Dear families and friends of Stillwater Christian School,
If you picked up yesterday’s Daily Inter Lake, perhaps you saw the article on the front page entitled “Judge Okays Using State Tax Credits for Religious Schools.” The article was about Flathead District Court Judge Heidi Ulbricht’s May 26 ruling in favor of the three Stillwater moms who sued the Montana Department of Revenue (DOR) alleging the unconstitutionality of its rule that forbid the use of tax credits to benefit private religious schools. Judge Ulbricht agreed that the DOR's rule was unconstitutional because a tax credit provided to an individual taxpayer is different than a state appropriation provided to a religious school. Therefore, the new law (Senate Bill 410) passed by the state legislature in 2015 does not violate the First Amendment’s prohibition of the establishment of a state religion.
Last year four families received scholarships to attend Stillwater Christian School thanks to SB 410 and Big Sky Scholarships. With Judge Ulbricht’s ruling, the SB 410 tax credit program will continue to benefit Stillwater students and families in the months and years ahead.
Having recently received a $300 state tax credit from my $300 donation to Big Sky Scholarships in 2016, I can attest to the ease and benefit of this program. Especially now with this recent court ruling, I hope you will consider taking advantage of the dollar-for-dollar tax credit provided by state law to those who give to qualified Student Scholarship Organizations like Big Sky Scholarships. Also, please spread the word so that more Stillwater families can receive financial assistance as they seek an excellent Christian education for their children.
If you’d like to make a donation to Big Sky Scholarships, please visit their website.
If you’d like to read the article published by the Daily Inter Lake, you can find it here.
Assistant Head of School
Last month I shared the good news regarding our successful Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) accreditation visit. I was happy to report that our ACSI visiting team recommended Stillwater be accredited for another five years. One thing I did not report on was the result of the ACSI Exemplary Accreditation process that Stillwater also went through.
I’m happy to report that Stillwater remains a candidate for this new “exemplary” accreditation status, however, we’re not quite there yet. We knew going into the process that we may not reach the exemplary standard immediately, rather it might be an ongoing process as we keep improving our school over the next few years. To be a candidate for this level of accreditation—a level that only eleven schools nationwide have reached—is itself a validation of the great progress we have made as a school and places us in the upper tier of Christian schools in the nation. In its report, the exemplary accreditation visiting team validated Stillwater’s progress and commended us for several things, including:
The visiting team also provided several recommendations to assist SCS in reaching the high bar required for exemplary accreditation status.
Stillwater would have been (and may still become) the smallest Christian school in the nation to have reached exemplary status. The visiting team encouraged us to host a re-visit in two years to assess whether we’ve made enough progress in 17 (out of 48) areas where we did not meet the lofty exemplary standard. We are confident that we can accomplish this and will continue to update you on our improvement efforts to that end.
Happy Friday! This is an exciting time of year with Spring upon us and I know Spring Break will bring some needed rest and relaxation. I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who pitched in to make our 2017 Accreditation Visit a huge success and report briefly on the process and outcome. All the work that our community did to complete an intensive self-study, to clean and improve our facility, to put on a wonderful dinner for our guests, and to treat our team with such kindness and respect paid big dividends. THANK YOU!
First, a bit on the process. From Sunday to Wednesday of this week, our school hosted seven visitors from ACSI and other Christian schools throughout the northwest to review our school programs, policies, and procedures and make a recommendation on our accreditation to the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). As part of their visit, the team met with 4 administrators, 27 teachers, 12 support staff, 40 students, 26 parents, and 8 board members. In addition, the team observed 52 different class sessions and attended our elementary and middle/high school chapels. This enabled the team to gain valuable insights into our strengths and areas for improvement.
On Wednesday afternoon, the team reported its initial commendations and recommendations to the administration, faculty, and staff. I’m happy to report that the team announced it will recommend that SCS retain its accreditation for another five years to the ACSI Accreditation Commission. Our visiting team shared several major (overall) commendations and recommendations which are outlined below. I should note that many of these commendations and recommendations are identical with the strengths and areas for growth that SCS identified through its own self-study. It was encouraging to have our self-study validated in this way by the visiting team.
The SCS visiting team made the following major commendations:
The SCS visiting team made the following major recommendations:
SCS was also a candidate for a new program called “exemplary” accreditation. The results of that process will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead. Thanks again to everyone who had a part in preparing our school for this visit and have a wonderful Spring Break!
(From L to R) Greg Wiles, Superintendent, Nampa Christian Schools; Brad Carr, Superintendent, Cole Valley Christian Schools; Julie Vermillion,
Elementary Principal, Nampa Christian Schools; Kevin Newbry, Head of School, Lighthouse Christian School; Elisa Carlson, Head of School,
Central Christian School; Erin Wilcox, Vice President, ACSI; Derek Keenan, Vice President, ACSI
This poster of American trumpeter and world-renowned musician Allen Vizzutti has held a key spot on the band room's front wall for several years now. Needless to say, middle school band students were overjoyed to learn from their director, Brian Phillips, that they would have the opportunity to travel to Missoula to not only hear Mr. Vizzutti perform but also to share in a small workshop with him that afternoon.
On Tuesday last week, Stillwater Christian's middle school band members were treated to a day of performance and adjudication, education, and pure enjoyment of music at the University of Montana's concert band festival. SCS has participated in this program for several years, but this was the first time middle school students joined the event that draws students from all over the Northwest.
The afternoon opened with Vizzutti standing before students, sharing both his talents and wisdom in music. He told about his childhood, the musical education he was given by his father and how his instruction at home was basically a continuum of brief, 5-minute lessons or adjustments to his technique. He openly told of the awkwardness of his middle school years and how music helped build his confidence. Remembering the comfort he felt in the band room from an early age, Vizzutti found it to be a place where thankfully every member of the ensemble was on an equal playing ground. He offered practice suggestions and tips to the students, shared some wildly impressive playing exercises, and he spoke with them about character - the importance of being able to relate to others, to be professional, and to perform a job properly. And most of all, he advised the young people to keep music in their lives!
Following the solo time with the artist, festival participants enjoyed performances by the U of M jazz band and wind ensembles, featuring Vizzutti and select university soloists before performing themselves for a panel of adjudicators. The SCS band presented three pieces during their time-slot, and ambitiously they opted to perform selections that are still relatively new to them. Mr. Phillips was pleased, and he greatly appreciated the feedback the group received during the workshop that followed. Middle school ensembles are not given numerical scores in the festival; however, Washington State University's Associate Director of Bands, Dr. Troy Bennefield, spent some time with the group, offering insight about their performance. An excellent opportunity for the students, they received input on dynamics, articulation, and blending of sound and awareness of others in a group, just to name a few points that were addressed during the session.
Thank you, Mr. Phillips, for giving this opportunity to our middle school students. SCS 7th grader Simone Schvaneveldt was just one of the many teens who gratefully commented on the experience. "Listening to Alan Vizzutti inspired me to continue to pursue music. He made reaching the highest notes look so easy. Still, I wonder if I would be so devoted to practice four hours a day!"
“It’s all about workflow,” is a phrase all the students in my class will recognize. Whether 3D printing a phone case, casting parts for a power wheels upgrade, or laser cutting an ornament, the trick is to combine the right software with the right equipment in the right order to take a project from start to finish. The challenge is to learn those new computer skills and get familiar with that specialized equipment, all while keeping in mind the all-important workflow--doing those tasks in the right order.
The high school students have been busy on projects designed by the MIT Fab Academy to promote a working understanding of how to make use of all the awesome equipment we have in the SCS Maker Space. In addition to 3D printing, scanning 3D objects, CNC milling, and laser cutting, students can now cold cast metal objects from molds they make themselves using their own or pre-made designs they download. It’s been a lot of fun, with as much learning happening from botched projects as from picture-perfect end results. This next semester we’re looking forward to PCB milling, putting together an arduino controlled ME arm, and setting up a Raspberry Pi security cam.
The middle school has also jumped into “making.” They started the year by learning how to quickly take a logo off Google Images and convert it into a 3D mesh. There’s something so satisfying about taking an idea from image to real object, and Christmas laser-cut ornaments were a popular project again this year. In addition to learning basic coding in the computer lab, these go-getters have recently jumped on the fad of fidget spinners. They are designing their own and 3D printing them, to the fidgeting fun of students all over the school.
Take a brief glance into our Maker Space at SCS and you’ll see some new equipment we’ve been grateful to acquire over the last year. A generous gift set our shop up with the basics for an investment casting system. This has enabled us to cast into metal the 3D prototypes we print or mill. XYZ Printing recruited us to beta-test a new 3D printer over the summer, and we were able to keep it. We also have another CNC machine, courtesy of an Inventables contest that we won. Over Christmas break we won another contest put on by Dremel and are now equipped with two Dremel Idea Builders. The students have put these new “toys” to good use, making all sorts of projects. We are so thankful for all the donations.
For the student who loves variety and a hands-on learning experience, this class has been loads of fun. The “workflow” that they develop while “making” can then translate into how they approach other goals they set in their lives.
Stillwater’s sophomore class traveled to Helena on Monday and Tuesday to participate in the annual We the People: The Citizen and Constitution program. For the majority of their rhetoric course this year, students worked to improve their critical thinking and communication skills, while diving into an in-depth study of the Constitution. The class worked in cooperative teams and prepared four-minute statements that addressed specific questions related to the Constitution, which they presented before a panel of community representatives in a simulated Congressional hearing.
Teacher Ryan O’Rourke shared Anna Thompson’s response to the question in bold below.
In Opposition to Writs of Assistance, written in 1761 by James Otis, challenged the English idea of what constituted a constitution. He contended that a constitution could be understood as an instrument for limiting the legislative power of Parliament. What was the English conception of a constitution that Otis challenged? In what ways, if any, were the basic ideas held by Americans contrary to those held by the British? Were the colonists justified in believing that British policies violated basic principles of constitutional government? Why or why not?
What does life, freedom, liberty, and privacy mean to the modern American? It means almost everything to us. These are the things this country was founded upon. They are key principles for a constitutional government. We learned from England’s mistakes so our founding Fathers decided to make a constitutional government to protect the people. A constitution is an instrument for limiting the government’s power over the people.
James Otis Jr. argued in his historic Writs of Assistance Case of 1761 that the Writs were taking away the liberty, freedom, and privacy of the English citizens. The Writs were giving too much power to the English government. The government could give a warrant to anyone, and only on the barest hint of suspicion without any solid evidence. This example from the National Humanities Institute showed how the Writs imposed upon the liberty and privacy of the people. The JRank legal and reference library states that “a Writ of Assistance was a general search warrant that allowed customs officers to get the help of any local public official in making entry and seizure of contraband”. Although England didn’t have a written constitution, it was inferred that every man had a right to his home and privacy. England ended up taking away the freedoms that the people had fought for centuries earlier. Otis was correct in defending the people’s rights and trying to protect their freedom. Since England didn’t have a constitution, the Parliament had no boundaries set for what they could and couldn’t do.
When our country was 13 colonies, the colonists wanted to establish a constitution that was not subject to the whims of men. Even though our country has grown and progressed from being 13 colonies, the government and the people, or in the following case the state's government still have disputes. Recently, the Texas government passed a law that required abortion clinics to allow doctors to admit patients to nearby hospitals and the clinics had to meet the standards of a surgical center. This cut the number of abortion clinics in half. The Supreme Court heard of the new law, and tore it down saying that “it placed an undue burden on the clinics and on the women”. They said that it was making more obstacles for abortions. Texas’ government say that their whole goal in the new law was to protect the women they were serving. Texas’ Attorney General, Ken Paxton said, “The court is becoming a default medical board for the nation, with no deference being given to state law.” What Paxton means is that the American government or Judges are ignoring and bypassing the rules set in place by legislature and the majority and making decisions based on their own thoughts and feelings. Disagreements between the people and the Government is still a very relevant issue today.
I believe the colonists were justified in declaring that the British policies violated the principles of constitutional government. They believed that they had a right to privacy, liberty, and representation. When the fathers of this country were making their basic rules, they thought that these things were so important that they had to be in writing. This is why we have the Constitution. England didn’t and still doesn’t have a constitution to set boundaries for their government. One of the main beliefs of the founders was that mankind had God given rights. Benjamin Franklin said that “Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.” They believed that a constitution could help protect those rights. In England, the government was not being restricted so this allowed Parliament to take away what the people considered to be irrevocable God given rights. Today, activist judges are disregarding the state's right to self-rule and self-govern just like the English government was disregarding the colonists’ right to self-rule.
This week is National School Choice Week. The goal of National School Choice Week is to raise public awareness of all types of education options for children. Because of the benefits of school choice efforts like Montana Senate Bill (SB) 410 for Stillwater students and families, our school is joining other schools across the country in recognizing and celebrating school choice this week.
In this blog post, I want to briefly highlight some encouraging things that are happening both at the national and state/community level related to school choice.
Last week, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, began hearings related to her confirmation. A product of Christian schooling and longtime advocate for school choice, Ms. Devos stressed the importance of giving parents choices her opening statement:
Ms. Devos has not yet been confirmed; her likely confirmation is certainly an encouraging development for our nation’s educational landscape.
Here in Montana, the legislature is in session. Early indications are that Montana legislators will introduce a bill improving S.B. 410, which allows organizations like Big Sky Scholarships to accept tax-advantaged donations from Montana taxpayers. In addition, our legislature may again introduce a Special Needs Educational Savings Account (ESA) bill to provide greater choice to parents of students with special needs. Related to those efforts, the Montana School Choice Coalition, of which SCS is a part, is holding a rally at the State Capitol building this Wednesday at noon.
This Wednesday was also to be the day of the next hearing in the case of Espinosa v. Department of Revenue dealing with the constitutionality of SB 410. As we reported last week, however, that hearing has been indefinitely delayed pending the assignment of a new judge to the case. We are hopeful that the eventual outcome of this case will be a permanent injunction against the DOR’s attempt to block use of SB 410 funds by Christian and other religious schools.
One thing is clear: there is great demand for more school choice not only in our country but also here in Montana. Let us, this week especially, celebrate the progress that’s been made and resolve to continue to support efforts that will enable more parents to choose to attend Stillwater Christian School and others like it.
Today members of our senior class are scattered throughout the community, observing professionals as they work in their daily careers. Both today and one day last week, senior students were given the opportunity to learn first-hand about a field of interest, be it architecture, engineering, health science, forestry, or cosmetology, to name a few. This job shadow experience is just one piece of the winter seminar program that has long been a tradition for Stillwater Christian’s high school students.
For many years, ninth through twelfth grade students have looked forward to this special time following the Christmas break and have welcomed the variation to their regular school routines. The two-week seminar program offers an opportunity for each class to delve into an in-depth examination of an area of study. Freshmen are currently researching and learning about life during the Middle Ages, sophomores are scrutinizing and discussing the creation versus evolution debate, and juniors are preparing and delivering a mock trial. Meanwhile seniors, in their final winter seminar of their SCS tenure, are exploring the challenges and rewards of being a Christian in the workplace today.
Stillwater’s board chair, Mike Thompson, is giving his time to lead this seminar, and he's chosen Timothy Keller’s celebrated book, Every Good Endeavor, as the focus of the two-week program. It's a book rich with insight about the topic of work and how we perceive it as Christians and how, in our adult lives, it is possible to find a work-life balance that will allow us to thrive in both our personal and professional lives. Students have been reading and discussing elements of Keller’s work as they prepare to leave SCS in just a few months, growing closer to the time when they, too, will lead and serve in their communities.
The job shadowing experience is a new seminar component this year. Thompson visited students in the senior class and met with them briefly before the Christmas holiday, seeking to learn of their interests. He hoped to place students, for two days during the seminar, in corresponding settings to observe, and thankfully, for the most part, he was able to do this. In addition to students’ areas of interest, Thompson also asked select students to observe the daily routines of other roles he thought they should experience. One student, for example, spent the morning with a stay-at-home mom who is patiently parenting four young children. Asking students to go beyond simple observation and actually ask questions of the individuals during their shadow time, Thompson hoped the students would gain valuable insight into adult life and responsibility.
Several guest speakers have also taken time to share with students throughout the seminar. Dr. Jonathan Anderson, with Big Sky Family Medicine, spoke to the group on Friday last week, and both John Hudson, founder and architect of 100 Fold Studio, and Dr. David Bochman, Organization Development specialist with over 27 years of international mission work, will share about their career paths and how their faith has shaped the choices they've made.
Thompson has greatly enjoyed getting to know the members of SCS’s Class of 2017, and he hopes this two-week experience will be formative in how these young men and women view and relate to the concept of work for the rest of their lives.
Many of us know the story: A journey to Bethlehem, a family without a place to stay, a baby born in a barn and lying in a manger, soon to be visited by shepherds and wise men. While the nativity story and birth of that baby boy is sweet, adorable, and full of love, it is also nothing short of miraculous. We must be careful never to lose sight of this. Not only was the boy born of a virgin, but he also was to become the King of all the earth, the Ruler of the heavens, and the sacrifice of atonement for our sins. Isaiah 9:6-7 says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” This passage is rich with both wisdom and comfort. “For to us a child is born.” This child was not only for Mary, not only for the Jews, nor only for God; this child was for all of us—all of his chosen people.
For those who have chosen to follow him, He is our King, and our Lord. His Kingdom will endure, thrive, and conquer all others. Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promises to David, the King of Israel. God promised David an eternal kingdom, one whose vastness would be without bounds, one that would be free from suffering, and an heir that would rule that kingdom forever. Not only has God fulfilled his promises to David, but He also will fulfill His promises to us. We are a wicked people, a sinful people, an undeserving people; a people who constantly and without fail turn towards earthly things. We are separated from God at conception, but this sweet baby boy, this Prince of Peace, has paid the price for our downfalls, our failures, our sin. His sacrifice has brought us back into the arms of The Father. We must not look at the birth of Jesus without keeping in perspective His death and resurrection. Christmas is not only a time to honor and give thanks to God for the arrival of this wonderful Savior, but also to remember what He has accomplished—our salvation. His sacrifice has not only brought us back to our Father, but it has also given us hope—hope in a life with God.
This hope should spur us forward. Our time on earth is temporary, and unfortunately, this earthly life is not always as peachy and perfect as we might want it to be. But that is the beauty of our hope in Christ. Life is full of trials; they test our faith, our endurance, and our devotion. Roman’s 5:3-4 says, “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” James says something of the same sort; we are to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds because suffering matures us and ultimately brings us closer to God. This world is one of turmoil and war; terror reigns, discord festers, opposition seems to be around every corner. We are at war with sin, war with each other, war with ourselves, and at war with Satan, but our God is our rock. This baby boy, this miracle, who lay in a manger all those years ago, brings us hope.
Isaiah gives this boy four names, the first being Wonderful Counselor. Jesus is someone we can come to with our problems. He is a counselor, someone who is approachable, understanding, discerning, and someone who is always there for us. We do not have to face our struggles alone! Not only are we surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ, but Jesus Christ, Lord of all, is with us all the time with open ears, ready to listen, and a loving heart, ready to comfort. The second name given by Isaiah is Mighty God. Christ is mighty, powerful and in control—even in a manger. At times in our lives everything may seem at a loss, but Jesus is in control. Christ can take away all our worries, and although it is in His power to do so, we must respect His answer whether it be yes or no. Everything happens according to His perfect will and we have hope in His kingdom that is free from all suffering. Christ is also called the Eternal Father. He is with us forever; He never fails; He never gives up; His love never ends. He is the father to the fatherless, the shepherd to the lambs, the friend to the friendless, the savior to the sinner. Finally, Christ is the Prince of Peace; this war that is waged on earth—between ourselves, others, sin, and Satan—is only temporary. Christ brings peace to all. All our suffering, all our pain, all our hurt is only temporary. As the Christmas Hymn goes, “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” This peace is only brought about by that baby boy, wrapped in cloth and laid in a manager.
A poor couple with child was without a room to stay except for a small barn filled with animals. Imagine the smell, the dirt, and the aura of the barn. Most princes are born in a palace, but Christ came in some of the poorest conditions imaginable. Christ endured suffering. Fast-forward from His birth to His death and we can see that He experienced unimaginable suffering. The sins of the world pressed their weight on His shoulders. Each lash of the whip, every step with the cross on His back, each nail hammered into his hands and feet—that is true suffering. But Christ overcame this suffering; three days later Christ rose, having paid for our sin. He knows what each of us goes through, and He is with us in our sufferings. Just as Romans 8 tells us, we suffer with Christ in order to be glorified with Him. This Christmas Story is of the beginning, but we must keep in mind the whole story of the life of Christ. That baby became a man, a perfect man. That baby suffered. That baby took on the sins of the world, and conquered death. That baby championed the grave. That baby is our Savior. Always give praise and honor to Him, through which all true joy, true happiness, and true love are made possible. As I said, the Christmas story is a story of a beginning, and the end has been written, but we must take our part in it. Remember that baby boy is the Counselor, the Father, the Mighty God, and the Prince of Peace; He came for you. He is, and always will be, here through thick and thin—for you, with you, and beside you.
Over the past four weeks, SCS high school art students have been working on pieces to enter in a nation-wide visual arts competition sponsored by the Oakton Foundation. The competition seeks to identify young artists who share in the foundation’s vision that art is worship, and artists are called to co-create with God. Students may work in a wide variety of mediums including oils, acrylics, water color, charcoal, or pencils. They have been asked to also submit a brief writing piece, both biographical and explaining what they are hoping to communicate through their artwork.
Barbara Beckwith, director of Stillwater Christian’s art program, is enthusiastic about the competition and has encouraged all high school art students to take part. She learned about the Oakton Foundation competition this summer and thought the process would be rewarding for students, as it strives to have them produce works with meaning. All students who elect to study art with Mz. B understand that her courses focus on the technical components of art and help them improve their skills, but they know that the question they’ll be asked most in class is why. Why that choice in subject matter? Why that color? Why that perspective? Beckwith strives to make students think: to really contemplate and understand the choices they make, both in class and in life.
Students gave great thought to their pieces before creating and sharing them, and many are now on display in the elementary building. We encourage you to take a few moments to slow your walk through our hallways to read and view more of the creations of our thoughtful and talented students.
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. – Isaiah 11:6
This verse in Isaiah has always held a special place in my heart; it is a verse that holds new wonder for me every time I read it. I decided to let it be my inspiration for this painting. On one glorious day, predator and prey will become friends, and there will be enemies no more. This painting reminded me of God’s power, creativity, and majesty whenever I sat down to work on it. It reminds me that one day there will be peace in this world.
–Tayler Evenson, grade 11
This picture is showing how you should always keep your eyes set on the Lord. My inspiration has come through the many hard times that I’ve been through, especially the process of moving. It was difficult moving from two different states in just two years, and I had to rely on God for a lot of things. This picture reminds me that the Lord has your life under control, and He knows what is best for you, so this is just a reminder to keep your eyes set on God, especially through the tough times in your life.
– Madison Schwartz, 9th grade
John 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
This verse was the most influential thing for me in the creation of this painting. In a world filled with darkness, Jesus is our only hope. We should look to him always, whether in times of prosperity or in times of pain. His divine light shall guide us through the evil that is our everyday trial. He is our lighthouse in a sea of sin. - Vincent Friel, 10th grade