Thought Factory Podcast #406 || Students’ View: Behind Closed Doors on the School Campus

It may be difficult to understand what happens in the hallways and classrooms of schools, or even what happens between friends and classmates behind the doors of a school campus.  Today’s episode is brought to you from the student perspective. You will hear about the current culture at a variety of schools around the country and how a student’s faith is making a difference in these schools.

SEGMENT 1: Student Interviews
We heard from some high school students that we interviewed asking them about their school culture and these are some things that they said:

What’s your school culture like?
“It’s very diverse.  Lots of different people.  Lots of different cultures.  There might be some conflicts every now and then, occasional fights, but for the most part, I think we really celebrate unity.”

“There’s a definite culture divide between African-American people and white people or just any people that are not Caucasian.  So it’s a lot of the white people will hang out in their own groups and they don’t really tend to hang out with as many black people or Hispanic people. Then a lot of what the black people do or like a lot that’s contrasting to other white people.”

“A lot of the students in our school are very wealthy and so they think they’re a lot better than some of the other students.  I think we’re definitely looked down upon too because a lot of our students are very snobby and so everyone knows my school.”

“There’s a lot of drugs going on.  You’ll hear a lot about drugs and bullying.”

“There’s a lot of violence at our school.  It’s either about the rain and how it’s such a bad day or it’s just you have some beef with somebody that you got to take care of.”

What is it like being a Christian in your school?
“There’s no shame in it.  It’s pretty cool so it’s pretty acceptable.  Other religions are accepted just as much as Christianity.”

“I think in some cases it’s difficult because one of our biggest problems at our school is indifferent Christ-followers.  So, people who would say they’re Christians, you would never know it unless they told you.  So it’s kind of difficult in that sense because it’s just like you want to share your faith and then when you do they’re like, ‘Oh I’m already a Christian.’  You just get that super rude response.”

“Definitely difficult but it’s also really cool because we do have a lot of people who don’t know God and they want to ask questions, they want to learn more about it and that’s really cool.”

“I feel like there’s a lot of mutual respect for each other.  Everybody that is Christian, they respect people that are atheists.  We don’t ever talk down to people that are atheists or talk down to people that are Muslim. We respect their religion and, I mean, personally, I like learning about other religions. It’s a background of that person, how they live life and it makes it easier for me and other people to reach them through their personal needs and what they’ve learned.”

“It’s kind of hard being a Christian in my school because you’ll get judged easily.  Everybody looks at you like you’re a freak or like you don’t know what you’re talking about.  Like there’s nothing that you’re praying to.”

What are some things that happen behind the scenes?
“A lot of the teachers are just insanely rude to the students.  I’ve been cursed out multiple times in my classroom and others teachers will curse us out and that’s just a normal thing at our school.”

“There’s a big violence and drug problem.  But in the reality, in the last few months, we have found several guns on campus and there have been many drugs that have been caught and people being arrested.”

“There’s a lot of kids that are already drunk every weekend.  It’s the alcohol, it’s the drugs that are really hitting the kids and the parents don’t care at all.”

“It’s a lot of violence and drugs mainly drugs.  We’ve had four students get expelled this year for the selling of drugs like Xanax and weed.”

“A lot of the teachers really don’t understand what really goes on behind the closed doors of the school because they don’t pay attention.  They just don’t really care a bunch.  Our teachers try and be oblivious to a bunch of stuff and maybe they know that the stuff is going on but they try and act like it’s not there or existing.   A bunch of this stuff with drugs and fighting has been a big issue and it’s something that never really gets addressed.  It’s like they just sort of break up the fight and that’s it and everybody goes back to normal but nobody really fixes it just keeps going and gets worse at my school.”

“We’re very academically focused and I feel like a lot of the time teachers are more focused on preparing us for AP tests or for different academic focuses rather than building relationships with students and creating a friendly atmosphere at our school.”

“There’s a lot more positivity than a lot of people think.  Like, when people walk through the hallway, all you can do is talk to each other.  You have to spend about eight to nine hours a day there with each other.  So I mean, there are lots of people talking to each other at my school, specifically, there are lots of diversity, lots of different types of people.  School kind of forces you to learn how to be around other people that necessarily you wouldn’t be around.”

“From the outside, it’s like ‘Wow, everyone’s so nice to each other, they all really care.’  Whereas inside, everyone’s so snooty toward each other.  It’s all about who has the best grades, who’s the best at this, who’s the best at that, and it’s constantly tearing each other down.  It’s never building each other up, but again, if you look from the outside in, it’s like everyone’s a leader.”

“There’s a big sense of isolation in high school and a lot of people are turning to different things to get a sense of their identity and with that, there’s a lot of addiction and depression and just loneliness that no one knows.”

SEGMENT 2: Interview with Olivia Eckart (founder of Enlightened)

Talk about your challenges of being in a public high school as a student.
“Students are thinking a lot about ‘What do people think of me?  Who am I?’  You know?  We’re figuring out who we are, what we want to do, what we like, and if faith is a part of that.  That’s a big deal of your life and so students see that your peers see that, so I think about really caring about what people think about me, really caring about what my peers would say about me.  For me, faith is a really big part of my life and so to my peers, how I share that is so important to me and there is that tension and that challenge of balancing.  You know what your friends may think of you and also what your responsibility is and your duty is to go and to tell people about Christ, especially to your peers and especially in your school.  I think this is a big tension especially in public schools where it’s really iffy for students.  They feel a little scared, maybe, to talk about faith or just share, or to even pray at school.  But I think that is a big issue that students wrestle with in high school and I know that it’s a big deal in front of your peers to really share your faith, to be bold and to do what you feel God is asking you to do.”

Tell us about your first “attempt” at sharing your faith.
“When I was a sophomore in high school I remember feeling really prompted to be bold in how I shared my faith.  I felt really prompted to pray for people and specifically, I felt like a huge mission field for me was my school bus.  I knew that was a place where I had an opportunity sitting next to people and interacting with people I wouldn’t normally interact with.  I just knew that was a place where God was calling me to be light and to share my faith.  I remember praying and feeling God asking me to do something really bold and very scary and that was to stand up on the school bus and to pray for all the people on the bus out loud over the intercom.  I had no idea what the prayer was gonna be about.  I didn’t know but I knew that’s what I needed to do. 

So, one morning after many weeks of agonizing over it and being so nervous and so fearful, crying, and just being upset and asking people to pray for me because I was so discouraged.  Thinking what will these people think of me if I stand up on this school bus and just start praying.  What in the world!  Who does that, you know?  That’s the whole tension of what do people think of me but also how am I being bold in my faith? 

So, I knew because faith was so important to me and sharing Jesus was so important to me that I needed to do this.  One morning, I decided this is the day.  I woke up and I prayed a lot.  I brought my Bible onto the bus and I was holding it in my hand.  I sat in one of the back seats in one of the last rows.  And as the school bus stopped at the railroad tracks, because they have to stop there. 

My bus driver, she played really loud country music every morning so you couldn’t hear because no one talked.  I don’t remember what song it was but really, really loud.  We got to the railroad tracks, the bus stopped, she opened the door, and it was silent.  It felt like we were sitting there for five minutes as I decided to stand up and to start praying.  So, I stood up.  I looked around.  I was probably shaking so bad.  I looked around and I said, ‘Can I have your attention please?’  And then I just kind of sat there and didn’t do anything because from the middle of the bus to the back, just half of the people in that space looked at me and everyone in the front didn’t hear me because I was so quiet.   I was so scared and the bus driver definitely didn’t hear me, so she closed the door. 

She kept driving and then the country music was blaring in my ears again and I freaked out, so I sat down.  I sat down after saying, ‘Can I have your attention?’ and then I took a seat.  I was like one of those really annoying people at a youth camp or youth group or school that said, ‘Can I have your attention?’ and then they sit down after everyone looks at him trying to be that funny guy.   I felt so defeated and I felt like that really showed me the tension in the struggle of being a student amongst your peers.  You really do care about what they think, what you have to care more about is people hearing about Jesus and being bold.”

Then you had a vision as a freshman, what was that? What did you do about it?
“I was really challenged when I was a freshman to start listening a lot to God when I prayed.  My pastor would always say, ‘Just be quiet, just be still and listen for God to lead you and what he wants you to do.’  I remember one time praying and seeing a clearer picture, clearer vision of my peers at my public high school standing in our auditorium all around the room, arms high, crying out to God and just worshiping him.  Everyone was singing together and I just felt a sense of unity and a pure sense of worship.  It almost brought tears to my eyes when I thought of this vision in his picture.  I saw people I would never have thought would have been in that room, in my mind worshipping God.   So, with this picture, I was really inspired and I felt like God was saying, ‘This is how you’re supposed to live it out.  Like this place is where people need me.  You need to go and be a light in this mission field at your school.’

I never thought anything more of that picture, in that vision than just an inspiration to live out my faith more at school.  As a senior and thinking about where I’m going to be, what I’m going to do, and praying to God, I was reminded of this vision and this picture of my peers worshiping.  I felt God saying, ‘This is what you need to make happen in your high school.’

So I went to my best friend, I told her this picture that I saw years ago.  I think this vision of seeing students worshiping actually needs to happen at her school and she was totally on board.  I felt like this was something God was calling us to do and we gathered a group of 11 high students together and we started meeting weekly and we started planning a night of worship for our high school.

We planned it for our auditorium we rented out the place, we got a name, we got people to lead worship, students to share their testimonies, and we decided to call it Enlightened.  We wanted to talk about being the light in our mission field and how important our school is to share the light of Christ and to tell people about Jesus boldly.  We believe that this event could be a launchpad for students to see their peers standing up for Christ on those platforms, that they can continue to do so in our hallways and our classrooms in our school.

I remember we opened the doors that night for our Enlightened event at our public high school and the lobby was so full we couldn’t keep the doors closed anymore.  So, they all flooded in and 600 students came in and gathered to worship and I literally saw that vision and that dream that I’d seen three years ago become a reality in my high school.  And students’ lives were changed.  We heard stories of students coming to Jesus for the first time, accepting him into their heart.  Students that had been really struggling with depression or suicide or bullying.  God transformed my peers’ lives right in front of my eyes and I saw him do miraculous things in my peers’ lives and it’s because he enlightened us to the call.  That we have to be bold and to share who he is and how much he loves us and wants to transform us in that place.”

What happened after the event? What are you doing now?
“After that Enlightened event, we saw all the things that God did and people got really excited.  We started talking to more of our friends and different people from different schools.   So we decided to lead one more event at another school about 15 minutes away from my high school.  At that event, we had almost 800 students gathered together to worship and to see life change happen in those hallways of that school.  Then a couple months later, we actually connected with a girl from St. Louis, Missouri, who wanted to lead an event at her school and they gathered in their gymnasium to worship.  Hundreds of students gathered.  I got to go and attend that event and see that happen. 

So, we saw those events happening and then came the end of my senior year and feeling like God was asking me to continue what was happening to continue this ministry.  I graduated from high school and I now attend college.  I saw God leading me to more students to lead more Enlightened events at their schools. 

The first event that happened after going away to college was in the same town where I attend school and the student that felt called to do it with total obedience to God led the event.  She got a team of students together and I had the privilege of mentoring her and helping her lead this event, getting the team together, advertising, all that stuff.  She got 300 students to be there, to gather in worship. 

From then on, we’ve had different events in her city but also in different states where we’re now seeing events being planned, in Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Michigan, Indiana.  Just seeing students catching the fire for this movement in this ministry and being excited about holding an event that can be a launchpad for more ministry to happen on their campus, it’s been fun to have a front-row seat to this.”

What do adults do to get their students connected to what’s happening?
“Our goal as a ministry right now is to connect with high school students who want to initiate something like this at their high school campus.  I help lead a team of college students who plan Enlightened events.  We create curriculum and content to give to high school students so that they know how to get a team together, how to advertise, how to lay out a service order so that they can hold a worship event on their school campus.  We have a dream of reaching high school students who are leaders already, who are leading the way in their youth groups and their schools, who are reaching people with the gospel and sharing God’s love with people.  We want to help empower them to continue to lead the way and to continue to spark ministry on every high school campus that we can reach.

Right now, we love connecting with high school pastors because we love what they’re doing.  We love that they support high school students and how they lead.  I would encourage people if they want to get involved and want to see this happen in their community, with their students, to go to our website:”

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