fire: a reflection on 2020-2021

[Heroes heading to the future]


Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. (Exodus 3:2)

In our final week of the Outdoor Survival Quest, the heroes learned about fire and how to build one.  To begin the week, we reflected on Moses’ encounter with the burning bush.  The heroes noticed that they can understand things like fire yet recognize that presence of God goes beyond our understanding.  In ways, we’ve understood what’s happened this year.  Yet we’ve encountered God through finances, through recruiting, through hero achievement and through school growth in ways that we can’t fully explain, especially in a year like this one.  And our only response is to testify to God’s goodness and to look expectantly to next year.

Financially, we are thankful to be positioned with the revenue necessary to gracefully traverse the lean summer months into fall.  Coupled with our lean model, fundraising efforts have kept us on solid footing throughout the year as we raised $66,000 for Journey Academy.  There is even more hope as we consider our enrollment.  We ended the year with 23 heroes for 2019-2020.  We are ending the 2020-2021 year with 32 heroes ready to start in August and with 3 more heroes slated to join us in January 2022.  Starting the year, enrollment numbers will be up 40% and by January we will be up to a 50% increase in our heroes.

[Nora displaying the badges she’s earned]

These metrics are important to keep the doors open at Journey.  But what’s happening inside is even more exciting.  This year, the Elementary Studio piloted iReady, an adaptive on-line platform for reading and math.  It gave Miss Cheryl the ability to more deeply personalize learning as she tracked data, offered support and stretch goals, and rewarded heroes with the chance to engage in learning games.  

As we looked at the growth in reading and math in the Elementary Studio, we bless God for the effort the heroes put forth as well as the growth that came from this effort.  Typical Growth is the average annual growth for a student at their grade and baseline placement level.  ES Heroes made 135% Progress to Annual Typical Growth in Math.  This means as a whole, they experienced a year and one third’s growth.  Certainly this doesn’t mean everyone.  This is the studio average with some having even more growth and others having less growth. Importantly, this is a wonderful example of heroes learning at their own pace and we celebrate the progress of each hero!

Even more exciting news awaits in Reading. ES Heroes made 190% Progress to Annual Typical Growth in Reading this past year. This means as a whole, they experienced almost two years growth this year.  Certainly this doesn’t mean everyone.  This is the studio average with some having even more growth and others having less growth. What joy to see our heroes on their journey, taking charge of their learning, and advancing at a pace that is right for them.

[the heroes portfolios show their construction process much like this shelter]

Looking through portfolios offers another glimpse of what God is doing in our midst as our heroes learn.  Here is a clip from an ELS portfolio.  

The step in the hero’s journey that I feel like I am at is:  I’m having some tough times on reading. It may be in the middle of great and terrible.  I’m getting better. Some of the things that I get stuck with is how do you spell this word but sometimes I just say hey I can do this and I get it. So I’m still having a little bit of a hard time and reading and I think I can get better and better as I get older 

These are some of the friends who have walked beside me this year: Elias has been helping me a lot. I like that. Also Jaina helps me with doing reading and I said reading is hard for me, they don’t just tell it to me but they give me clues to figure it out I like that instead of just telling you. Jacob is very pretty good at reading and he knows a lot of words. There’s one more person that’s been good to reading to me. His name is Asa. He’s been very nice to me and he told me some things.

And this ES Portfolio displays a passion for reading. 

The Deep Books I have read this year:

  • One and Only Ivan

  • Love Does for Kids

  • Jim Elliot

  • Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie

  • Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry

  • The Journal of Douglas Allen Deeds

  • (And am about halfway through) Do Hard Things

Deep Book Reviews:

  • Slideshow (One and Only Ivan)

  • Letter to the Author (Love Does for Kids)

  • Mobile (Jim Elliot)

  • Diorama (Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie)

  • Venn Diagram (Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry)

  • Newspaper (The Journal of Douglas Allen Deeds) 

[after a slow start, growth is sprouting in every corner]

Finances, recruiting and hero achievement are all encouraging.  One other hopeful metric is our expansion from two studios to three studios.  Our growth is leading us to launch our Intermediate Studio and hire Mr. Ian Grell.   He specializes in reading, writing, social studies, drama and is a design thinking consultant. Innovating and disrupting throughout his career, Ian promises to bring fresh creativity to Journey.

Every day we stepped into studio gave me this confirmation that this is the work that I want to be around.  Looking around outside the studio, there was certainly cause for discouragement.  But when you encounter God in the midst like that bush, tell the story.  I look forward to telling more stories this fall.

//Dr. T//

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For He will hide me in His shelter in the day of trouble; He will conceal me under the cover of His tent; He will lift me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27:5)

It’s Shelter Week at Journey Academy as the heroes engage with learning and doing focused on shelter.  As we journaled about and discussed this week’s verse from Psalm 25, we noticed the word “conceal.” As they thought about a tent, they discussed how someone builds a tent versus finding shelter.  We discussed how God prepares things for us.  The IS heroes are preparing the IS studio.  Having picked out the color purple heart, the heroes continued to shape the emerging Intermediate Studio.  As they were painting, they brainstormed the idea of a service project involving a retirement home.  They are consistently thinking about how to make this place their own.

There’s a quote from Star Trek that came to mind this week during Kingdom Time.  “Survival is insufficient.” It’s true that we need to learn to survive.  But in the Kingdom, we are meant to flourish. Survival is insufficient.  To flourish, we also need Kingdom skills like forgiveness.  The heroes have learned about the practice of forgiving others as well as asking for and accepting forgiveness.  As they wrote private sorries on index cards, we placed them in a small campfire and discussed that Psalm 103, I reminded them that as far as the east is from the west, so their sorries have been taken away by God.  It’s these kind of practices that move us toward sufficient.

Peggy Kalis gave a hero talk this week on finding food as part of survival.  Toward the end, she modeled for the heroes how to fillet a fish and then coached them as they filleted the tilapia on the table in front of them.   A skill that might have been concealed from them for a while, became real and attainable with Peggy’s help.

The ELS ended the week by documenting what they had learned about shelter.  My favorite is found in the upper left. “Choose your location wisely.”  As we uncover what has been concealed and as we conceal ourselves in Him, may we all choose our locations wisely.

//Dr. T//

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The sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

(Malachi 4:2)


We welcomed Grandfriends into the studio on Friday.  Like the prophet described healing, the arms of grandfriends settled heroes with their faithful strength. As Miss Sarah was looking at the heroes interacting with their elders, she teared up saying, “The love and guidance across the years is so beautiful.”

And it was.

Heroes and grandfriends honored each other as they noticed what they were grateful for in each other, what they liked and what gifts they saw. Afterwards, the grandfriends placed a hand on the heroes around them and Reaghan (ES hero) prayed a blessing over all of us. 

When the Kingdom is realized, the gates will be open to send us out in joy.  The heroes spent quite a bit of time talking about what that could look like.  In this moment of learning outdoor skills, Asa skipped like a calf to show his mom his water filter that he had created.  Going above and beyond with the number of filter levels, his attention to clean water and success made for a wonderful car ride home.

This week, the heroes learned first aid from such accomplished professionals as Dr. Nick and Nurse Jen. They were also aided in learning by accomplished first aid actor parents like Ms. Lauren, Nurse Jen, Mr. Jason and Ms. Kara.  Documenting the learning with visual poster representations helped them to bring back all the lessons about first aid that they will bring with them on their journeys as heroes.

The sun is rising. The gate is opening.

Join us as we celebrate.

//Dr. T//

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[T]he water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14)

As we move into this last quest of the year, there is a buoyancy in the heroes.  Rather than limping toward the end of the school year, they seem to have an effervescence.  Perhaps it’s our weeklong Memorial Day break that’s refreshed them.  Perhaps our Outdoor Survival Quest has captured their imagination.

Perhaps our Balanced Year Schedule offers a sustainable pace.  Maybe they’ve come to own their education and they are set on finishing well.

Kevin Cusack, NOLS graduate and adventure trip leader, gave a hero talk on Wilderness survival and working with rope (pictured above).  His stories stuck with us all as he talked about the wisdom of identifying our assumptions and learning to adapt when things go wrong in the wilderness or in everyday life.  He deftly reinforced Journey’s belief that guides are there to offer you wisdom, to face up to challenges and to describe the map in front of you.

Even with our focus on finishing well, we find the fun welling up in our studios.  Thanks to Jonathan’s diligence, conscientious effort and service, he earned himself a costume ticket, good for one day in costume.  He brought me joy this morning as he bounded out of his dad’s truck outfitted in a self-inflating tomato-red jumpsuit and gave me the morning’s foot tap sporting his grin of mischief.

Just before break last week, our Entrepreneurship Quest culminated in an opportunity for heroes to show what they know at the Grand Rapids Children’s Business Fair.  Joining with young entrepreneurs from across the state of Michigan, offerings included garden fertilizer, snow cones and exotic ice cream.  One of my favorite stories of the fair came with Noah, in the blue shirt below.  Noah explored two different business proposals before settling on his third iteration.  When his dad asked him what he was passionate about, Noah did not hesitate. “I love coding.” With that identification, Noah went on to design and create his own Spaceship Laser game.  Charging fair-goers per play, Noah found his niche.  Fathers like Nate, in the green shirt below, vied for High Score. Nate enjoyed the experience so much that he introduced his young son Brooks to Spaceship Laser.  But the best part of Noah’s experience was when he got meet another Journey father, Cameron, who told Noah that he codes for a living.   And so the idea for a hero’s journey wells up.  May many be blessed.

The Grand Rapids Children’s Business Fair and our Journey Academy heroes had this opportunity to begin journeys because of sponsors.  We’ve been blessed by them and we pray for God’s blessing to well up and pour out on them as well.  Our heartfelt thanks go out to each and every sponsor.

May we all experience that spring of water on this day.

//Dr. T//