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SEC banner and serving seniorsBeyond the Classroom

One of the greatest attributes we can teach our students and our children is servant leadership. The attitude of giving to others who are in need and helping them in a leadership manner is a trait that God calls us all to possess. God’s expectations are evident in the story of judgement when God separates the sheep and the goats: “He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’” (Matthew 25:33–36 NIV).

The idea of servant leadership is contrary to many of the messages students hear today.The idea of servant leadership is contrary to many of the messages students hear today. We live in a “me” centered world that is greatly influenced by social media. A student’s self-perception is determined by how many people shared their tweet or their Instagram message, what they can post about themselves, and how they compare to others. More than ever, we need our students to experience the gift of giving to others. That need is why it is included in the mission statement of University Christian High School.

gardening with wheelbarrowThe UCHS mission statement is to provide a Christ-centered education that inspires students in three areas: Academics, Moral Character, and Servant Leadership. All UCHS students must complete 20 hours of service each year, and members of the National Honor Society must give 40 hours. Thankfully, most students exceed their required amount. Last year, 142 UCHS students gave more than 7,200 hours of service to the community.

University Christian High School sits on the campus of Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C. Just 10 years old, this unique Lutheran high school has enrolled 135 students who are learning to go to college even before they leave for college. Ninth and tenth graders take honors and AP courses, while juniors and seniors have the unique opportunity of taking honors, AP, and college classes at Lenoir-Rhyne University. Upper classmen literally walk across the street to attend college classes on a university campus with a college professor and college students. Students may take more than 40 different college classes, and they often graduate from UCHS with more than 30 hours of college credit.

With UCHS students taking college classes that meet only two or three times a week, many students have ample free time. If a student has more than 90 minutes of free time in their schedule, they must either be involved in a service project or an internship. This is one way that our juniors and seniors have the opportunity to aid the community during the school day while still maintaining a full academic load.

To help our students have a greater experience of serving others, we take the last four days of the school year for a Beyond the Classroom experience. Final exams are over, and before we have our closing chapel and awards, our students actively serve throughout the community.

Students have served in nursing homes, food pantries, soup kitchens, elementary schools, a school for handicapped students, churches, and many other non-profits.Months in advance, we have a committee of parents that searches for opportunities where our students can serve. They prepare a list of organizations, how many volunteers they desire, the duties students will perform, and the days and times they want student volunteers. These many opportunities are posted with the number of volunteers needed. Students have to sign up for where and when they want to serve. We do this in order of seniority with our seniors getting the first choice. In the past, students have served in nursing homes, food pantries, soup kitchens, elementary schools, a school for handicapped students, churches, and many other non-profits.

sorting at food pantryEach student must sign up for a certain number of volunteer opportunities. The number they have to serve depends on the total number of opportunities we have available and whether they have other school functions on those days. We fill every time slot available. Students are responsible for finding their own transportation to and from the location. A member of our faculty or a volunteer meets them at the location to take attendance and do what they can to make the service a positive experience.

Beyond the Classroom is treated like final exams where students only have to attend on days they are supposed to complete service. If they do not show for the service event, we count them absent from school. These four days make a tremendous impact in the lives of our students. One place where almost all the students serve at least once is Conover School. Conover School is a local school for severely handicapped children.

working with ids at Conover schoolSenior Seana Hovis recalls that last year she worked at building towers with a 7-year-old during her time at Conover School. This young man wore a helmet to protect his head from falls, so she wore one just like his: “I liked the interaction with him, but I couldn’t do it every day.” Marcos, a sophomore explains, “I saw the value of the school and the dedication of the teachers as they help educate these children who need a fighting chance to survive in the world today.” Olivia, a senior, states that this school exposed her to another side of education. Even though the students had struggles, she valued the connections with the students that both she and the teachers experienced.

Kate Edwards, a teacher at Conover School, reflects on our student volunteers: “I have had interns in my classroom over the last several years. I have been consistently impressed with the quality of the students you send to us. Last week I had a young man named Cole. He jumped right in with our students. We have a guitar in our classroom, and he played for the students. One of my students likes to feel the vibrations when the guitar is being played. Cole let him touch the guitar and sit close to it as if it was the most natural thing in the world.”

“It’s not about yourself. It’s about what you can do for others. It changes it from a me centered world to a you centered world.”Another popular service opportunity is at the local food bank. The amount of food that people donated and the number of adults who also volunteered their time impressed our students. Students who helped distribute meals to the needy were impacted by the number of homeless served and how thankful recipients were for this food. Gracie recalls, “These service opportunities helped me to really see the issues in today’s world.” Reese, a junior, who served in a nursing home, states, “It’s not about yourself. It’s about what you can do for others. It changes it from a me centered world to a you centered world.” Jamie says it well, “I just like helping people out—helping others out, even when you have nothing to gain.”
But Jamie is gaining: gaining an appreciation of servant leadership.

Bill Unverfehrt is the principal of University Christian High School in Hickory, N.C. He was the founding principal of UCHS in 2009 while also serving as principal at Concordia Christian Day School in Conover, N.C. He is the 2015 recipient of the LEA Distinguished Lutheran Elementary Administrator Award.

Photos courtesy University Christian High School, Hickory, N.C.