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My Mountain-Top Experience

By Gregory Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #84, 2008.

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Summit Ministries offers a two-week program to prepare Christian teens for college. What do they cover? Is it worth the money? PHS investigates.

This summer, I had the opportunity to attend a two-week Christian worldview seminar in the beautiful mountains of Colorado. Summit Ministries’ mountaintop hotel was my destination. Summit Ministries is based in four locations, but the one I chose was in Manitou Springs, CO.

Even before I could get there, I had a chance to experience the helpfulness and professionalism of the Summit staff. For some unexplained reason, the airline cancelled my connecting flight out of Dallas, forcing me to wait hours for another flight. My mom contacted Summit immediately, only to discover that they already were aware of the situation. Wearing easy-to-spot Summit t-shirts, a staff member met me and six other students whose flights had been delayed at the baggage claim, and we were off to the nearby town of Manitou Springs, where this camp was located.

The Rules

Stepping into orientation only a little bit late, I learned about the ground rules. Students at Summit aren’t allowed to use television or the Internet. The emphasis in this two-week seminar is on teaching the students, and those two are thought of as too much of a distraction. The hotel is made of wood, so anything that makes fire is completely forbidden. Men and women’s rooms are on separate floors. Men are not allowed to go onto the women’s floor, and vice versa. Students must attend classes, and bring no food in except water. That includes gum. Students are also not allowed to try evangelizing in the local stores, and public displays of affection are very limited due to romance also being a large distraction.

So far as punishments for infractions go, Summit is very generous. The first couple minor offenses are responded to with warnings. After that, if the student still commits offenses, he is assigned to the kitchen to do menial labor. Due to needing to make food for 184 students, Summit staff always had a need for someone to peel potatoes. If kitchen duty wasn’t working, and the student persisted in breaking the rules, he or she would have a visit with a senior staff member, after which they’d be sent home. Students are warned ahead of time about these rules, and they are also warned that certain infractions, like a man going onto the female floor, are grounds for immediate dismissal.

In order to encourage the students to keep their rooms clean, the staff inspect them daily and grade them on the criteria of Floors, Dresser, Beds, Suitcases, Trash, and Other. Scores were from 1-5 for each category, and the room had to have a collective score of at least 20, or the students in that room would have to do it again. Students were usually placed four to a room, and they were all expected to work together to keep the room clean. Students are graded on how their beds look in relation to each other. In order to get a perfect score for beds, roommates have to collaborate with each other and make their beds look alike.

The Facilities

Summit’s camp in Colorado started out based in this hotel, 46 years ago. Considering the hotel’s age, it’s surprisingly well-maintained. Everything is very clean. Toilets and showers are washed every day, and there’s always enough toilet paper. Platters and silverware are clean, polished, and in good supply for every meal. Even the fireplace in the lobby appeared to have been swept out and restarted every day.

The food was incredible. Eggs, bacon, oatmeal, and all sorts of cereal awaited students every morning, along with a fresh supply of orange juice and milk. Lunches were always different, and the same went for dinners. During lunch and dinner, salad materials were always available, and dinner even had desserts. During lunch and dinner, there were three drink options, one of which was always water, and another one of which was usually the most delicious lemonade I’ve ever had.

The Classes

My class was made up of 184 students. Every day, we would wake up at 7:00, eat breakfast, and then attend our first class of the day, known as Bible Hour. There, Dr. David Noebel, the head of Summit, would give a lecture on reasons to study the Bible, as well as resources on how to defend it. Dr. Noebel also gave a class every evening called Worldviews in Collision, where he compared and contrasted what Summit considers to be the six major worldviews: Christianity, Islam, Secular Humanism (Atheism), Marxism/Leninism (Communism), Cosmic Humanism (The New Age movement, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.), and Postmodernism.

After those classes, the rest of the class schedule varied. Every day a new guest speaker came in, who spoke on his or her topic of focus. On the first day, we were taught Christian leadership. The next day, creation vs. evolution. Other topics addressed included: abortion, moral relativism, homosexuality, worldviews in music and movies, embryonic stem cells, physician assisted suicide, marriage and family, America’s Christian history, and many more.

After hearing the teachers’ lectures, students had the chance to attend an open forum with the teacher of the day. During this time, students were allowed and encouraged to give their opinions or questions about the subject matter of that day’s lesson. I attended a few of those myself, and so long as my questions were relevant, the teachers were happy to answer them. The open forums lasted an hour, giving plenty of time for most of the students to have their questions answered.

One thing I enjoyed about the classes was the maturity of the subject matter. Summit’s lectures are designed to be taught to young adults and high school students. The teachers show the simple truth about their subject of focus, and they do not hold back. Discretion is advised for the squeamish, because the seminar does show a small but distinct sample of the world’s true horror. The class on abortion actually showed a video of an abortion taking place, though students who didn’t want to see it had the option of skipping out on that part and doing something else.

Leadership Opportunities

For those students wishing to distinguish themselves, Summit does have quite a few options. Students may volunteer to lead worship every evening, as well as to play music for the songs of praise during the worship session. In addition, students who want to earn college credit can take part in the Excellence program, which consists of volunteer service and some higher standards. For example, while normal students must get 100 questions right on a 180-question Bible test, Excellence students have to get 120 questions right, or even more. This program is entirely optional, as is playing music and leading worship, but they are a good way for students to stand out in the crowd.

Free Time

After classes were over, students had a chance to do something fun. The main lobby of the hotel in Colorado had several couches for students to set up board games or to just relax. There were also two chess tables and two table soccer games. Most of the time though, the students played various card games. Uno was a favorite of the class, and it wasn’t uncommon to see a ring of about 18 students gathered around one deck of cards. Another deck or two usually had to be added to make the games longer than five minutes.

At designated times during the day, students also had an opportunity to go into town. If you’re not used to living in the mountains, you will find Manitou Springs’ mountain elevation a bit oppressive. For the first day or two before I got used to being on a mountain, I would regularly get winded from just walking up the slope leading from Main Street back to the hotel. Although I would have preferred to visit the library, whenever I went into town, I usually went to the arcade, because it was just across the street. Another popular place for the students to go was the local ice cream store, also a short walk from the hotel.

The more athletic sorts liked to take advantage of the outdoors by going on regular hikes or just running on the sidewalk during the break periods. As for me, I usually made sure that wherever I went in town, it wasn’t too far from the hotel.

Besides running and hiking, Summit offers other ways for students to stay in shape. Every other day during the camp, the entire student body was brought to the nearby park to play sports. Equipment was brought for practically every sport imaginable, but the camp favorite was volleyball. On at least one occasion, so many people wanted to play that they had to be kept in reserve. The next favorite was frisbee, and regular frisbee games of over fifteen students on either side was a common sight.

On the days when Summit students don’t have sports time, they are instead allowed to take part in special activities. Before the camp, students are allowed to sign up for these activities, which include horseback riding, whitewater rafting, mountain climbing, and paintball. The camp did a lot of mountain climbing, but I preferred the rafting and the paintball. I hadn’t done either of those before the camp, and I was genuinely interested in playing. The students were very good at being courteous and cooperative, and injuries in paintball were kept to around 3 or 4 for the entire camp. As there were two sessions of at least three games each, that is a definite accomplishment.

My Conclusions

Statistics show that more than one half of Christians lose their faith in college because they’re unable to defend or properly value their beliefs. If you’re a Christian student going through high school or college and you want to know more about defending your faith, Summit Ministries is definitely worth it. You won’t find a better place for learning the essential facts about almost everything you’ll be confronted with in college and beyond.

What’s Available for Students at Summit in 2009

The complete Summit Ministries “Young Scholar Track” includes three parts: Summer Student Conference, Summit Semester, and Summit Oxford. Most attend the summer conference. Only a handful of students will complete all three.

Summer Student Conference is what Greg attended. These are available in three locations (Colorado, Tennessee, and Virginia). The Ohio location has been dropped in 2009. Program cost: $795, with a nonrefundable $95 deposit. Here is the schedule for 2009:

Colorado (Manitou Springs)

  • May 17-29
  • May 31-June 12
  • June 14-26
  • June 28-July 10
  • July 19-31
  • August 2-14
  • August 16-28 Tennessee (Bryan College)
  • July 5-17
  • July 19-31 Virginia (Liberty University)
  • June 21-July 3

A promo video, application, schedules, and more are available at www.summit.org/conferences/student/

Summit Semester. This runs from the weekend after Labor Day, until late November or early December. Cost: $10,500. In 2008, all students received a $2,500 scholarship. Some additional scholarships are available for exceptional financial need. Only 30 students are accepted, with preference given to Summit Student Conference graduates and those with “experience studying at the college level.” Detailed instruction in History of Christian Thought, Christianity and Politics, and English Literature, plus visiting scholars. www.summit.org/institutes/semester/

Summit Oxford. A semester at the Oxford Studies Centre in Oxford, England. Students live together with Summit faculty leader, attend lectures, go on excursions, and engage in traditional British independent study with actual Oxford tutors. 15-week term, early Sept thru mid-Dec, or early Jan thru mid-April. Cost: $20,000 (tuition), plus travel, food, housing, etc. (may be an additional $5,000 or more). Some partial scholarships available. Applicants must have minimum 3.4 GPA. Currently accepting applications for a January class of 12 students. www.summit.org/institutes/oxford/

Gregory Pride is a senior in high school who has been homeschooled all his life. He is a veteran alumnus of many Christian and secular summer academic and worldview programs.

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