Oliver Honors Institute, I-X Part Article

By Jake Anderson (‘19)

  1. Intro

Every student at Maranatha is required to take four years of Bible classes. To many, these classes seem fairly unimportant or limiting to academic success. This extra non-honors class doesn’t allow students to get a 5.0, and secular colleges don’t look at the grade. Maranatha makes the class apart of students’ GPAs to keep them accountable. These Bible classes are high caliber and have very qualified teachers who have written books, have their master’s degrees, and a fiery passion for teaching kids about God and his love. With that said, it is disheartening that secular college doesn’t look at the grade Maranatha students work hard for. This becomes really sad when taking into account that the first higher level education institutions were Christian.

Recently Mr. Daniel Baker has launched a brand new Bible program known as Oliver Honors Institute. This program is a highly exclusive and rigorous Bible class that will challenge 15 hand picked students to excel in a Bible class that merges secular and Biblical works of literature to build up Christian scholars. I will give you everything you need to know about the program and more in this 10 part article, enjoy.  

  1. Who is Mr. Baker

Mr. Baker has only been a teacher at Maranatha for a short time but has had a big impact. He initially started out as an English 10 and 11 teacher but has pivoted to a Learning Assistance director/coordinator. Learning Assistance (also known as Learning Lab) allows for students with learning differences to be given extra attention and guidance in order to reach their goals. Prior to Mr. Baker’s arrival, Learning Lab was a haphazard program but that has all changed. Mr. Baker has elevated the program significantly and is now helping seniors get into their dream colleges. Along with that change, he has also revived journalism at Maranatha. He made the 1st year club into a real class this year. With a background at Huffington Post, PBS, and NPR his real world journalism experience has made The Messenger a credible and exciting school newspaper. In my recent interview with him, he discussed how God has used his “weird and diversified” background to elevate a lot of programs and classes such as Learning Lab and Journalism.

III. Inspiration

The inspiration for the name actually came from some old Messenger articles that mention R.D Oliver. He is the founder of Maranatha, who envisioned Maranatha as a school that produced Christian leaders and world changers. That is all we really know about the man but if there was anything to know it would be that wisdom. Mr. Baker went abroad while getting his bachelor degree at APU (Azusa Pacific University) to go spend a Hillary semester at Oxford University. He said his professor would assign a cluster of books to read and then assign an essay. He studied at a lot of Shakespeare and theology. His experience there instilled a passion for Christian education.

  1. Turning an idea into a reality

Creating a brand new program at Maranatha is easier said than done. In order to make a quality curriculum, he took note of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola. In fact, a lot of the reading list for the Oliver program is similar to the reading list for Biola’s program. The program has been in the making for about 2 years. He got it approved originally by Dr. Reisen who was an intern Head of School for Maranatha. Many conversations between Mr. Baker, Mr. James Layton, Department Chair of Theology at Maranatha and Ms. Kerry Roche, Department Chair of English at Maranatha went into developing the curriculum. These high-level teachers put their heads together to make a course that had the best books and lectures to get ready for college and beyond. After the curriculum was finished Mr. Baker had a proposal ready to show Dr. Reison. Dr. Reison was very enthusiastic about the idea and both Mr. Baker and Dr. Reison would figure out the logistics over the course of a few months. The current head of school Dr. Steve Sherman is also excited to see what this program can produce and it is set to go for next year.

  1. Overview

The Olivers Honors Institute provides a unique opportunity for a select group of 15 freshmen to experience a classical style education. This program will set the students apart for college applications and prepare them for many college classes. The classes will be very difficult and the expectations for the students is very high as well.

I got an opportunity to take a look at the pamphlet and the first thing you will notice is the reading list. About a third of the pamphlet is an extensive list in tiny print. I counted 70 different books and documents that the students will read over the course of their four-year high school career. Included in this list are classic writers such as Dante, Homer, and Virgil. They will also read famous works from philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. Along with that are infamous high school classics such as Grapes of Wrath, As I Lay Dying, and Animal Farm. Don’t forget lots and lots of Shakspeare. Most importantly these students will read the whole Bible in depth from start to finish in four years. Mr. Baker will teach the first batch of students next year, and all the way through their high school careers until they graduate. It is possible that he will hand off some of the classes to other teachers if interested, but that thought is so far down the road no teachers have committed to it.

Mr. Baker will encourage the students to take as many AP and honors classes as possible, but in the end, they will only take the amount that is right for them. It is possible for students to be kicked out if they are failing a class or get lower than a 3.7 weighted GPA. Each of their classes will have an emphasis on the humanities even in science or math classes. There is still a lot of flexibility for their schedules and with the electives they take. With that said, the 15 students will have a quite a few classes together.

  1. Demographics/ Qualifications

The most intriguing thing about the program is the idea of intellectual diversity. Kids, both male and female, with all different backgrounds put together in an elite group where they can thrive and share their ideas and convictions. I imagine the group becoming very close over their four years and building relationships that last through high school and beyond. With that said the boy-girl ratio is 2:1 in favor of the girls and the majority of the kids are from PCS (Pasadena Christian School) and SGCS (San Gabriel Christian School.) The gender ratio is very interesting but the school aspect makes a lot of sense. Taking into account that the students from the private K-8 schools are most likely better prepared than a student who had a traditional public school education.

For example, my ISEE scores reflected that I would be among the top students at a public school, which I was, but an only an average student at a private K-8 school. This was reflected in that the category that almost every student gets their lowest score on was my highest score. This showed that I had a lot of potential that was not really manifested at my middle school. Not all of this is because of poor teaching, but because of how easy it was for me to skate through my middle school education. With that said, Mr. Baker said he would be open to looking deeper into scores and what they say about a child, but for now, the demand and competition is so high to get into this elite program that the top students will get in first.  

For now, the average GPA of the 15 students is 3.9 at their previous school with honors or high honors and an average of a 6 or 7 out of 9 in each category of the ISEE. These students are the real deal. Handpicked as the top students in the incoming class of 2021, these students will surely be up to the challenge.

VII. Skepticisms and Questions I had

Will 14/15-year-old kids really be excited about all the work and reading that is required of them by enrolling and being accepted into this program? I personally cannot imagine an incoming freshman dying to read The Epic of Gilgamesh. Looking at the pamphlet from the outside in, it looks like a lot old and difficult books. Not only the reading, but all the essays, speech writing, and seminars all for something that is a Bible class. Past the actual work, socially the pressure to be popular and cool is of the utmost importance as a freshman. Many of these incoming freshmen just want to fit in or find a good group of friends. Is being singled out within a group of about 100 incoming freshmen the right route in “fitting in”? These must be genuine concerns of 14-year old transitioning from being king in middle school to a boy among adult seniors in a few months.

What is the point of this class? If it is still a Bible class, won’t secular colleges still not care that these students did well?

VIII. Answers to the skepticisms and questions

Mr. Baker reached out to the students who had the top ISEE scores before the official launch to see how it would go. Nearly all of the parents AND students responded within a few hours confirming that they would love to do it. Students were excited and honored to be a part of something so exclusive. The parents were happy to be able to give their child an edge in such a competitive college environment.

This class is worth it. The most important part of this is that the Bible class is UC approved, meaning those secular colleges recognize it. Not only is it UC approved, it is an “English elective.” English electives are electives that have reading and writing involved, so they are more attractive to colleges. Examples of these at Maranatha include journalism, speech and debate, and now, the Oliver Honors Institute. Along with those benefits come many honors as a Maranatha student. If one can make it through all four years of the rigorous program they get a golden seal on their diploma and a gold medal. They will be distinguished students at an already difficult and prestigious school like Maranatha.

  1. Payoff

This class will distinguish students on a large scale. Becoming a “competitive college applicant” is a difficult thing to do these days. Getting over a 4.0 and taking honors classes isn’t enough nor is getting a high SAT or ACT score. Students are being pushed to take as many extracurriculars as possible in order for them to be taken over the next applicant. Students will do multiple sports, participate in the arts, and many other things to achieve this.

Maranatha is very good at supplying a variety of extracurriculars that aren’t available at other schools. Performing arts prides themselves on providing a real world performing arts program by having the orchestra, dance, choir, and theater all perform in the ambassador auditorium. Athletics pride themselves on having elite coaches and successful teams in every season and on every level. Speech and debate has become one of the top programs in California by winning prize money and succeeding in national and state championships. There are much more areas Maranatha excels in beyond academics, but Oliver Honors Institute is going to really supply a unique platform to succeed.

Beyond how good it looks on a college application, the knowledge the students will get is something other schools simply don’t provide. As freshmen, they will be reading college level books with a college-level teacher. By the time they graduate they be well read, college level communicators, and most of all, leaders.

  1. Conclusion

This program is one of the most, if not the most, exciting things to happen to Maranatha. Maranatha has already established itself as one of the top prep schools in the California area. Just by graduating at Maranatha, students meet all the UC requirements. Now to top it all off, we can offer a program no other prep or public school can.

I have a lot of respect for what this program does. The amount of work and thought that went into making a brand new program is something most people would never take the initiative to do. The ingenuity to come up with the inspiration for such a unique program that hasn’t already been done is amazing. Maranatha is so blessed to have faculty and teachers of such high caliber teaching because of the belief in Christian education and for the love of teenagers.

Special thanks to Mr. Baker for the interview and for the belief in a high-level Christian education at Maranatha.

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