NorthStar Academy: NICS’ Online School
December 05, 2011 | Orchards
By Barry Bennett
There is no doubt that modern technology has changed the face of education in our world. Teachers can now post the class syllabus, projects, and homework assignments on class websites. Grades can be posted online so that parents can monitor their child’s progress. Options for further learning are endless because of the amount of information easily accessed on the internet. But modern technology has not only created a new approach for physical schools, it has created an excellent forum and opportunity for online schools.
In 1998, NorthStar Academy (NSA), an online school, was founded in an effort to give missionaries and others educational options for their children. This included providing an education for missionary children living in parts of the world where a good education is difficult to come by. NICS purchased the school in 2008 as a strategic component for the mission organization. NSA Director, Barry Bennett is in his 3rd year at NSA and is the first NICS appointed director for the school. In the last issue of the CORE, Barry and Tim Thompson, NICS’ Director of School Affairs, addressed the future of online education:
What does the future hold regarding online learning? Are mobile learning systems (m-learning), virtual learning environments in which student avatars attend virtual classrooms, and speech synthesis learning systems really that far-fetched? Considering the fact that there was no internet a little over 20 years ago and personal computers were a personal extravagance for a select few, it does not seem likely. Christian teachers and Christian schools need to lead, not follow, in utilizing this tool in our efforts to provide an excellent, culturally relevant education, based upon a sound Christian philosophy, to students who sit in our classrooms preparing for a technological future that they, and we, can barely fathom.
This “culturally relevant education” with a Christian philosophy is exactly what NSA is providing for students all over the world. The school is the only NICS on-line school and is able to provide both supplemental curriculum and teachers to schools that were not able to recruit them is a unique way that NSA is able to serve other schools in the NICS network.
At NICS, NSA serves the largest percentage of missionary kids (MKs) in the network. The school provides an education for students in over 75 countries with the majority of the students living outside of the United States. With more than 25 faculty members serving in various places throughout the world including Canada, the United States, Mexico, Germany, Afghanistan and Korea; students are able to connect with and learn from a diverse group of teachers. The administrative offices for NSA are located on the same campus as NICS in Southaven, MS (just outside of Memphis, TN).
The atmosphere at NSA is one of inclusiveness and a challenging academic environment. Through the social network provided in the client side software (the software used to login to the school), the students are very friendly and helpful to each other. The academics at NSA are also challenging, and a large percentage of graduates at NSA will go on to pursue college or university degrees.
NSA Student Life
Although mission trips are not necessarily organized by the school itself, many NSA students participate in mission trips through the year. Some of these mission trips are just a natural part of life for some of our students as they are MKs and are often involved with their parents in their missionary endeavors. Many students go deeper into the interior of the country in which they reside for weeks on end as they help families in their ministry efforts to which God has called them. Our stateside students often get involved in mission trips and even volunteer to help in community projects and at times are leaders of projects within the communities in which they live. Our students gain recognition for their participation in these activities by joining a school sponsored club called Community Service, a presidentially sponsored organization.
Instead of a Spiritual Emphasis Week event, NSA offers “Spiritual Emphasis Webinars.” These are very similar to traditional Spiritual Emphasis Week events but take place online during scheduled meetings spanning three months (usually 2 meetings per month). Students attend live conferences and interact with each other and the speaker. Because NSA reaches across all time zones, these meetings are recorded and students can select to watch them at their convenience. Students make life changing decisions as a result of these webinars.
NorthStar Academy also participates in the annual NICS Student Leadership Conference by sponsoring a student who is on the NorthStar Academy student council. These students come from all over the world to one of the NICS/Oasis schools to attend this conference.
Goals and Challenges at NSA
A key goal of NSA is to grow its student population so that it can offer greater opportunities through the medium of online learning. NSA plans to eventually add live communication and instruction as an option to the students and families, graduation ceremonies in geographic areas where there is a high concentration of NSA students, regional receptions to encourage NSA students and to let others know about the private Christian school option that NSA can provide at reasonable cost.
NSA faces many challenges as it transitions from being privately owned and operated to being owned and operated within the context and culture of a larger organization, NICS. Changes are being made at NSA which are raising the level of standards academically and delivering a consistent set of guidelines to all involved. Teachers often feel the changes and are adjusting to the larger organizational culture. For example, the level of accountability that the teachers are being held to now versus when the school was privately held has changes significantly. Despite the challenges, NSA is consistently improving all aspects of the online educational experience it offers worldwide.
For more information regarding NSA and the educational opportunities available, please contact:
3790 Goodman RD E
Southaven, MS 38672-6441
Main Number 662-892-4380
Toll Free 888-464-6280