3 October 2016 | Tampere, Finland [Victor Hulbert]
A struggling school with as few as 14 students has been transformed into a vibrant success story by enhancing its Christian credentials. Parents who send their children to the Seventh-day Adventist Christian School just outside Tampere, Finland, understand that their children will get both a first class education and a safe space to explore their Christian beliefs.
Kimmo Ilola speaks with experience. Fifteen years ago he moved his oldest child to the school and has never looked back. “My kid who did not want to go to school, who did not enjoy school, who was frustrated, in just two weeks, the transformation was amazing.” His son was changed from a presumed failure into a bright student who graduated with straight A grades.
Ilola is now chair of governors for the school as well as the local pastor and Personal Ministries leader for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Finland. More importantly, he believes in the school. He sent all three of his children there, plus three more children that he and his wife fostered over the years.
“The school is nothing extraordinary,” he says, looking over the building that was a former publishing house and that is currently undergoing a 1 million Euro upgrade. It is not the building or the cramped conditions that make the difference. “The main thing is that we are openly Christian and we want to do good school. We want to give them a good education.”
That Christian ethos openly flows through the school and is what encourages parents, Christian and non-Christian, to send their children to the school. Juha Katajisto, a parent, states, “I send my children because I like the balanced environment for my children.” He appreciates that it is inclusive.
Talk to some of the students and they note that, while other nearby schools give an excellent academic education, here they appreciate the fact that they are not teased or bullied because of their faith. Ryan (14) says, “It’s Christian. You won’t be teased about it. It’s a nice place. Nice friends.” Sabina (15) agrees. “You can talk about your faith very openly here. Your friends believe in the same things and have the same morals.”
Some 40 of the schools 245 students come from Adventist homes. That is 100 percent of the children from Adventist families in the community in and around Tampere, a city of 216,000 people located 180 kilometers (110 miles) north of Finland’s capital, Helsinki. The rest come from a variety of faiths or no faith at all. While most Finns are nominally members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church only two percent of its members attend weekly church services and up to 60% of the population are agnostics, atheists or non-believers.
Some might argue that this shelters these Christian youth from the real world – that once they leave for higher education their protected world will be shattered. Ulpu Saarinen disagrees. She teaches biology, geography and health science. “The government have their curriculum which we have to follow, but we also are free to balance it with our Christian beliefs,” she says. Saarinen believes that this gives the students an added advantage. “They are taught to think, to see things from more than one side,” she adds. “If you want to talk to someone about Intelligent Design theory or be critical of evolution, you first have to know what evolution is. You need the skills to be able to make your own decisions.”
The same is true in the areas of ethics and relationships, something important for head teacher, Merja Kinnunen. She equally emphasises that they are teaching their students to think – but in a safe environment. She is also very focused on quality. “All our teachers must be fully qualified, and they all have a personal faith in Jesus.” That faith comes through in their teaching and in the daily morning worship they lead in their classes and it seems to work.
Many students, including those from other Christian faiths, see the faith they develop in their school life influencing their free time. They join Pathfinders, often attend church on Sabbath, and even students that have long left the school return for ‘pizza church’, a monthly Sabbath evening event. They feel they belong. “It is almost like an alumni reunion for them,” Ilola says – admitting that in the midst of the drama, music and lively worship, he generally shares a solid 40-minute sermon with them.
Yet there is one other aspect that is very important in what Kalervo Aromäki, President of the Adventist Church in Finland, calls a holistic education involving body, mind and spirit. That spirit includes service – climaxing in the final year of school as parents and children work together towards a community service project in Sri Lanka. Reporting in Finnish, Joona Päätalo, one of the students from this summer’s trip produced a very moving and professional video report. Aromäki could not be more proud of the difference these students are making.
Now with a waiting list, full to capacity with 245 students, and the quality of the school raising house prices in the local area, this successful Adventist school is looking to the future. With the encouragement of the local authorities who are strongly in favour of the school, they have opened a brand new kindergarten section. They have also transformed another building to look after pre-school children, and every day they also run active after-school clubs.
The success of the school has equally transformed the church in Tampere. It used to be an old peoples church with the average age well above 65. With a residential home on the same campus they do have several members who are over 100 years old, but the average age of the congregation has reduced to below 50 with many young families thriving in the worship atmosphere. It is not just the young who are delighted. The older members are too. “Our church is alive again. We have a future,” they say. [tedNEWS]
See also Finnish Union annual video report 2015.
Visit the school website.
If you liked this you may like Norwegian Junior College praised by local community students.
tedNEWS Staff: Victor Hulbert, director; Esti Pujic, editor
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