Westlake exists to provide for Christian families a Christ-centered education that disciples our students to honor Jesus Christ in thought, word, and deed. We understand that an ill-prepared disciple is poorly equipped for discipleship, and so one of our core values is scholarship: preparing students for life through an excellent academic program taught in the context of a Christian worldview. When students learn to think well, they are better prepared to confront a broken world with the claims of the gospel. For that reason, we pay careful attention to constantly improving our academic program. Here are some things we have implemented over the past several years and some indicators of success in this area.
- We have worked hard to map our school’s curriculum and reference it to recognized standards.
- We have added more upper-level courses to stretch our high school students, introducing classes such as AP English, AP Calculus, AP Biology, AP World History, and Anatomy & Physiology.
- We have implemented a one-to-one technology program for secondary students, giving them and their teachers digital tools to engage the 21st-century world of learning.
- We have expanded our support for students who have academic needs.
- We have sought and attained both ACSI and regional accreditation, bringing with it an external program of constant improvement and review.
- We have maintained high levels of standardized testing scores (Terra Nova school average = 80%ile, ACT average = 24.7, which is among the top 10 high schools in the county).
- We have raised the bar in science and math by accelerating the sequence of those courses for our secondary students.
- We have been actively seeking and hiring new teachers in core academic areas who have advanced degrees (3 of the 4 full-time teachers hired in last two years have masters degrees).
One of my administrator colleagues in another school has stated, “No student should give up a quality academic preparation by attending a Christian school.” That is certainly our desire as well.
But let me return to the topic of this essay: “What is Westlake Christian Academy all about?” No doubt, we desire all of the above. But we also know that all of those academic benefits and more can be had at many public and private schools. As important as they are, academic considerations are not the reason we have Westlake Christian Academy. What parents wanted when this school was formed 45 years ago, and what continues to be our primary focus, is making disciples. Our vision is, “Every student a disciple of Jesus Christ.” That intense focus sets Westlake apart from other schools in Lake County. That is what students do not get at other schools.
What do we mean by a discipleship focus? Here are three aspects of it:
- Westlake embraces total integration of faith and learning, so that students understand that all of reality starts and ends with their Creator. This is critical for Christians. It is also a radically countercultural viewpoint. The vast majority of students across this country are taught in a “God-vacuum,” which over time leads even most children from Christian backgrounds to embrace a
dualistic understand of their world. That is, there may exist a private sphere of life where one may harbor thoughts and beliefs about transcendent, non-material ideas, but real life is lived in a totally materialistic world where all understanding is derived exclusively from physical explanations. Such dualism leaves most students from Christian homes wondering what the point is of believing in a sovereign, personal God. In fact, statistics reveal that 70-80% of them leave any form of Christianity behind when they leave home. We aim to turn that statistic upside down with our students.
- Westlake points students to an eternal mindset, helping them to see that this life is given to us so that we might participate in God’s grand plan for creation. We aim to prepare students for His kingdom purposes, not the “American dream.” This, too, is at odds with our culture. In fact, this may be our greatest challenge, because our students are so strongly influenced and enticed by their culture. They are faced on almost every side by the false claims that satisfaction comes through the accumulation of things, wealth, fame, power—in short, what John calls “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16). In most other schools, success is couched in such language, especially the pursuit of financial dreams (land a career that pays well) or powerful influence (attain high-level decision-making roles in business or government). While giving our students the tools necessary for such pursuits, we want them to see God’s claim upon their lives so that those tools are put at His disposal, even if that leads to a life of sacrifice.
- Westlake values community, living life together in humility and demonstrating love to each other. Of course, we know that we can only achieve this imperfectly because we are all broken creatures living in a broken world. But we also know that God’s children are empowered by His Spirit to live gospel-saturated lives, and so we offer that challenge to them, stressing compassion and grace, pointing them to consider our Savior’s sacrifice for us. Teachers, administrators, and board members all pray fervently and specifically for our students’ spiritual growth and victory. This, too, is absent in most other schools, where often students are lost in an impersonal sea of humanity. Here they are known, loved, and cared for as individuals.
Six years ago, while being interviewed for my present position, one of our board members posed this question: what is the more important aspect of a Christian school: academic or spiritual growth? I replied, “Yes.” The board member smiled and said that she hoped that something like that would be my answer, for that is what Westlake aspires to. I have said many times that discipleship is a function of scholarship, which means that academic preparation serves to enhance discipleship growth. We aim to turn out disciples who are academically prepared to serve their Creator in whatever vocation they feel led to. Conversely, we do not aspire to boast of a superb academic program whose focus is to point students to self-sufficiency and the pursuit of cultural norms. Families can find many opportunities for that elsewhere.
I am told that, while Christian parents living in Muslim-dominated countries spend considerable prayer and effort in preparing their children for spiritual warfare and the very real possibility of martyrdom, parents in America go to great lengths to guarantee that their offspring enjoy the full benefits of western life. Where will we find the next generation of Jim Elliots, Dietrich Bonhoeffers, and Richard Wurmbrands? Dear God, help Westlake to prepare them.