Recently, I was privileged to witness a teacher guide a student to consider all work in the class as a place for growth and learning. This teacher emphasized the importance of academic integrity in the smallest of assignments by reminding him of the verse in Luke: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.” She went on to explain how, when we show integrity in the smallest of decisions, we are blessed to be allowed to be stewards of much.
There is a lot of pressure students face to achieve an end result—a mark that signifies how well they learned the material in the class. It is easy for all of us—parents, students, teachers—to focus solely on that mark, as this mark impacts many factors in a student’s future. However, it's important to walk the journey to the end mark and to respect that journey as the true area of importance.
As finals approach, there’s a flurry of activity: turning in missing work, begging for extra credit, and calculating what final exam score is needed to maintain a solid grade for the class. I would encourage all of us in these final days of the semester to remind ourselves as to why a school exists. CA is not meant to be a factory outputting carbon copy Beacons with a stamped grade in hand. We exist to help students to approach the world with the mindset of Alice: curiouser and curiouser. To approach the wonder of God’s creation with awe, with curiosity, with a critical eye to see how he intricately designed all things. To hold even a small thing as the wondrous creation it is, whether the etymology of a word, the structure of an atom, the complexities of political policies, or the beauty of a well-chosen word in a poem.
It is easy to lose this when our focus is simply on the end, the mark. As we near the end, I challenge students to peer into the work they’ve had the opportunity to study. To wrestle with it, to turn it around, to allow the material to strike against the passions embedded deep in us that God has designed to be sparked. To be faithful in what we’ve been given.
Perhaps the most exciting academic development at Concordia Academy over the last few years has been the development of our Concordia Cohorts program. Concordia Cohorts offer advanced curricular tracks in STEM, Arts, and Humanities, targeting students that are considering career paths in one of those areas. Rigorous curriculum, summer internships, research projects, and senior capstone projects are all key components.
Beginning this year, a new key piece joins these programs: Cohort Conversations. These Cohort Conversations will provide students with an opportunity to come together with like-minded students during extended lunch periods on specific Fridays to pursue their passion in the areas of STEM, Arts, and Humanities.
Most Cohort Conversations will include an outside speaker presenting on a topic related to the particular cohort emphasis. For example, the first month of conversations includes Ria Thurston discussing being owner of a photography business; Jason Campagna talking about bringing science to life as a manager of the 3M Innovation Center, a place to innovate, collaborate, and experience how to improve every life, every day; and Paul Hillmer, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Concordia University, St. Paul, sharing firsthand knowledge of the importance of personal stories in doing historical research.
Our November conversations kick off with Marita Meinerts Albinson sharing her experiences in the Contemporary Christian Music industry in Nashville and as the Senior Communications Manager at the world-renowned Guthrie Theater. How exciting that over the span of three Fridays, we'll be connecting our students with key figures at a small arts business, 3M, Concordia University, and the Guthrie! And that's just the beginning!
Although we expect that Friday Cohort Conversations will appeal to students in our STEM, Emerging Artist Curriculum, and Humanities Scholar cohorts, they are open to any student with an interest in the topic being presented. Students don’t need to commit to one of the more demanding cohort tracks in order to engage in these thought-provoking, fun, meaningful conversations. While the Concordia Cohort programs are designed primarily for juniors and seniors, freshmen and sophomores may participate in any (or all) Cohort Conversations.
Both Concordia Cohorts and Cohort Conversations were developed to inspire and feed the passions of our students while, at the same time, preparing them for and connecting them to the world outside of CA. They are key examples of what CA does best: Honoring God Through Excellence!
For more details about Concordia Cohorts and a list of upcoming speakers and topics, click here.
Vision4Life at Concordia Academy began in the fall of 2007 as the student body responded to a very real need in the recently flooded area of southern Minnesota. Since then, the program has become an integral part of the curriculum of each school year, with three academic days set aside to focus on the three pillars of the program: small group fellowship, personal spiritual growth, and community service.
The program became known as Vision4Life because Concordia Academy values lifelong learning. Graduation from an institution is bound by time, but lifelong learning is not. What Concordia Academy hopes to instill in its students is the pursuit of these three pillars which transcend the academic institution by experiencing a taste of each of them in these three days.
1. Small group fellowship is fostered throughout the academic year as each student is a part of a same-gender group of 12 – 15 students called Family Life Groups. Each group stays constant throughout high school; as seniors graduate, that group’s juniors move into the leadership role. The groups meet twice a month during the school year working through a curriculum developing trust, friendship, and communication. Our vision for this pillar is that students learn the value of fellowship in a purposeful community supporting a life of faith and spiritual growth.
2. Personal spiritual growth is encouraged as we take time to stop, set aside the business of academics, and sit at the feet of a spiritual mentor and teacher. Every year, Concordia brings in one leader for the boys and one for the girls, charged with teaching Scripture and encouraging us all to take the next step of growth in faith. Side by side, teachers and students worship and reflect on the encouragement from our leader. Our vision for this aspect of the program is that students learn the value of pursuing continual faith growth by pausing in their daily routines to seek out solid Biblical teaching throughout their lives.
3. Community service takes place as we send those small groups out into the Twin Cities area to work. Students, in their Family Life Groups and with an adult leader, step out of the familiarity of the Concordia Academy building to step into the unknown project ahead of them that day. Groups have done a myriad of projects throughout the years, such as preparing and serving a meal, ripping apart a basement ceiling, cleaning up a home destroyed by fire, painting an entire dormitory, playing games with children, or tending to the neglected gravestones of a cemetery. Projects vary, but the purpose does not: the vision for service is for students to see the needs of our community and to respond in a way that serves people in the name of Jesus.
Ultimately, Concordia Academy desires to train disciples according to the plan Jesus modeled. As it is clearly outlined in the Gospels, Jesus chose very ordinary people to be His followers. He interacted with them in small groups. They sat at His feet and listened to Him in order to be more like Him. And Jesus showed them how to step into the plight of their neighbors and help them. We want to be more like Jesus—to see ourselves and others through the eyes of Jesus.
That is Concordia Academy’s Vision for Life.
CA's 2019 Vision4Life days are February 27 and 28 and March 1. The program is coordinated by Rebecca Fritz.
In 1976, Concordia Academy called a young teacher, a graduate of Concordia Teacher’s College in Seward, Nebraska, to teach Chemistry and Math. Bruce Urban accepted this call and has since taught at CA for 43 consecutive years! This year marks his last year at CA as Bruce and his wife Cindy, who also teaches at CA, will be retiring.
I first came to know of Bruce when I was a CA freshman in 1981. He was the JV boys basketball coach. I quickly learned that he was a fair but demanding coach who clearly loved the game of basketball and believed that defense was the key to being a great team. It also quickly became clear that Mr. Urban was a popular teacher who was well liked by the student body and his colleagues.
In my last year of high school, Mr. Urban taught me chemistry and continued to be my coach, as he now coached the varsity team. I truly grew to appreciate him as both a great teacher and coach. But it was also during this year that my friends and I began to notice changes in him. We had always known that Mr. Urban was a Christian, but he now seemed to talk about the Lord more than he ever had before. We also noticed that he prayed with a sincerity and passion that we hadn’t noticed before. I also began to hear that students who had questions about God or their faith were beginning to seek out Mr. Urban for advice and prayer.
In 1985, I graduated from CA. If you had asked me then which teachers had impacted my life the most, I would have had Mr. Urban at the top of my list. And yet, unbeknownst to me, his greatest impact on my life was yet to come.
After graduating from college and then seminary, I returned to CA as the campus chaplain. I was now Bruce's colleague, but as I soon discovered, I had more than ever to learn from him.
The change that I had begun to notice during my senior year had continued to the point where Bruce’s love and hunger for the Lord was clearly the core of his being. My old coach was now leading Bible studies and prayer groups for both students and faculty. He organized and often drove students and faculty to hear Christian speakers and attend Christian concerts. He encouraged and assisted students in starting an optional time of student-led prayer and praise during lunch. He organized parents’ prayer meetings and walks in and around the school. He volunteered to lead chapels, sharing deep insights into Scripture that moved and inspired all who were privileged to hear him. Bruce and his wife Cindy would regularly meet with me and the other leaders of the school to encourage us and pray for us and the school. In the same way, Bruce would often be seen talking, laughing, or praying with a student or small group of students as he sought to love and encourage them in the Lord.
You should know that, throughout all this, Bruce continued to be an excellent chemistry and math teacher. And yet, Bruce’s greatest legacy is that the Lord used him (and his wife Cindy) to move the entire culture of CA into a deeper and richer place with the Lord. He changed my life, the lives of his colleagues, and those of thousands of students. I have no doubt that Bruce’s legacy of loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind is now so ingrained into the ethos of CA that it will continue to bless the lives of countless students and faculty long after Bruce has moved on.
At the Minnesota South Education Conference on October 18, Bruce was named Lutheran Educator of the Year. Congratulations, Bruce! One who has been such a blessing, to so many, for so long, is certainly himself worthy of honor.
Rev. Dr. Tim Berner