The First Academy, a Christ-centered school, embraces economic, cultural, and racial diversity. We recognize all persons are uniquely created by God (Psalm 139) and are given specific gifts and abilities which foster a well-rounded learning environment.
At The First Academy, we embrace a core set of beliefs which inform everything we do and think in terms of economic, cultural, and racial diversity.
First, we believe the power of the Gospel transforms our thoughts,
attitudes, and actions.
“The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together . . . He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody. Christ brought us together through his death on the cross.”
Left to our own power none of us loves, honors, or respects God or others as we should. Economic, cultural, and racial differences often become showcases for the ugliness of sin. However, the Gospel shows us a better way. It calls out and kills this sin and in its place raises up and empowers a new kind of life which delights in God and willingly sacrifices for the good of others. The Gospel allows us to see our economic, cultural, and racial differences not as reasons to divide but as opportunities to celebrate the goodness and grace of our God.
Second, we believe in the value and dignity of every person.
“You do well to obey the Scriptures: “Love others as you love yourself.” But if you play up to these so-called important people, you go against the Rule and stand convicted by it. You can’t pick and choose in these things, specializing in keeping one or two things in God’s law and ignoring others.”
Because every person bears the image of God, they possess inherent value and dignity. This dignity is derived from our being marked by God’s image and is not dependent upon our economic, racial, or cultural status. God not only stamps humanity with his image but also sets us into particular cultures at particular times. Like a master craftsman who meticulously refines and perfects, God has given each of us a particular cultural heritage with which to glorify him. This variety is not merely to be tolerated but to be celebrated and embraced for the good gift it is.
Third, we believe in the wisdom and beauty of God’s design for humanity.
“I am marvelously made! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful! God, I’ll never comprehend them! I couldn’t even begin to count them— any more than I could count the sand of the sea.”
Frederick Douglass said, “I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity.” To be human is a staggering reality. God – who created from nothing – made each and every man, woman, boy, and girl in His image, which is to say that in our humanity we all bear the marks of our maker. He has uniquely designed humanity so that we might live in community with him (and each other!) and enjoy him (and each other!) forever.
Fourth, we believe the best about every member of our school community.
John 17: 20-22:
“The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. The same glory you gave me, I gave them, so they’ll be as unified and together as we are—I in them and you in me. Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, and give the godless world evidence that you’ve sent me and loved them in the same way you’ve loved me.”
As God’s image-bearers and as members of the school community, we follow the teaching of John 17 and believe the best about each other, to create a culture of mutual respect, and to encourage deep affection for one another. The fruit of these labors is a learning environment which shapes not only the mind but the heart as well and produces the kind of people who are prepared to be God-exalting, others-focused leaders in their homes, churches, and communities.
Action Steps and Future Plans
In order to strengthen our school community, The First Academy secured feedback from parents, students, faculty, school leadership, and the School Board by hosting a series of strategic planning sessions with six “Diversity Teams.” The following action steps have been adopted as a result of their work:
- TFA will create a short-term plan that outlines specific action steps that will be taken by the school: Action Step Completed
- TFA will create a separate category for racial infractions that falls under the harassment section in discipline handbook: Action Step Completed
- TFA will formally adopt and publish the Diversity Statement for current and future families to read and understand: Action Step Completed
- TFA will state that racial language and/or actions that are insensitive, hostile, offensive, or intimidating, result in mandatory in-school suspension as the lowest level of discipline, but could escalate to out-of-school suspension or expulsion: Action Step Completed
- TFA will direct all incidents involving race to be reviewed by a council before discipline is administered: Action Step Completed
- TFA will direct that if a student is involved in a subsequent racial incident, the discipline administered will progress automatically to the next level of severity, which may include dismissal: Action Step Completed
- TFA will continue its efforts to purposely enroll minority students and employ minority faculty and staff, especially at the leadership level: Action Step Advanced / Ongoing
- TFA will update the professional development plan for faculty / staff, and the Head of School will highlight its importance: Action Step Completed
- TFA will highlight local outreach opportunities for students and families to take advantage of along with their churches: Action Step Advanced / Ongoing
- TFA will encourage faculty and staff to participate in existing ministry and service opportunities within their local communities: Action Step Advanced / Ongoing
- TFA will create a network of strategic ministry partners within the community: Action Step Completed
- TFA will develop a comprehensive and aspirational strategy to elevate diversity and inclusion within our curriculum: Action Step Completed
- TFA will conduct an internal assessment of our current curriculum to identify and leverage existing best practices: Action Step Completed
- TFA will engage an external resource to review our current curriculum with respect to understanding what the Gospel says about ethnic and racial diversity: Action Step Completed
- TFA will develop a communication strategy to demonstrate the school’s commitment to the important value of diversity: Action Step Completed
- TFA will create a long-term professional development plan that outlines how diversity training will be incorporated at all levels: Action Step Completed
Spring 2017 Progress Summary
Under the direction of the School Board, The First Academy Leadership Team is currently executing a 12-month plan initiated in January of 2017 to carefully address the diversity recommendations approved by the School Board on November 11th, 2016. Nearly 40% of the 12-month plan was completed in the first four months. All initiatives in the plan have been advanced, and 100% completion will be achieved by December of 2017.
Fall 2017 Progress Summary
The final phase of the diversity action step completion plan is underway. The remaining action steps are in progress and are scheduled to be completed by the end of January 2018.
- TFA hosted the Micah 6:8 Leadership Summit. Student leaders from across the state of Florida participated in worship, a keynote address, panel discussion, and a workshop featuring the following guests:
- Dr. Joel Hunter – retired Senior Pastor of Northland Church, Chairman of the Community Resource Network, a non-profit organization that focuses on helping the marginalized – specifically homeless families. Dr. Hunter also serves as the Chairman of the Central Florida Commission on Homlessness. He leads ‘A Community Conversation’ setting a framework for understanding social issues that impact all of us and providing connections to opportunities to help. Each week, social issues experts help to set the tone for delivering solutions through practical action steps.
- Phil Hissom – Founder and Executive Director of The Polis Institute. The Polis Institute champions human dignity by designing solutions to the social problems that infringe upon it. Polis Institute works to engage the community, equip community leaders, and evaluate the overall progress of the revitalization effort.
- David Outing – Founder, President, and Chief Encouragement Officer of Corporate Care Partners. Since 1985, David has provided spiritual care, advice, and encouragement for people in times of need. His previous experience includes serving as the Director and Ministry Relations Pastor for the Jobs Partnership of Florida. Chaplain Outing has served the Orange County Sheriff’s Dept. since 2001 as a volunteer chaplain.
- Summer reading assignments and book lists K4-12 were updated to include quality literature that reflects a variety of perspectives and experiences, curricular connections, and a biblical worldview focus.
- May 9 – First and Sixth Graders hosted their annual events, ‘International Day’ and ‘Missions Fest’, both exploring and celebrating people groups across the world and God’s great love for them.
- Winter 2018-Planning for the summer reading initiative is already underway, with LS, MS, and US teachers and administrators working together to provide increased choice, a number of perspectives, and defined purpose to the summer reading lists/projects
- Winter 2018-TFA promotes Surge Weekend, a conference for students, grades 6-12. Surge combines high-energy, large group worship sessions with in-home small group discussion. Special guests include a variety of multicultural perspectives. Teaching from Jeff Wallace and Jose Rodriguez, worship from Liberty Collective, and a concert with Andy Mineo will be highlights.
- January 2018-Poetry Out Loud 2018 showcased the incredible talent of our students! The students performed works that represent a number of authors from diverse backgrounds. Some of the authors represented were Gary Soto, Langston Hughes, Linda Pastan, Yusef Komunyakaa, Jimmy Baca, Alice Moore Dunbar Nelson, and Maya Angelou.
- January 2018- TFA partners with Nemnet to assist in the recruitment and retention of diverse teachers, administrators and coaches.
- February 2018- TFA shared “At the Table with Dr. King”, a multi-media presentation celebrating the impactful life and lasting legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with Middle and Upper School students, faculty, families, and community members on February 1, 2018.
- February 2018- TFA is delighted to host a 3W Chinese New Year celebration on February 15, 2018.
- TFA has launched planning for the Micah 6:8 Initiative, a gathering of select student and community leaders who will engage in Gospel conversations regarding the most difficult social challenges of our day. The purpose of the initiative is to inspire students to take personal initiative in supporting Gospel-centered transformation.
- Faculty and Staff began a six-part series of diversity workshops entitled, “Diversity and Identity.” In the workshops participants explore identity and how it connects to their role at TFA. Participants build trust, community, and explore sometimes uncomfortable diversity conversations in a welcoming, affirmative, and safe environment.
- In 2003, ethnic minorities made up 8% of the TFA student population. By 2016-17, this number had increased to 35% and is currently up to 38% for the 2017-18 school year.
- After the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Head of School called an impromptu prayer service for all 7th – 12th grade students on August 21st, 2017 to lift up our city, nation, and world. What was intended to be a 20-minute prayer service lasted an hour as students of all ages poured out their hearts before the Lord.
- The important value of diversity is one of four essential topics that TFA asked the Florida Council of Independent Schools visiting team to explore and evaluate during its 5-year accreditation visit in September 2017.
- The 2017-18 chapel schedule was completed with an intentional focus on diversity, and ethnic minorities make up nearly 60% of chapel speakers.
- Dr. Walter Strickland will return to The First Academy on November 2nd and 3rd to deliver a chapel message to students and a professional development keynote presentation to all faculty and staff.
- In June of 2017, Dr. Walter Strickland, Vice President for Kingdom Diversity at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and 1st Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention, led the full TFA Leadership Team in a professional development workshop entitled, “Diversity in Christian Education, Understanding and Applying the Gospel as School Leaders.”
- Upper School Principal attended a 2-day ISM Seminar led by Dr. Derrick Gay entitled, “The Double-Edged Sword of Diversity.”
- The Assistant Head of School for Teaching and Learning and the Executive Director for Leadership and Professional Development attended the Educational Justice Conference, hosted by Bethune Cookman University in July of 2017. The conference theme was “Connecting with Diverse and Underrepresented Youth of Today.”
- Faculty and Staff Discussion Guide for Charlottesville sent by Head of School to all TFA employees on August 14th, 2017.
- Mrs. Marci Chavalas was hired in July of 2017 as the Executive Director of Leadership and Professional Development and will oversee all diversity initiatives at The First Academy.
- All that we say and do with respect to race and ethnicity will reflect our commitment to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:19-22 “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
- We will collectively accept responsibility for our failures, we will graciously celebrate our successes, and we will humbly walk together in the spirit of love and forgiveness demonstrating an understanding that until we reach heaven we remain sinners in need of grace and mercy.
Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
- The school will take the primary lead in setting classroom instructional objectives and campus behavioral standards with the home and church as supportive partners. The home will take the lead in discipling the heart and shaping Christian character in the lives of their children through active engagement in the local church and through serving in the community with the school as a supportive partners.
Proverbs 22:6 “Train up your child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
- The school will administer discipline for racial infractions equitably for students of all ethnicities, redemptively with Christlikeness as the objective, and progressively from suspension to expulsion.
II Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
- We will collectively seek to love one another by assuming the best possible motives when engaging in intercultural communication.
1 Corinthians 13:7 “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
The First Academy is committed to building a community of students, faculty, staff, and leaders who reflect and celebrate Christ-centered diversity and inclusion. For further information, please review the following resources:
TFA Community Speaks
Members of the TFA family offer insight on their experience at The First Academy.
“We have been a part of the TFA family for over 25 years. Because it is a Christ-centered school, The First Academy is a place that openly welcomes and supports students of all races and ethnic backgrounds like my own family. I could not be more grateful for the countless hours the faculty, staff, coaches, and leaders have poured into my children.”
Upper School Parent
“As a new parent, I feel so blessed to have my daughter at The First Academy. Although the start to the 2016-17 school year was a bit rough due to the sensitive student incident involving race, it brought an opportunity for me to see what TFA stands for, and the school has surpassed my expectations by far. The teachers and parents that I have met in the last couple of months have been amazing. Even in hard times, I have seen Christ in the faculty, staff, and leadership, and we are so excited and happy to be at The First Academy.”
Lower School Parent
“I love The First Academy. As a graduate of the school and now a staff member and coach, I have experienced all that TFA offers. This is a place that values every individual, regardless of race or ethnicity, and I am excited about what the Lord is doing on our campus.”
Class of 2007, The First Academy
“My parents and I immigrated to the United States from South Korea when I was entering the 3rd grade. I have been a part of many schools, but during my years at The First Academy as a parent and staff member, I have witnessed our school grow and strengthen in academics, spiritual development, and diversity. Many of us look different on the outside, but we all have one goal which is to exemplify Christ at TFA. I am excited to see how God transforms our school in the many years to come for the future generation of students!”
Director of College Guidance, The First Academy
“I grew up in a depressed area of Arlington, Texas, but God has led me on an incredible journey of coaching and mentoring young people. I have worked at The First Academy for almost two years and made many friends. TFA is a strong and diverse community, and I am so blessed by the opportunity to serve alongside godly men and women who are passionate about serving students.”
Assistant Athletic Director, The First Academy
“We have experienced incredible growth at The First Academy in recent years, and I praise the Lord for His favor on us. The TFA family includes students, families, teachers, and leaders from all walks of life, and we are committed to meeting the needs of this diverse school community. God is doing a great work among us, and I look forward to the days ahead.”
Bishop Allen Wiggins
School Board Member, The First Academy
“The key question with respect to spiritual formation and school culture is not one of admissions, meaning which students can get in and which students can’t. The question is, “Do we have teachers in the classroom who are engaged in and capable of leading students to the feet of Jesus?” I believe we have the best faculty in the world and that Dr. Whitaker is leading us to fulfill the mission I desire for TFA – to reach the nations with the Gospel.”
Dr. David Uth
Senior Pastor, First Baptist Orlando
Content provided by the Office of Spiritual Formation