CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — In one classroom, hands of a dozen eager fifth graders wave in the air, vying to answer questions about a story. While across the boardwalk, four-year-olds are learning to recognize and spell “o” words like “pool” and “move.”
These might be typical elementary school students — except the fifth graders are analyzing the story of David and Goliath. And the four-year-olds are following along as their teacher reads John 5: 1-15 about Jesus healing the man by the pool of Bethesda. Students at Tabernacle Christian School study reading, writing and arithmetic while learning about the Bible and ethical behavior. They excel at both.
Students’ most recent Stanford 10 standardized test scores averaged one to two grade levels above their current grade. Stanford 10 Bible scores show students have a “solid mastery of biblical facts and principles with a firm understanding of how to apply them.”
Servella Terry, TCS executive director, believes the school is making a measurable difference in the lives of area children. She should know. Terry has dedicated her 40-year career to the betterment of children. For the past 32 years, she has labored on behalf of Tennessee children and families, working for various state agencies; and since its inception in 1996, Terry has been employed by the Department of Children’s Services and currently serves as their director of Community Partnerships and Support Services.
“My work has allowed me to understand the importance of providing children a healthy foundation,” she remarks. “Every child should be afforded the right to receive a quality education in a healthy learning environment, integrated with spiritual principles.”
Principal, Katobwa Stallworth, concurs, saying TCS students get a daily application of morals and ethics, along with standard lessons.She comments, “If you look at simple biblical truths such as the Ten Commandments, we ask students as young as pre-kindergarten to not covet — to be happy for a classmate’s successes rather than feeling jealous.”
Stallworth strolls between classrooms as teachers work on spelling, sentence diagramming and math. She smiles as crisply uniformed youngsters work enthusiastically on schoolwork.
A fourth-grade teacher doesn’t miss a beat as instructions from the class next door bleed through thin mobile classroom walls. Stallworth hurries when she exits one unit and walks down the wooden boardwalk to the next unit. There’s a chill in the air. There is no large building. No enclosed hallways. Not yet.
What the small school lacks in physical comforts, teachers and students make up for with determination and hard work. Their enthusiasm is contagious. Stallworth believes in the school’s mission, championed by founder, Rev. Jimmy Terry.
“Pastor Terry has a vision for youth — their educational and spiritual progress — and the impact they’re going to make on the world, “ she notes. “He sees a Christian campus. He wants to offer quality Christian education in Montgomery County — and for it to be a real, viable choice for persons of Christian faith.”
When Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church started 29 years ago with 25 members, the mission for a Christian school was written into their charter and by-laws. That vision was realized in 1999 when TCS opened with 16 students. In 2007, the school received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Current enrollment for Pre-K3 to fifth grade is 55.
Stallworth suggests, “For a congregation the size of Tabernacle to support this school spiritually and financially is nothing short of miraculous.”
Rev. Terry doesn’t dispute a miracle, but emphasizes that his congregation made sacrifices, which allowed the school to grow. Their church building is modest. “We don’t have a cathedral because we purchased land instead.”
“I contend that when God calls a person to serve, He gives that person a vision,“ Terry continues. “Every church should have a vision, and God laid it on my heart to have a school. My life is to lead people to Christ and to build this Christian school.”
He now has help.
Terry tries to live according to Matthew 7:12: “Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. For this is the law and the prophets.”
As part lesson and part praise, he recalls a recent letter from Piney Woods School in Jackson, Miss., asking for a contribution. “I got the letter and thought, ‘what would I like people to do when our school sends donation letters?’ So I called the Mississippi Link newspaper in Jackson and said I wanted to buy a $1,000 ad. I wanted to reach at least 2,500 people who would give $1,000 to Piney Woods.”
“Not two weeks later, God sent Mark Briggs,” Terry continues. “I invited him to walk through the school. When he came out, he was teary-eyed and offered to initiate a building campaign.”
Today, Briggs and fellow Clarksville businessman, Dwight Dickson, head a team of community volunteers and business leaders, dedicated to giving Tabernacle Christian School a building that will accommodate a greater number of students, further enrich their education and that will, in turn, enrich Clarksville. Their Achieving the Vision capital campaign kicks off May 19 with a goal of raising $2 million for a new facility.
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