Dear Friends and Family,
A week ago, I sent BFA parents a summary of the school year from my perspective. As Catherine and I thought about how to summarize that part of our first year serving at BFA, we thought that this might provide a unique window into the year and the life of the school. Here is that summary.
Dear BFA Parents,
When looking for a way to describe the 2022-23 school year at BFA, the word “normal” feels pretty underwhelming. Normal typically implies, “uninteresting”, “undynamic”, “uneventful”, and a host of other “un”s. But that has not been the case this year. What I have discovered is that at BFA, our post-covid “normal” is remarkably interesting, dynamic, and eventful. In no particular order, I would like to share with you a few of the things that have stood out to me from my first year as Head of School.
Solidifying the Core: BFA’s past, present and future is inextricably connected to the beliefs, values, and practices of evangelical Christian orthodoxy. Our desire to “share the same truths to the next generation”, led the Board to re-examine, and to ultimately re-adopt the World Evangelical Alliance statement of faith. This same commitment led the administration to further clarify our Biblical Posture on Sexuality, as we seek to thoughtfully address key issues of our times from a biblical perspective. This foundational commitment is also seen in our mission, “to equip our students to influence their world through biblical thought, character, and action”, and virtually every other significant document at BFA. But as I hope you will see throughout the rest of this brief year summary, these guiding documents influence everything we do.
The Return of SPTs (Service Project Trips): For the first time in four years, BFA was able to revive our Service Project Trips (SPTs). Because of COVID, only a tiny number of current BFA HS students and staff had been on one of these trips. In some ways, it felt like we were starting from scratch. Nevertheless, thanks to the work of Kristy Martin and the chaplain’s team, we were able to send approximately 80 students and twenty staff or parent volunteers to four locations in India, Vietnam, Bosnia, and Kenya. For all of our students, the experience was eye-opening, and for some it was life-altering. After describing the opportunity she had to lead an elderly woman in India to Christ, one student shared that the experience was “one I’ll never forget”.
Increasing engagement with our local community in Kandern: While life at BFA can consume every minute of our student and staff lives, we also recognize that God has placed us in this community and given us a unique opportunity to be salt and light. From the presence of Kandern’s mayor, Frau Penner, at our Opening Ceremony and Solar Project Dedication, to a Christmas choral concert BFA hosted that included several local village choirs, the refugee outreach program, our choir’s participation in the Kandern town meeting event on May 5, and renewed engagement with Auguste Macke Schule and FES (the regional Christian school), we are grateful to have been able to slowly re-engage with our local German community and are looking forward to seeing that engagement grow.
Student Learning (MAP testing): As a school, a central part of our mission is excellence in teaching and learning. By learning to love God with our minds, we are equipping our students for influence. But how do we know if we are doing that well? One window into our effectiveness in student intellectual growth is MAP growth testing. This unique test allows us not only to see how BFA students are doing compared to their peers in other schools, but (more importantly) how they are growing individually.
While we are much less concerned with how we compare with others, it is still encouraging to know that BFA typically outperforms both ACSI schools (which, themselves, outperform the American national averages) and other international schools in Germany (which includes the DoD schools and many of the other secular international schools in the country). In the most recent comparison data available, BFA students outperformed the ACSI mean in every category and German means in twelve of the fifteen categories. In the remaining three categories BFA and the German mean were almost identical. This, of course, is encouraging and speaks of the quality of students we are blessed to have and the commitment to education that your families represent.
Even more important to us is the question of whether each of our students is flourishing as a learner, based on their unique giftings and capacity. Unlike most standardized test platforms, MAP testing gives schools the ability to determine how much individual students are growing compared with objective expectations for healthy academic growth. Between Spring of 2022 and Spring of 2023 BFA students exceeded their expected academic growth in 57.7% of the areas measured, met growth expectations in 30.8% of the areas measured, and fell short of growth expectations in just 11.5% of the areas measured. This speaks to the quality teaching that we are blessed to have at BFA.
The return of our full range of programs: Having shared about each of these in some form previously, I will simply name the many significant programs that have returned in full this year and the value they have added to the life of the school and the growth of our students.
HS Spiritual Emphasis Week focused on the theme of being “Captivated” by God and was led by Cliff Jordan from the Movement Church in Virginia.
HS Retreat continued the theme “Captivated” and was led by Caleb Schmidt from YWAM in Berlin.
MS Spiritual Emphasis Week had the theme of “God with us” and featured pastor Robbie Sweet from Scotland.
The Student Council was busy this year with a number of highly successful events including, among others, the Christmas Banquet, Sadie Hawkins, and the Junior/Senior Banquet.
The MS Play this year was a thoroughly enjoyable rendition of C.S. Lewis’, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
The HS Musical was an incredible performance of the classical Gilbert and Sullivan light opera, The Pirates of Penzance.
HS Sports (Volleyball, Basketball, Soccer, Cross-country, and Track) were also able to have their first full year of games in three years. Some of the highlights this year included a DoD European Championship in Boys volleyball, a third place finish in Girls basketball, strong results in both Cross country and Track and Field, and the upcoming boys and girls soccer tournaments next week.
Parent Partnership developments: The school-parent partnership is critical to a healthy school culture. COVID created a number of hurdles to that partnership but we have been working hard to re-energize avenues for parent engagement. In addition to the regular communication channels we have to keep you informed (weekly Principal posts, all school community notices, regular communication from the dorms to boarding families, etc.) we have sought to revive the Parents in Partnership group (PiP). PiP has started off well with a renewal of parent prayer groups, student hot lunch days, teacher appreciation days, and a number of other initiatives.
We have also introduced the Head of School-Parent Forums as a means to share ideas and to ask big-picture school-related questions. We are currently considering a couple of additional ways to get regular and meaningful feedback and input from you. In the meantime, please be on the lookout for the annual parent survey which is another great means to provide us with input as we seek to partner towards the Christ-like growth of every BFA student.
Advancement (Solar Project and Dorm Project to come): As we look to support our mission and global ends as a school, it is clear that BFA’s long-term flourishing is tied to the twin pillars of affordability and sustainability. Our aim of providing a quality Christian education at a cost that allows Christian workers to remain on the field is primarily supported by the missionary-teacher model BFA has chosen in which our staff raise their own support to work at BFA. However, even with that significant reduction of operating costs, running a strong and affordable boarding school program in Europe remains a challenge. To help tackle this ongoing challenge, BFA has revived its advancement program and has been blessed with a remarkably talented and dedicated team. It was the Advancement Team that saw the potential savings for BFA in moving to Solar power and who spearheaded the successful Annual Fund drive that resulted in BFA’s newly completed solar plant - a project that will save the school approximately $45,000 per year in energy costs.
Alumni Survey - Because you have already received the results of our recent Alumni Survey, I will not expound upon that here - other than to say, if you haven’t read the results, please do. The survey was the largest in the school’s history and, while very encouraging, has also provided us with significant insight into how we can grow and improve as a school as we seek to increasingly live out our Christ-centered mission.
Important Goodbyes: In a community like ours, it can feel like people are always coming and going, and while there is more than a kernel of truth in that observation, the reality is that, relative to many mobile/international communities like ours around the world, BFA has been blessed with a significant number of people who have dedicated large portions of their lives to this school. This year we say goodbye to a number of staff who have invested heart and soul into God’s work here at BFA, but I would like to bring particular attention (and deep appreciation) to Sam and Jen Stemple and Cathy Schmidt.
The Stemples will be wrapping up 21 years of service to BFA in June. During that period, the Stemples have done just about everything you can at BFA and have left a deep and lasting imprint on BFA’s DNA. Most recently, Sam has served as our Director of Student Life, and Jen has been our Student Council Advisor. When their daughter Katie graduates in June it will mark the end of an era during which God used this family to influence the lives of many (students and staff alike). Thank you Stemples!
Cathy Schmidt and BFA’s story are completely inseparable. For the last 39 years, Cathy has been the heart and soul of our elementary programs, first with BFA’s elementary school and then as one of the teaching founders of CSK (Christliche Schule in Kandern) - BFA’s bi-lingual partnership with the Free Evangelical School in the Lorrach. Cathy is the longest serving staff member in BFA’s history and while completely irreplaceable, has built a legacy that others will now build upon. As a school community we cannot adequately thank Cathy enough for her service to building God’s kingdom through the work of BFA. God’s blessings on your retirement and the beginning of a new chapter in America.
Closing Reflections: When my family pulled up our deep roots in Kenya, after approximately 17 years at Rosslyn Academy, we were certain that God was calling us to BFA. We already believed deeply in the mission and values of the school, and were excited about being a part of BFA’s significant and ongoing Kingdom global impact. That said, we had little idea of what was ahead. What we have found is a remarkable community of Christians representing a variety of denominations but united in their desire to know Christ and make him known. As we wrap up our first year in Kandern at BFA, and eagerly look forward to the next year, we do so with hearts full of gratitude to God for making it possible for us to be investing our lives in a place of such Kingdom significance.