New Hope Academy third-grade teacher Kathy Peabody still remembers the day in 1960 when she walked alongside her mother in downtown Nashville. They were headed toward Morrison’s Cafeteria for lunch. Nearby, she saw a group of African-Americans marching in solidarity as they sang the lyrics to “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
Only a young girl at the time, Kathy longed to understand the separation she felt as they walked past the demonstrators and inside the restaurant. It was a conflicting emotion that would follow her for years.
“I grew up with an African-American maid who worked in our home two days a week for a few years,” Kathy remembers. “I loved her. But I never knew her last name or met her family. Not once did we share a meal at the same table.”
The desire to understand the segregation she witnessed during the 1960s followed Kathy into adulthood. “I didn’t go to school with anyone of a different color until I went to college,” she remembers.
Kathy graduated from the University of Memphis in 1976 with a bachelor of science in both elementary education and special education. She and her husband and their three young children eventually settled in Franklin and began attending Christ Community Church, where they met Paige Overton Pitts.
Paige was involved with an outreach program for African-American teen girls and their families in the nearby Natchez community. She invited Kathy to begin spending time with this group.
A Soul Mended
As she developed relationships with the young girls and their families, Kathy says God began to work in her heart and open her eyes to the needs and challenges of those living in poverty.
“Through these conversations, I saw an emptiness in my own soul,” she says. “We talked about the injustices of the past and the racism in our own hearts.”
God began to change the framework of her beliefs. “I saw how he’d gifted these beautiful young women,” she says. “I discovered God’s desire of using every person he created to fulfill his plans and purposes. I realized that all of us—regardless of our income or skin color—need friendship and compassion.”
These relationships mended a part of her soul that she’d not realized was broken. “I learned we’re all the same,” she says. “These new friendships were a gift—a little piece of heaven on earth.”
Those interactions also sparked a desire to create a school where relationships such as these could flourish, and families from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds could receive a rigorous, Christ-centered education. Paige invited Kathy and several other friends in Franklin to form a prayer and planning group. New Hope Academy (NHA) opened its doors in 1996, and Kathy joined the staff the following year as a third-grade teacher.
A Teacher Takes Flight
In May, Kathy finished her seventeenth year as a third-grade teacher at NHA. Throughout her career, she’s worked to skillfully design the curriculum that takes her students through an entire year of studying ancient Greece and Rome. Following the classical education model, each of her individual subject areas overlap.
“I use our time studying geometry, for example, to introduce students to Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher, and mathematician who is credited with discovering the Pythagorean theorem,” Kathy explains. “I read a story about him while students work to solve his shape and number problems.”
Each year her students also read an adapted version of Virgil’s Aeneid. In her first few years at New Hope, Kathy came up with the idea to have students construct a life-size model of the Trojan horse described in this classic poem. It’s become a project that parents and students work together to construct each October at Saturday School, the twice-yearly event when families attend NHA for a morning of learning and connecting.
Through collaborating on projects such as these, Kathy says a strong sense of community has emerged among NHA’s teachers and families.
“I have a parent whose children I taught more than 13 years ago who still comes to NHA every October to help us build the Trojan horse,” Kathy says. “He’s always coming up with ways to improve its structure or design. The students actually are able to get inside the horse and ride in it. They use math to formulate the size and placement of the beams as we’re building it. It’s remarkable.”
Hearts and Minds Transformed
In addition to the thriving academic environment Kathy has helped foster, she’s also witnessed spiritual transformation take place in her students’ lives.
“Several years ago I had a new student who’d never attended a school with anyone of a different color,” Kathy says. “She would shy away when Headmaster Stuart Tutler walked down the hallway. She didn’t like it if I paired her with a group of kids who looked different than she did.”
The class began studying the Solar System and constellations. In conjunction, they also read Harriet Tubman’s biography and learned how slaves would reference the Big Dipper to chart their way to freedom.
“We had great discussions about slavery and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of equal rights for everyone, regardless of their skin color,” Kathy remembers. “God used these discussions to change this little girl’s heart. She wrote in her journal that she wanted to start loving all her classmates, regardless of their appearance. She asked God to forgive her for being judgmental. She began playing with everyone in class. She’d even seek out Mr. Tutler for a hug!”
Spiritual transformation through an excellent, Christ-centered education for students from all backgrounds is the heart of New Hope’s mission.
“Even in times of financial hardship, New Hope has remained committed to offering scholarships for 40 to 50 percent of its students,” Kathy says. “When God calls you to do something, you do it—even when it doesn’t make sense to the world.”
That’s why Mr. Tutler placed a large rock in the front corner of NHA’s campus, Kathy explains. It’s a reminder of Ebenezer’s stone mentioned in I Samuel 7:12, which Samuel used as a symbol of God’s provision. He reminded the Israelites, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”
The rock in front of NHA continues to remind Kathy of the Lord’s faithfulness. “God has used the ministry of New Hope to change my life and the lives of so many students throughout the years,” she says. “If I was a parent with school-age children, I wouldn’t want to send them anywhere but here.”