Tualatin Valley Academy (TVA) teacher Molly De Peña was recently among the first to present at the NAD Educators’ Convention Spark Tank event in Phoenix, Arizona. As part of the broader NAD Educators’ Convention, Spark Tank took place over two days and featured eight Seventh-day Adventist schools. These schools were given the opportunity to pitch new and creative community mission ideas, which were evaluated by a panel of judges.
For Tualatin Valley Academy, that idea came in the form of a new elective class based on serving their community. “It’s just a way to get our school better serving its original purpose, which is to be a light wherever it is,” said Molly De Peña. “It all really began on a trip to an Albertson’s grocery store. One of the things I do for my students is I get a bunch of snacks for them because they’re always hungry. One of the places I went to ask for a donation was Albertson’s, which is right in front of our school. When I talked to the manager there, I explained what the snacks were for and he was like, ‘Which school is this?’ I told him it was Tualatin Valley Academy, the one right in front of his store. He said, ‘Oh, I’ve never heard of it!’ To me, it was shocking that the school could be right in front of a supermarket like that, and they could still never even know who we are. So that just stayed in my mind. Then when I read an email about the Spark Tank, I realized that this could be an opportunity for us to actually make an impact in this neighborhood. We’re doing so many great things at our school, as many are, but when it comes to our immediate neighborhood, what can they actually say impacted them? That’s how this began.”
Molly shared that her faith has been a major motivator for this growing initiative. “I’m a pastor’s wife,” she said, “So everywhere I’ve been I’m always kind of analyzing what we can do to make more of an impact where we are. Yes, we could just do services for ourselves and serve our own needs, but how are we impacting our neighborhoods as a church, as a school, and even as a household? God is going to hold us accountable for the area we’re in, not some other place far away, but where we’re at.”
Molly currently teaches math, science, and bible for TVA’s 7th and 8th grade classes as well as an elective, but one challenge with many student-centered service projects is timing. “None of us have much time after school,” she shared. “After school we’re all with our families and then we just start over again with another intense day. So, I was praying about this all summer and God gave me the idea––‘What if service was one of your elective classes?’––which we have twice each week.” As the idea has grown, Molly says that students taking this class will have the opportunity to experience a wide range of service projects including a community block party that offers free haircuts, back to school materials, a health fair, and a blood drive, as well as helping lead Bible studies, preparing vacation bible school materials for the summer program, and volunteering at local food pantries.
Tualatin Valley Academy won second place in this year’s Spark Tank event and were awarded a $2500 grant to help get their community projects started in the coming school year. You can read more about the event itself here.