April 05, 2017 | Anna Delph


As of January, Calvin has launched a new partnership with a local gap-year program allowing its students to earn Calvin credits.

Students who participate in the Mission School program at the Bridge Street House of Prayer are now able to earn six elective credit hours and fulfill Calvin’s Cross-Cultural Engagement core requirement.

Bridging the gap

Bridge years—also referred to as gap years—are becoming more and more popular among college-bound high school graduates. Many choose to delay college enrollment for a year or more so they can work, travel, participate in development programs, or take time to consider what they want to study. Gap-year participation has been growing in the past decade, and recent research from the American Gap Association indicates that 90-percent of gap-year participants go to college within a year.

Will Katerberg, associate dean for programs and partnerships at Calvin, says gap years can serve as a bridge for students who aren’t sure where they want to go after high school. A gap year program gives them the time and experiential learning they need to figure things out without having to wager a huge investment in college tuition.

“We know there are students who might come to Calvin but they’re reluctant at the moment, because they’re not sure or don’t feel ready” said Katerberg. “For some of these students, a gap year can help them decide if coming to Calvin, or a college like Calvin, is the right choice. And when they do come, they’re much more likely to flourish.”

Developing relationships and skills

The Bridge Street House of Prayer (BSHOP, pronounced “bee-shop”) is a nonprofit urban ministry organization near downtown Grand Rapids which focuses on community development and youth discipleship. In addition to events like worship nights and spiritual development trips for youth groups, BSHOP runs a gap-year program called Mission School.

Participants (17-30 years old) spend eight months taking spiritual development classes, doing volunteer work in Grand Rapids and developing skills to help them perform missions work. Two of those months are spent in a foreign country assisting long-term missionaries.

BSHOP executive director Ryan Waalkes ‘02 is a Calvin alumnus himself and has seen the significant influence the Mission School program has had on young adults.

“Four years into the program, the vast majority of our students have shown significant growth in their relationship with God, their sense of calling that he has placed on their life, and their commitment to follow and serve him,” said Waalkes. “In a time in history when many young people are leaving the church after high school, most, if not all [students in the BSHOP program], are connected to and involved in a local church, and they are actively pursuing the training that will help them excel in their calling and passion.”

Preparing for college

Two Calvin students who participated in this program, Jacob Melton ‘19 (Northpointe Christian H.S., Grand Rapids) and Megan Sloterbeek ‘19 (South Christian H.S., Grand Rapids), said they were attracted to Mission School because of its intense focus on spiritual development and study.

“I liked the idea of being able to pursue something like that wholeheartedly without all the other class stuff on the side,” said Melton.

“My senior year of high school, I was looking for more,” said Sloterbeek. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do in college, I didn’t have very clear ambitions for a career, and I didn’t want to just spin my wheels taking general ed courses somewhere. I was really hungry for God. I wanted to build a foundation in what really matters, and I felt like I didn’t have anything to lose by doing the gap year.”

Students who take a break between high school and college with a mission driven gap year program can also bring a fresh perspective to traditional campus culture. These students are often distinctly focused and driven and pursue their education very intentionally.

“There were some challenges transitioning and getting back into the academic mindset,” said Sloterbeek. “But it was really refreshing to come back. I viewed studying not as a requirement or something imposed on me, but as something I’d chosen. I’d chosen to come into a place that was going to help me gain skills in something I care about as opposed to just doing something that was expected of me.”

“[Taking a gap year] has definitely given me a drive for doing school in light of the fact that there is more outside of academics,” said Melton. “I’m not necessarily looking to escape.”

Committing to student success

Both sides of the partnership hope that BSHOP students will also find Calvin’s culture and mission to be familiar and easy to get behind.

“Our hope is that as our students continue on to schools such as Calvin,” said Waalkes, “that they will help contribute to and strengthen the spiritual atmosphere of the school, even taking leadership positions on campus to help their peers also continue to pursue Jesus in their studies.”

“[BSHOP students] will be really ready in general to take on their undergrad studies with the sense of awareness of calling and mission that they developed at BSHOP,” said Katerberg.

“Doing missions with BSHOP gave me a better understanding of Calvin’s mission,” said Melton, “that academics is a means to think deeply and act justly.”

Research shows that gap years are a growing phenomena, and Katerberg hopes that more opportunities might become available in the future to recruit students from organizations with missions congruent with Calvin’s.

“We are interested in recruiting students who are eager to learn and ready to succeed,” said Katerberg. “Gap year programs like BSHOP are a great source for such students.”

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