We have had two open houses for prospective families up to this point, with a third one scheduled for March 22. “Tell me about your school,” is one of the most common things prospective families ask us to do when they visit. I’ll share with you what they also get to hear.
MCA has been around for 67 years, which makes us one of the oldest, continuously operating Evangelical Christian schools in Chicago. We are also one of just 7 Evangelical Christian schools still operating in the city of Chicago. MCA was founded by the membership of Midwest Bible Church, with which it is still affiliated, in response to the increasing influence of secular humanist philosophy in public schools, and the decreasing influence of a Christian worldview in the schools. We consider ourselves a “distinctively Christian school”, which means that the full scope of Christian faith and practice is the foundational philosophy of our curriculum, instruction, personnel policy and overall operation.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe and not according to Christ. Colossians 2:8, NRSV
What curriculum do you use?
First, let’s distinguish between curriculum materials, which are the workbooks, textbooks and websites that support student achievement of objective, and the curriculum itself, consisting of the course objectives to which students will be introduced, and which they will master. We write our own curriculum objectives using a variety of sources, including other Christian schools, and based on a general plan for advancement from grade to grade, how to measure whether or not a student has successfully learned the content or skill. Then we choose curriculum materials which we feel will best help our teachers lead students to achieve those objectives. So we utilize a variety of publishers who produce textbook materials, including Christian sources like Purposeful Design/ACSI, Abeka, Positive Action for Christ, Lifeway, and Bob Jones University Press. We also use other publishers whose textbooks and materials lend themselves to integrating Biblical truth into the content.
How strong is your academic program?
Measured against the standards used by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), it is very strong. In Language Arts, which includes reading, phonics, grammar, composition/writing skills, 95% of our students meet or exceed grade level benchmarks on standardized tests, compared to a pre-pandemic 47% of students in Illinois public schools. That’s not bad for a school where a third of the students come from a home in which English is not the primary language. On our last standardized measurement, 94% of our students met or exceeded benchmarks in mathematics skills and concepts. That’s compared to a pre-pandemic 42% among Illinois public schools.
Our overall academic performance ranked in the 66th percentile among schools using the Iowa Test of Basic Skills nationally, meaning that our students scored higher than students in 66% of the schools that took the same test. All of our students who take the NWEA “Map” test, generally for high school admissions, were above the 80th percentile in math and verbal expression.
Reports we get back from students who graduated from MCA about their high school progress indicates that they find themselves advanced over most of their peers when they enter ninth grade. We currently have several MCA students whose academic achievement ranks them at or near the top of their current class at one of the local Christian high schools and we also have alumni who are honor students at selective enrollment high schools and charter schools.
We have an open enrollment policy, which means that we do not test our students for their academic ability before admission, as most other private schools, including religious-based ones, do. We believe that all families who desire to have their children in a Christian environment for their education should be able to do so, and we are committed to work with them to achieve academic success. The fact that our students rank in the higher quartiles of achievement is proof that our academics are meeting or exceeding expectations.
Your school is accredited. So what does that mean?
It means that we chose to participate in an evaluation process which helps us determine areas where we are doing well, areas where we need to improve and to meet or exceed compliance on 80 different indicators in eight different standards. We went through a three-year process in which we made improvements in all aspects of the school’s operation according to the standards, ending in an evaluation by a visiting team of professional educators who observed our adherence to the standards and recommended that our school be accredited.
“Accredited schools are excellent schools, and excellent schools seek to be accredited.” Accreditation tells everyone who comes our way that this is an excellent school which meets the highest professional and spiritual standards in the education field. Our accreditation commission, the Association of Christian Schools International, has the same recognition as the regional accreditation agencies like Cognia, Middle States and North Central/CASI, and offers reciprocal accreditation through them.
We are also an Illinois Recognized school, which means that we have met all of the health, safety and procedural requirements of the ISBE. Our main interest in Illinois Recognition is that it is a requirement for us to operate an Early Education program for students in Pre-Kindergarten, ages 3 and 4. It is also a requirement for participation in the Empower Illinois tax credit scholarship program.
What about the Spiritual Life? And what doctrine do you believe?
MCA is affiliated with Midwest Bible Church, which is an independent, non-denominational, Evangelical Christian church with a long history in the Portage Park/Old Irving Park/Six Points neighborhood of Northwest Chicago. Billy Graham preached his first sermon broadcast on the radio from our campus, which gives you a good idea of the history and doctrinal background of the church and school.
Our school’s statement of faith outlines the basic doctrinal principles and the perspective from which they are taught. Our students come from families representing over 40 different churches, mostly in this area of the city, across denominational lines. Our unity is found in Christ.
Every student at MCA is engaged in a class which studies the Bible every day. We worship together once a week, on Wednesdays, in two different worship experiences, one for grades 4-8, one for grades K-3. We provide opportunities for students to become engaged in community ministry within the framework of their particular class. We see our role as one which undergirds and supports the ministry and discipleship of the student’s local church. While the pastor of Midwest Bible Church is a frequent chapel speaker, other pastors, mostly those who are parents of students, are invited as well.
What’s Your “Classroom Philosophy”?
Based on the Bible’s models of education and discipleship, we recognize our teachers as authorities in both a spiritual sense and an academic sense. “A disciple is not not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.” Luke 6:40 Teachers are role models, which includes their expertise in instruction, ability to apply what they teach to their own life and show their students not only how to develop their academic skills in math, reading, language, and spelling, but how to interact with each other, respect each other, love each other and function as part of the body of Christ.
We believe one of the top qualifications of a teacher in our school is to have been called to serve in this ministry of Christian education, and spiritually gifted in teaching. As a result of the spiritual authority they have, and their spiritual giftedness, we trust our teaching staff to have discernment in the way they manage their classroom and in the relationships they build with their students.
We’re not inside a “Bubble”
Our students walk through our doors and into our classrooms just like everyone else. All of them are sinners. Some of them have been saved by grace. But they are human, they have a sinful nature and a Christian school environment doesn’t automatically mean we don’t have to deal with real world problems. We have students from all walks of life and we see behavior that is typical for any group of children or youth in any school environment anywhere else. We have rules and standards of expected behavior, and they do get broken.
The difference is in how we handle it. We start with prayer for wisdom and discernment. We consider our students, their needs, the issues they face, and work to figure out how to best find a solution for the problem they may be having. We use an appropriate combination of consequences, which should be expected in any environment where personal accountability is a principle, try to build, rather than tear down, the relationship we have with each of our students and we make sure that we reflect the basic Biblical, Christian principles of grace and restoration.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1
Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Proverbs 16:24
A Distinctively Christian School
We work to live up to our own expectations, as well as those we believe God has for us, and hope that our Christian identity is visible. Our visiting accreditation team commended our school for this visibility, in two separate commendations which wound up in our final report. They saw it in our administration and school board on their first night, in our staff and students during the rest of their time here, and encouraged us to continue to maintain this special place.
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” I Corinthians 2:9