The Seventh-day Adventist educational system is extensive. After the Roman Catholic system, it is the second largest in the world; and in the United States, there are more than 900 institutions between preschools, elementary and middle schools, academies, and universities. Though there are always inevitable challenges to any institution, even if you look at just the numbers, it seems Adventist education is doing pretty well.
I grew up going to Adventist schools—I don’t know anything different. I’m thankful for a lot of the experiences I had at the schools I attended. Some of my favorite memories are from the three years I attended Georgia-Cumberland Academy (GCA) as a boarding student.
I remember being in high school and going to get my hair cut or talking to friends from different denominations or religious backgrounds who were shocked when they found out I’d voluntarily decided to live in a dorm. “So, you didn’t get shipped off or get in trouble?” they’d ask, thinking that was the reason I was “sent from home.” Even in the Adventist community, where going to a boarding school isn’t abnormal, I had friends who attended local schools, and they would always shake their heads in disbelief, confident they could never enjoy that.
I agree that boarding school isn’t for everyone—maybe I just got lucky with a good school and good friends. But as someone who went to both a Seventh-day Adventist boarding academy and a predominately village academy, I feel like I’m equipped to compare the two.
After I graduated from eighth grade, I first decided to attend the academy that was 15 minutes from our house. My older brother was a junior when I was in my freshman year, and I remember how he’d take me back and forth to school every day and sometimes out to lunch too. I loved how my family was close and could come to concerts or varsity games whenever they wanted.
Most of my classmates had graduated from the same school as I had the year before, so it made the transition from middle school to academy much easier. But by the end of that first year, I was considering transferring to GCA, which was seven hours away from my home, in northern Georgia.
I chose to change schools for a few reasons: I was itching to spread my wings, I had family that I was close to in my class at GCA, and I thought it would be fun to get to know a different part of the country. My mom had gone to an Adventist boarding school and had a positive experience, so I wanted to give it a shot.
GCA was the right choice for me. Living in an environment away from home helped me to get out of my comfort zone and have new opportunities. The faculty spent a lot of time on campus, even on the weekends, so great mentorships were formed. GCA is located near Atlanta and Chattanooga, so I could go to those places on the weekends. And, of course, there’s Taco House. Anyone who’s ever been to Calhoun will know what I mean.
At the end of the day, there isn’t one “right” school experience. Different people can thrive in different environments. It’s more important to find a place that provides various opportunities and that can help you develop into the person you want to be. Looking back to my academy days, I know my time at both schools helped shape me into the person I am today.