Volume 13, Number 1, May-June 2009

Keeping Our Teens: The SVA Way

By Norman Edwards

Bendon, Jessica, Cory, Erin and Kelen at the SVA Junior-Senior Banquet, 2009

Coach Coulson & team singing “SVA for Jesus” at the end of a close (64-62) game.

“I’d give $1,000,000 to get my child back.”

I’ve heard parents say that. You probably have too. Parents are usually talking about their children who have left home and won’t communicate, have totally rejected the parents’ values, or have suffered some great tragedy. Things like substance abuse, police records, serious accidents, illegitimate children and suicides are frequently impossible to “undo”.

If the parents either had or could borrow a million dollars, they would probably spend it to get their child back, if possible.

How much better would it be to spend only an additional few thousand per year to send young people to Spring Vale Academy and never lose them? When parents or fellow brethren recognize that a young person is on the edge of forsaking their biblical teaching, it is very prudent, if necessary, to dig into one’s college savings, take out a second mortgage or use short term credit to get them out of their negative environment immediately. These things can eventually be repaid; broken lives are much more difficult to mend.  —NSE

Hopefully, everyone who believes in serving the Sabbath-observing churches will read this article! Whether you have children, grandchildren, friends that have children, or simply have the ability to help those who do, this article is for you!

Nearly all of us are encouraged when our congregations grow. We should be (John 15:8; 1Cor 3:11-15). And so when we, in our congregations, desire to teach truth to others, what better place to begin than with young people in our congregations? The apostle John writes:

I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father (2Jo 1:4).

Here John is addressing “the elect lady”. Whether that is a literal woman or a representative of the church, her “children” are certainly those who have learned from the woman/church.

What can be more important than helping the young people of our congregations to remain in the truth? Why would families want to join our congregations if we do not retain most of our young people?

The Eternal made young people, as they mature, to begin to decide for themselves what they will do and think. Young people combine what they have learned from their parents, their congregation and the rest of their environment. Try as we might, even with home school and home church, we cannot stop them from learning from their environment. But, we can change their environment!

This article is about Spring Vale Academy (SVA), a boarding high school in Owosso where the Sabbath is observed. This writer had two sons graduate from there and another son who will graduate in 2010. While this writer does not believe that every Sabbath-observing high-school student should attend there, he believes that SVA has such great potential to make a difference in the lives of our young people that every parent and church leader ought to thoroughly investigate and consider the option of sending each young person there for one or more of their high school years. Spring Vale Academy offers a complete environment for young people where they can learn that living by the Scriptures, including the Sabbath, works for a great many interesting and fun people—not only for mom and dad.

Before anyone says, “We don’t need to spend that much money on a kid’s education”, please realize that this is not about education; it is about evangelism. While the SVA academic courses are better than the average public school, that is not the main reason why one would send a young person there. The purpose is to send our sons and daughters so SVA so that they will:

1.    Live among dedicated brethren looking out for their spiritual and physical welfare—serving as mentors as well as faculty and staff

2.    Make numerous friends their age who have similar Bible beliefs—seeing that the Christian way works for others their age

3.    Meet many others of the opposite sex that also have a belief in keeping themselves pure for marriage—giving them strong evidence that purity, not promiscuity, is the way to go

4.    Attend Friday night and Sabbath Services every week—with their friends (Learning the Bible with their friends causes young people to learn so much better. The SVA students have a major part in the music, scripture reading, prayer and teaching in the Friday night service.

5.    Participate in short morning chapel services and evening dorm worship services—with their friends

6.    Attend Bible classes every day—with their friends

7.    Grow more confident in sports, music and drama programs with no conflict with the Sabbath and without the profanity and promiscuity typical of most high schools

8.    Strengthen their leadership skills in student government and student projects

9.    Escape the influence of a negative local environment (The young person may have friends encouraging bad behavior or the home environment may be bad due to an abusive parent, divorce, step parent, etc.)

10. Gain practical work experience in the required SVA student jobs (This writer knows of more high school graduates who obtained jobs because of their high school work experience, rather than their grades or curriculum.)

The ability for young people to have whole-hearted participation in any activity they choose is vital. In non-Sabbatarian schools, it is very difficult for students who want to keep the Sabbath to participate in student government, sports, and other activities, and it is almost impossible for them to become leaders.

Most People Are Already “Sure” That They Do Not Need Private School

We have covered 10 reasons to send a young person you know to a Sabbath-observing high school. Before we give more details about Spring Vale Academy, we need to answer people’s biggest objection. Most people think they “don’t need private school”. This writer should know; he thought the same thing for years.


The main reasons most people give for not needing private school are:


1) “My child is already in high school.”  Your student can enter SVA at any time. Less than 20% of SVA students attend all four years there. The majority come in their Junior or Senior year. Some enter at the semester or even at some random point during the year. High school graduation requirements are similar throughout the county—millions of students move every year, and the schools work with them. The SVA principal and faculty are experienced in integrating other school’s curricula to satisfy graduation requirements most efficiently. In the few cases where it is necessary, SVA arranges for correspondence courses and/or individualized help.

2) “Private school is too expensive.”  SVA’s $8,733 per year base charge appears expensive if one thinks in terms of “how could I raise an additional $8,733 dollars?” The actual experience is that parents only need to raise well less than $5000 additional per year, and sometimes that figure is zero or negative! How can that be? When a teen is home for nine more months of the year, they consume $3000 to $6000 in food, utilities, clothes, public school fees, hobbies, entertainment, as well as auto insurance, payments, maintenance and training. Most of those expenses are eliminated or reduced when students are at SVA. The cost is usually further reduced by student work opportunities, scholarships from SVA and sponsorships from relatives or local congregations. There are students who have arranged for their entire bill to be paid by asking relatives and friends to pay so much per month to sponsor them. SVA has had so much good experience helping parents find sources of funding, that they are willing to accept applications from parents who do not have enough money as long as they are willing to work together with SVA to find sources of funds. So until a parent has pursued it this far, they cannot use lack of funds as an excuse!

3) “Parents are giving up their responsibility to raise children by sending them to private school.” Parents are exercising their responsibly to raise their children when they send them to SVA! The goal of a parent is not tell their child what to do until the child either becomes a clone of the parent, or rebels and escapes. In younger years, parents should teach right and wrong to children, and use rewards and punishments to enforce right behavior. But as their young people grow older, they need to develop their own relationships with God, their own ability to make decisions and their own means of earning a living. When a Christian parent has diligently worked with their children up to high school age, they are usually ready to leave home at some time during their high school age. There is nothing like a semester away to test this out. Sending them to SVA is not giving away the responsibility to others, but wisely giving children a safe opportunity to apply what their parents have taught them in previous years. It is much better for a young person’s first experience away from home to be in a Christian school like SVA than it is to be in a secular university or an apartment with unbelieving friends. SVA parents can call them or visit their children as often as they deem necessary. Parents who send their child away to SVA are almost always amazed to find that they want to talk to them—even though their relationship may have been troubled before.

4) “My child is not ready to be away from home yet.”  Sometimes this is true, but parents often make this assumption without thinking it through or even asking their child. If the young person is not ready now, when will he or she be ready? What specific things does he or she need to change in order to be ready? Do you have a plan in place to make sure he or she is ready to leave home eventually? Are specific responsibilities being turned over in a planned manner (set own bed time, schedule own homework, do own laundry, buy own personal items, learn to prepare meals, etc.)? In many cases, leaving home forces teens to take on responsibility. Often, it is the parent who is not yet mentally and emotionally ready to let the maturing young person leave.

5) “My child will learn different doctrines at SVA.”  While most SVA students and faculty are Church of God (7th Day) members, the school operates independently from the church and has had numerous non-CG7 faculty and students, including this writer and his children. They came from many church groups: independent Sabbatarians, Church of God groups, sacred Name groups, Messianic Jews, Seventh-day Adventists and other Christian denominations. This writer has talked to numerous SVA students and their parents from these groups and could not find one who considered doctrine a significant problem or who removed their child because of it. The reality is that all young people will grow in their doctrinal beliefs just as we, their parents, grew in our doctrinal beliefs from our teen years until now. Sabbatarian young people are at far more risk of losing all of their biblical doctrines at secular high schools and colleges. SVA Bible teachers are content to accept Bible test answers that match the parent’s doctrinal teaching when it differs from CG7 teaching. There are SVA faculty and students who attend the annual Feast Days every year, even though the Church of God (7th Day) does not officially teach them.

6) “My child would refuse to go.”  Before a parent ever accepts this answer from child, they should show them the website, or obtain an SVA DVD and give them a taste of what it will be like. Many teens are astonished that their parent would actually make that big of a plan and commitment just for them. Even so, some young people will certainly insist that they want to keep going to their high school and this writer’s children did not want to go when he first sent them. But he explained to them that the reason they did not want to go is that they knew their friends at their current school, but did not yet know the friends they would make at SVA. 

Parents Are the Most Important

A private school does not replace parents!

Parents will always be the most important influence on their children’s lives. For the first five or six years of life, parents are nearly everything to their children. At that age, children will still usually prefer to live with their parents even if they are abusive. Between the ages of six and twelve, children generally still hold their parents as their biggest influence, but begin learning and accepting some values from other adults, as well as their peers. The way parents raise their children during these first 12 years is nearly always the single biggest influence in their life, other than the way God works with them.

Beyond these years, most teens begin to make up their own minds about what they believe. Sometimes they stay close to their parents’ teaching, and sometimes they will depart far from it, often coming back to it again. During these teen years, especially for teens who learn a lot from others, it is good for these young people to be surrounded by others who are soundly rooted in the Bible. Teens are good at finding parents’ faults. However, when they see that there are other Bible-believers who do not have those faults—and who have other good qualities—they are much more likely to think seriously about God and His ways.

The big issues that young people ultimately need to grasp are:

1.    How will I serve God?

2.    How will I live on my own? (This includes education, a job, learning to use one’s resources wisely and learning to deal with business, government, medical, insurance and other bureaucracies.)

3.    Will I find a compatible mate, who has also had a similar grasp of the above two issues?

One semester of a private school provides a time for the young person to be away from parents and realize just how much they do know, and how much they are lacking. Young people are often amazed to find that problems that they thought were their parent’s fault are still with them at private school—and it is indeed the young person who must overcome them.

Young people are also often amazed to find other young people who are much less capable than they in some areas— and they become thankful for how much their parents know and how much they taught them.

Young People All Different

It cannot be overemphasized how much difference there is between one young person and the next. One may be irresponsible and depart from the Bible and his parents’ teaching just to have fun. Another may be very responsible with her own conduct, though she may be judgmental, considering herself a better Christian than her parents. She may want to go her own way because she feels she can make better decisions (which may or may not work out).

Some young people would want to go to a private school just to get away from their parents—and some of those because they think they can handle it and others because they hope to do things there that their parents won’t let them do. Others would be fearful to go away to school, some really are not yet ready, and others have been babied too much and really need the additional responsibility. Still others are completely different from all of the above.

Spring Vale Academy is not the answer for every young person’s life, but it can be a powerful help to young men and women for many different reasons. Young people have gone there because they

1.    Want the Bible classes and positive Christian environment

2.    Are natural leaders but need to be challenged or encouraged

3.    Wish to participate in sports, drama, athletics, etc. and still observe the Sabbath

4.    Need and desire a certain degree of independence

5.    Want many fellow Sabbatarian friends

6.    Need to get away from destructive friendships and habits in their hometown

7.    Are having serious difficulty at home

Reasons why young people would not want to go to SVA are listed below. Young people who are described by most or all of the following statements probably do not need to go to SVA:

1.    They already have a solid personal commitment to God.

2,    They have already gained a basic knowledge of the Bible from parental/church teaching or personal study.

3.    They have a good working relationship with their parents—are able to talk about almost any significant subject and are in agreement with major moral practices.

4.    They regularly attend their local church congregation and are largely content with it.

5.    They have an extended physical family (grandparents, uncles, cousins, etc.) who have similar religious views, and with which they feel closely identified.

5.    They have a clear idea of which higher education and/or career opportunities that they want to pursue.

6.    They have a variety of friends their own age, either locally, or whom they meet regularly at Feasts and other gatherings.

7.    They are at peace that they will find a similarly-believing person to marry at the proper time.

Yes, it is true that two young people may go to SVA for nearly opposite reasons: one because he or she already has a deep commitment to God and want to further there Biblical learning; the other because they have little interest in God and their parent is sending them away from a disastrous lifestyle (crime, substance abuse, immorality, etc.). The two actually work well together. The students with a strong relationship with God are frequently able to mentor the students who are struggling.

SVA does have a record of accomplishment. Many of its alumni, thankful for the benefit they received, have continued to support it for the rest of their lives. Many Spring Vale graduates go on to be leading members in their local congregations and naturally want to send their children to SVA so they can grow to be leaders, too. Quite a few SVA students are the second or third generation in their family to attend.

And of the students sent to SVA against their will, to get them out of a destructive situation in their home town, some leave SVA as firmly committed Christians. And even of the few who struggle through SVA, never really committing their lives to God, the writer has still seen a profound impact. Many of them make Christian friends there whom they keep up with for years. This writer has seen some live a troubled life for a year or two, realize that their old SVA friends are doing better than they are, make a few phone calls, and come back to God. (The SVA Director and staff do have the wisdom to expel students who would be a threat to their fellow students or the staff there.)

What Is Spring Vale Academy?

Spring Vale Academy is the only Sabbatarian boarding high school in the U.S.A. not affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventists. It has been in operation continuously since 1946. The introduction to SVA’s manual reads:

The mission of Spring Vale Academy is to disciple young people to Jesus Christ, the Master Teacher, preparing them to be Christian leaders and workers; and to prepare young people socially, academically and psychologically for further education and for the responsibilities and relationships of adult life.

Spring Vale Academy  provides:

1.      A standard 4-year high school curriculum, with college-prep or technical option. College-bound students can take Honors’ English, a foreign language, Advanced Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Anatomy and Physiology, etc. Technical students may take Industrial Arts, Speech, Drama, Computers, etc. All students take a Bible class every semester.

2.    College classes for qualified students so they may simultaneously earn both high school and college credit.

3.    Individual help for students with academic difficulties.

4.    A boys’ and girls’ dorm, each with a dean and an assistant dean, who look after the students’ physical and spiritual welfare when they are not in class or on a school activity. The deans, often with the help of the older students, conduct dorm worship every evening.

5.    A dining hall that serves three meals per day, only biblically clean foods!

6.    Morning chapel services every school day, a Friday night Bible study run by the young people, a morning Sabbath school and a Sabbath service with the local brethren. There is a full-time youth pastor to coordinate all of this.

7.    Continuous monitoring of students’ whereabouts—they are never left free to roam campus or beyond without staff knowledge and supervision.

8.    School rules to largely assure that students will get adequate sleep and keep up with homework and other responsibilities.

9.    Individual attention given for medical or any special needs.

10. Practical work experience through required campus jobs.

11. Sports programs that compete with other local Christian schools

12. Opportunities to travel with two touring groups: Sound, a musical group, and Action, a drama group. A great variety of social activities.

13. Good parental communication, including weekly e-mail updates, online grade reports, mailed grade and progress reports as needed, and phone calls to parents with any relevant questions. Students are encouraged to call home frequently.

14. A four-week long winter break, for students to return home and reconnect with parents.

Affording SVA

The cost of the entire Spring Vale experience is $8700 per year. Again, SVA has had so much good experience with helping parents find sources of funding, that they are willing to accept applications from parents who do not  have enough money, but who are willing to work together with SVA to find sources of funds.

Discounts are provided for a variety of reasons, such as parental involvement in Christian ministry, siblings attending concurrently, etc. Scholarships, offered by the school or local church are also available. Most students are able to attend by obtaining sponsors who agree to donate a certain amount every month toward their bill. From a historical perspective, it has been common to send young people to a good Christian school to give them a good start in life. Even non-Sabbatarians have helped to sponsor friends and relatives at Spring Vale Academy. Some young people have been able to attend exclusively through sponsorship, while others’ use of sponsorship is supplemental.

The Time is Now

If you think Spring Vale Academy could help your children, or some whom you know, please get more information. You do not get a chance to redo those high school years. At least find out what your options are. If nothing else, your efforts will show these young people that you are interested in making big changes to help them. Some young people will like the idea of moving out of the house. Others will be strongly against moving away from their friends, but can be persuaded by asking them to try it just for one semester. This writer has had two children graduate from SVA and one who will graduate in 2010. The first year when the older two began, they did not want to go. But in less than a month, they wanted to stay--and they did.

The SVA staff is very friendly and helpful. They will be glad to send a brochure or school handbook, and answer your questions. The contact information is:

Spring Vale Academy

Mark Caswell, director

Debbie Boyles, public relations

4150 South M-52

Owosso, MI 48867

Tel: w989-725-2391

Web: www.springvale.us



 Read related articles:

What the Students are Saying About Spring Vale     Youth Rally at Spring Vale Academy as Seen in Pictures




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