Valley Harvest graduates first class

5 24 Valley Harvest Christain School Honors graduates copyWilliam Paine/Patriot Publishing

Valley Harvest Christian School honors first two graduates.

From Left: Brittany Hall VHCS Principal/Director of Technology, VHCS Lead Pastor Steve Willis, VHCS graduate Anthony Thurn Martin, VHCS graduate Karissa Jaelynn Cressel, Derek Burton Family Life Pastor/Administrator, Crystal Burton Family Life Pastor/Principal



Patriot Publishing


Valley Harvest Christian School (VHCS) held its first ever graduation ceremony on the morning of Sunday May 19 in the sanctuary of Valley Harvest Ministries in Dublin. The graduation ceremony was held concurrently with the regular church service and began promptly at 10 a.m. with Dr. Crystal Burton welcoming those in attendance.


Among those in attendance were VHCS parents and students, Appalachian Conference Bishop Preston Mathena and members of the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors including Chairwoman Laura Walters, Vice Chair Dirk Compton and Supervisor Mike Mooney.


Pomp and Circumstance played from the speakers, as the processional of VHCS staff and the two graduates, Karissa Jaelynn Cressel and Anthony Thurn Martin, found their seats. Pastor Arianna Akers, with the assistance of VHCS student Chloe Waddell, then led the pledges to the American Flag, the Christian flag and to the Bible. Valley Harvest Christian School student Laura Garmon followed by singing the National Anthem. Valley Harvest Christian School Principal Brittany Hall subsequently took the stage to recognize all VHCS staff by name.


Then, as is customary for a VHM church service, the Praise and Worship team, which consisted of several singers backed by keyboard, electric guitar, bass and a full drum set, took the stage. The Praise and Worship team then performed rousing versions of the contemporary Christian songs, I Thank God, Gratitude and The Blessing. As is also typical, many of those in attendance sang along.


Afterwards, Valley Harvest Ministries Senior Pastor Steve Willis gave the Keynote Speech, which he entitled ‘Called to Stand Out.’ Willis read from the book of Daniel, which tells the story of how King Nebuchadnezzar threw Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego in the fiery furnace but instead of perishing, they emerged from the furnace unharmed.

“Don’t be surprised if the world doesn’t respect your faith in God or respect your Godly convictions,” said Pastor Willis in his commentary. “These young men accepted the fact that they stood out. I want to encourage you to accept the fact that you stand out and that you were created to stand out.”


Valley Harvest Christian School Administrator, Dr. Derek Burton, next took the podium.


“The vision for Valley Harvest Christian School was not one that was taken lightly,” said Burton, who serves as Associate Pastor at Valley Harvest Ministries. “Several years ago, Pastor Steve and I talked about the possibility of starting a Christian school and when we presented it to the Pastor’s Council, they received it with open hearts … with the societal trends and the need to bring up the next generation in the Lord, there was a choice to be made. We can either choose to complain about it or choose to do something about it and we feel that we have been given a biblical mandate by God, who has called us to raise up the next generation and to build a kingdom.”


“Our mission statement for Valley Harvest Christian School is to offer a Christian alternative in education,” Burton continued. “It is our desire to partner with families to provide a well-rounded education with a Christian worldview. Our curriculum, literature and environment will be Christ’s life. Our teachers and staff will be people of proven Christian character, and influence.”


Burton went on to describe the progress that has been made since the Valley Harvest Christian School was established just two years ago


“When Valley Harvest Christian School started, we had four full time staff, one part time staff, 32 students and an army of volunteers,” Burton recounted. “This year our enrollment grew to 72 students, with seven full time staff and three part time staff. As we enter into the 2024- 25 academic year, we’re on track to have an enrollment of approximately 105 students. With this increase, we will be expanding to 11 full time staff and three part time staff members. I will be the first to tell you that we are blessed with some of the best educators and staff in the New River Valley. They give of themselves daily.”


Burton noted the numerous donations that have been sent to the school, including a 25-passenger bus purchased, detailed and donated by RDL Graphics.


“Over the past two years, we have been able to award approximately $50,000 in scholarships to help families in need to be able to attend Valley Harvest Christian School,” said Burton. “At the start of the school year we were able to establish a partnership with New River Community College and our juniors and seniors now had the option to take dual enrollment courses. In addition, our students also had the ability in their junior and senior year to take any of the trades programs at New River Community College. Both of our graduates today took full advantage of the dual enrollment program.”


Burton then announced that as of July 1, 2024, the National Association of Private Schools will grant Valley Harvest Christian School full accreditation.


“After two years of dedication and more than 1000 hours, on March 31, Easter Sunday, we submitted our final submission for accreditation through the National Association of Private schools,” said Burton. “The National Association of Private School has completed the evaluation for Valley Harvest Christian School and is prepared to recommend Valley Harvest Christian School for accreditation status.”


Burton went on to explain the significance of the various cords adorning the gowns of the new graduates.


Principal Brittany Hall then introduced the first of the two graduating seniors, both of whom are 16 years old.


“Karrisa Jaelynn Cressel is a member of the National Honor Society,” said Hall as she was handed her diploma. “Karissa has been accepted by 30 plus colleges and universities. She currently plans to stay locally and continue her education with the goal of becoming a nationally registered paramedic.”


The second VHCS graduate was then called to receive his diploma.


“Anthony Thurn Martin is graduating with highest honors with a GPA of 4.3 to include 26 credits taken this year with New River Community College,” said Hall. “Thurn as a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. He is on the Dean’s list and the President’s list for NRCC. Thurn has been accepted by 25 Plus colleges and universities to include Randolph Macon, Hampton Sydney, West Virginia University, the University of Tennessee, the Virginia Military Institute, West Point, Vanderbilt and Brown University. Thurn currently plans to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering and music. Thurn has also been accepted to Averett University Flight Academy that he will be attending this summer.”


Thurn Martin then made his graduate address, which focused on the quality education and the spiritual guidance that he received as a student of VHCS.

“By commemorating Valley Harvest, I’ll give you all a greater confidence in the work being done here, both now and in the future,” said Martin. “Valley Harvest is a special place because it has ethical values and holds them with integrity. Above all, they remain steadfast in imparting Christian beliefs onto the children who fall under their care.”


Special recognition was then given to Tracy and Sue McAfee, Susie Anderson and Pastor Sheila Willis in appreciation of their volunteer work at VHCM.


Pastor Steve Willis gave the closing remarks, noting that he and his wife Sheila first started a Christian school more than 40 years ago, when he was a young associate pastor in Ohio.

“I’m just so proud of this church and the school for what God has done and what we’ve been able to experience together,” said Willis. “When we decided to start a Christian school. I said, Pastor Derek, I need you to take the administrative role and basically turned that responsibility over to him and he has carried it so well. I’m proud of this school. Pastor Derek and Pastor Crystal, I’m proud of y’all.”

After the ceremony, family and friends gathered at the Rock Café for refreshments.


It’s important to note that Valley Harvest Christian School is not the only Bible based private school in Pulaski County.


The Mayflower Christian Academy in Pulaski celebrated their second annual graduation and commencement ceremony on Friday May 17. The graduating seniors are Kaitlyn Davis, niece of Mike and Tina Jones (owners of Thornspring Farms), and Julia Frye, daughter of Adam and Crystal Frye. Adam serves as the head pastor at Dublin Church of God, and Crystal is a full-time elementary teacher at Mayflower.


The Mayflower Christian Academy educated 39 students in the 2023/2024 school year and is now accepting enrollment for the 2024/2025 school year. Mayflower is Located at 995 Peppers Ferry Road in Pulaski, Mayflower. They also offer K-12 education and have just completed their sixth year of operation.