Spring Valley Academy brings its students to the world, and the world to its students
According to Principal Darren Wilkins, Spring Valley Academy in Centerville has always been a school with a mission.
“It started with a big vision on the part of just a few people willing to sacrifice a lot personally,” says Wilkins of the seven families who started the school in 1968. These families took out personal loans and mortgaged their houses to create a kindergarten through 12th grade school that would attract families to the area to staff the Kettering Medical Center. What started as a way to bring the world to Dayton, though, has become a school that takes its 380-plus students to the world.
“I feel really strongly that any education in today’s world needs to be global because we just live in a really global world,” says Wilkins, “Looking forward into the future (we see that) kids that have an education that is global in nature not just provincial or local are going to have a big advantage.”
In the years since the school’s founding, Spring Valley has taken its dedication to education, the Seventh-day Adventists’ passion for serving those less fortunate and Wilkins’ belief in a global worldview and mixed them together to create a school unique to the Miami Valley.
The families of physicians who had come to work at the Kettering Medical Center helped start Spring Valley Academy.
“It always has served a clientele that’s professional and has high expectations for their kids,” says Wilkins. “There’s just a real standard of excellence in terms of the college prep instruction and curriculum because a lot of these kids are going on to professional careers following the footsteps of their parents.”
It meets these expectations by keeping its focus on an excellent education. The school keeps an average student-to-teacher ratio of 12:1, guaranteeing students receive plenty of personalized instruction.
“It’s a tough curriculum for the kids. When kids transfer here from other schools they often have an adjustment period,” says Wilkins.
Technology is even put to work. All seventh- through 12th-grade students receive a school-issued iPad Mini and the younger classrooms are each given a class set. The iPads are actively used in the classroom, keeping the students from straying from the topic on hand and student phones are even banned throughout the day.
While the school is small, it’s still able to offer students options found at larger schools. Spring Valley offers six dual credit classes through Kettering College, helping students get many of their basic college requirements out of the way while still in high school. Other unique offerings include a music production class and a Shakespeare class.
Its arts program is also considered to be excellent, with three students over the last four years being placed in the Dayton Youth Philharmonic Orchestra. “The arts kind of rule here,” says Wilkins.
Spring Valley’s dedication has paid off—90 percent of its student’s go to college, with the remaining 10 percent entering the military. Last year, its 36 graduates were offered a sum total of $1.2 million in scholarship dollars.
“We always remind ourselves that we want to be elite but not elitist. We are a school with a mission and the mission is not to meet the needs of the upper crust,” says Wilkins. “We are a very diverse school both ethnically and in terms of socioeconomic levels.”
The Kettering Health Network and Spring Valley Academy have worked together to provide scholarships to underprivileged students. A fund has even been set up to help students take advantage of opportunities, such as school trips, that their families may not have been able to afford on their own. “They’re not just here going to class and then all the extra enriching things are only available to kids from wealthier families,” says Wilkins.
This approach to assisting potential students in the Miami Valley is also applied to students all over the world. Spring Valley often has students from China, Korea, Vietnam and Germany. This year, the school is opening its doors to 26 Rwandan refugees.
“Their parents have dreams for them just like any other parent does and the fact that we’ve been able to reach out to them and include them in our school, we’re just really committing to giving these kids a future,” says Wilkins.
A Global Perspective
While Wilkens says it’s important to bring the world to students in the classroom, he says it’s equally important to bring them to the world. The school hosts an international trip each year. Every other year is a study tour, with the alternating year serving as a mission trip.
“Our kids really get to experience a lot in terms of the rest of the world and other cultures. They just get to see amazing things,” says Wilkins.
Last year, the students took a trip to Greece to see historic sites in the region where Western civilization began, says Wilkins. “These kids got to walk in the footsteps of the apostle Paul and stand right on the stones where he stood when he talked to the Athenian philosophers and all that. Really breathe some life into their faith but also into their understanding of their heritage,”
The year before, the school went to the Amazon in Peru. “When we do these trips, we always have a construction project; a medical team that provides primary care medicine, so we go out every day with out medical team to really isolated little villages that never see a doctor and we do day clinics in these little villages; vacation bible school programs for the kids; and a vision team. We take like 2,000 pairs of glasses and we run an eye clinic,” says Wilkins.
Eighth-graders and older can take part in these approximately two-week trips.
“I think the global aspect of the education has a lot to do with preparing kids for higher education. When you’ve been to different continents in the world and seen really significant things and experienced other cultures, those are the kinds of qualities in students that colleges and universities are looking for,” says Wilkins.