Miracle in a Classroom
Barb Turner is changing lives. I know this because my 13-year-old daughter has come home from school twice already this year and surprised me by stating, "Mom, Mrs. Turner's class is changing my life. Her class really makes me think differently."
Mrs. Turner is the eighth grade Bible teacher at Hilton Head Christian Academy (HHCA), and has been for the last 14 years. A founder of the school, with 25 years of tenure under her belt, one could assume the worst: complacency; weariness; impatience; or just plain exhausted, but not in this case. For all the bad things you hear about "teenagers these days" and "teachers these days", Barb Turner and her students are the exact opposite. In fact, Barb is the author of her own curriculum that is both rich with experience and fresh with new ideas.
Good usually comes out of bad and that's where Barb found herself in 1997, when she was diagnosed with clinical depression that stopped her in her tracks. After medical care and therapy, dealing with some of life's past issues, Barb chose to land firmly in the midst of HHCA eighth graders. "I was inspired by a little girl who read an essay one day during Chapel. I just had to teach her, so I found out what grade she was in and that's how I got involved with eighth graders. When you're a teacher, you love to teach teachable hearts," Barb explained.
Amazingly, Barb Turner has had class after class of teachable hearts. The only explanation is her curriculum. She has taken the Bible and brought it to life for her students, showing them how to incorporate God's teachings into their everyday lives. "When I started teaching this grade level the curriculum was boring and had nothing to do with middle schoolers. I thought about what I had dealt with in middle school, and knew the direction I needed to go in. I want these kids to know that God has a purpose for each one of them, and when you know that, life takes on a whole new adventure." So what exactly are some of the things Barb Turner's eighth graders do differently?
Writing Letters: On the top of her students' school-supply lists are postage stamps. They are required to handwrite old-fashion letters on stationery to their fellow classmates. However, they don't get to pick who they write to. They draw addresses out of a basket. Whether you like the person or not, whether you know the person well or not, they write to who they draw. While it seems simple enough, this task begins to open the children up to those classmates who they may not associate with otherwise. It allows them to begin to see others with conscious eyes and share their hearts in a way that is unintimidating, with minimal awkwardness. It also reinforces spelling, grammar, letter styles, addressing envelopes, and handwriting-topics that are no longer focused on in many schools.
Doin' Sumtin': Mrs. Turner quotes James 2:17, "...Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." Then, in a funny, country accent she exclaims, "You gotta do sumtin!" Her students have fully embraced this concept. So far, they have visited Programs for Exceptional People (PEP) to interact and do crafts with the members. "They loved it. Their thoughts flipped over. Now they think differently about the mentally challenged," Barb described.
Recently, Mrs. Turner wanted to get the kids involved in Operation Christmas Child. She gave each "small group", consisting of six or seven children, $20 and told them to "Do Sumtin'!" One group took their $20 and bought hot chocolate supplies to sell at a home HHCA football game. They raised $317. Another group held a bake sale. Then another started a donation campaign. This fire of "Doin' Sumtin'" that was lit in these young teenagers turned $120 into $1,200. This eighth grade class, consisting of around 36 students, then went shopping and filled 96 boxes for Operation Christmas Child! "Doin' Sumtin' is about how one person can make a difference. We are God's Plan B. How do you know you're not the very person God wants to use?" Barb exclaimed.
There are so many transformational activities taking place in Mrs. Turner's classroom that the students are learning life lessons daily through very special and rare opportunities. Barb's goals are simple: 1. She wants her students to be prepared to choose wisely in friendships, and all life relationships; 2. She wants her students to know they can make a difference in the world; 3. She wants her students to fully understand that God has a purpose for their life; and 4. She wants her students to be able and ready to defend their faith when they are no longer under the caring umbrella of HHCA.
Barb Turner laughs with and loves her eighth graders. "They are the best thing for me. I can't wait to get up in the mornings. They truly give me purpose. I want them to know Jesus in a personal way, and if they leave my class with Jesus in their hearts, then I'm thrilled."
Family: Married to Rick Turner, 41 years; daughter, Beth; son, David; and baby grandson, Graham
Most effective teaching tool: "My timeline and my story. I have a scroll that unwinds out to my current age, 64. I show them how short a time they've lived so far. I also illustrate how what they do now can affect them for life. The timeline is a powerful visual aid that allows them to put time into perspective.
Has read the Bible: Cover-to-cover-five times, the New Testament alone-hundreds of times
Survivor of: Breast cancer and clinical depression
Favorite scripture: "Romans 12:1-2-that's what changed me!" Look it up!
Important life lesson: "I had to learn boundaries. I had none; I always said yes. However, I couldn't think of anything I actually had fun doing. Also, learning to think the truth. In counseling, my doctor told me, 'Some of your thinking is not true.' The truth set me free."