacy of questions that young people have. And so we guide young people to establish foundation under their precepts. And we want to develop positive and not cynical ideas.”

We go three days and the students are home two days, and what that does is that allows for that family teaching or education, whether on the farm or maybe they get a job or the daughter is with Mom in the kitchen, so it was a compromise so that from our culture of still being educated in the home through that time is still an option.

About five years ago, I went through the hoops of becoming accredited through National Association of Private Schools, NAPS, and I called it a work study program. They accredited us. We put this little stamp on our diploma that we are accredited. One of the parameters is your curriculum needs to be Christian based. And you also need to meet the state requirements for credits. And so we teach the 22 credits that Virginia requires, like, submit three social studies and three maths.

So we have three days a week and traditional lecture classroom. With three days, it doesn’t look overwhelming to students that are coming out of a culture that is not really pushing for education, so it makes it doable. We have practically 100% of our students go through grade 12. So the three days, like I said, matches the culture and then, also it opens the door for teachers in that all the teachers at our school have other occupations, so they’re not financially dependent on school for their livelihood.

We typically have four or five teachers involved. There’ll be two in the morning, two or three in the afternoon and each one teaches a subject. Mine have traditionally been algebra, geometry and then Bible courses. I’ve taught there for 29 of the last 30 years, three half-days a week.

Sometimes there’s moms, that their children are all in school, and they have an interest in it, they’ll come in and teach a couple classes.

However, it does take a commitment. If you can imagine, you’ve got a job, and so okay, I got to schedule everything so that tomorrow I’m free in the morning. That was a little tense farming because you can’t always schedule the weather and the crops coming in with school, but I was able to manage it pretty well. Some of them that are teaching now have businesses. They’re business owners, so you know, the business runs and they can come into school, teach a couple classes, go back. And so that’s how it works in a way that makes it doable.

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CONTRIBUTOR: Norwood Shank

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