Growing Christian schools
by Marion Van Driel
The doors of Carver Christian Secondary campus are officially closed. Starting with just 75 students and growing to an enrollment of over 300 in 13 years, Carver was a joint venture between Vancouver Christian School (VCS) and John Knox. In 2005, the schools rented space from the Vancouver School Board to address the pressing need for a Christian high school in Vancouver. Since then, Carver has built a legacy of strong, ongoing community. The school has finished well.
As Carver’s space became less than ideal, the original concept was for one high school that would continue as Carver had. But God revealed a greater plan on a grander scale. Now, two Christian high schools are poised to offer a Christ-centered education throughout a larger geographical area.
With VCS in East Vancouver ready for students and John Knox Secondary Campus in New Westminster in the final stages of construction, it is clear to Grace Lo-Voo that God is doing something exciting and new in the area of Greater Vancouver’s Christian educational sector. “This was not something that we could have planned ourselves . . . definitely God has a heart for the city of Vancouver,” she states. “It wasn’t even in our insight. We could never have planned two schools in the Lower Mainland so quickly, and be able to launch with seamless transition.” Exiting Vice-principal of Carver, Lo-Voo will transfer to Vancouver Christian’s new campus as principal.
Vancouver Christian School
For 70 years, VCS has been offering Christian education to students K-12, and collaborating with John Knox since 2005 on a joint secondary rental space, a temporary solution to both schools’ overcrowded campuses. VCS students will enter a brand new facility for K – 12. Opening enrollment is in excess of 700, including 220 in grades 9 – 12. A new building replaces the old on the same campus.
Lo-Voo talks about VCS being intentional about their building and grounds making a positive impact in their community, giving examples of holding a Remembrance Day service for the community, and discussions about a community garden. High school students are divided into pods – pastoral care groups. “We want to meaningfully integrate into the community … we’re hoping that every pastoral care group will do something impactful in the community with the time they have during the school day.”
John Knox Christian School
John Knox Christian School opened its doors in 1955 in a four-room building used for Sunday worship and weekly classrooms, later building its own facility. Eight years ago, it built a new elementary campus on their Burnaby site, and this year will add the secondary campus less than ten minutes away, in downtown New Westminster. Completion of the new facility is scheduled for early 2019.
John Knox’s Development Coordinator, Arusha Vegt has a long-standing family history in both VCS and John Knox, with parents, uncles and siblings attending. Her father, at 14, immigrated to Canada with parents and siblings. Because they didn’t know English, he and his siblings were placed in the grade one classroom, “a real motivator to quickly learn English!” Vegt says. Today, her father is chair of the board, her own daughter is a student, and her sister will be teaching a John Knox this year.
The new BC curriculum fosters collaboration and independent study and research – the new school will have common, open, flexible space with furniture that can be configured in various ways, “so that students can all be working together on a group project or independently in the learning commons,” Vegt explains. “It’s interesting timing, being able to design a building to match what’s happening in the BC curriculum.”
While different schools often display strengths in sports, arts or academics, neither Lo-Voo or Vegt single out one area the students are particularly known for. Lo-Voo does mention the strong Arts Program at Carver, giving credence to viewing it through a different lens. “We really believe that it’s Christ who drives our education here; it’s Christ at the core… all things look different when we live in a way that scripture asks us to,” Lo-Voo explains.
Vegt echoes Vo-Loo’s conviction. “We would not exist without our faith perspective…there would be no point in us being here at all…it all comes out of that umbrella of our shared belief in Jesus being our personal Saviour. We can get caught up talking about our new building and the great programs that we’ll offer, but Christ has to come first in all that we do.” One intentional outcome of that faith perspective, says Vegt, is “looking at students as individually as possible – that every student has the opportunity to be successful – as whoever God intended them to be.” This includes integrating students with various special learning needs into the classroom, along with their educational assistants.
Both speak of the high schools preparing students for a life of transformation and service. Whether music, art, sports or academics, the character of the students as they interact is important and noticed – their sportsmanship on and off the court, their joyful presentation at Kiwanis music festivals, and their integration of spirituality in visual arts.
In the Netherlands, Christian education was as natural to the Reformed tradition as putting food on the table. There was just no question that their children’s learning would be founded on God’s sovereignty over all of life. And so, in the early 1930’s a few Christian Reformed families began praying for “a Christian school in Vancouver in which our children will be instructed according to the Word of God.” It took almost 20 years, but in 1949, the first students, eight in all, were first to attend Calvin Christian School. Parents often sacrificed needs at home for a school building and its operation. Some families moved further east, founding John Knox in 1955. In the 60’s, Calvin Christian became Vancouver Christian, and, selling off a parcel of land, helped fund Richmond Christian School. John Knox gave birth to Surrey Christian, which has two separate, active campuses.
Every year, a significant number of kindergarten applications are turned down – a clear indication of future potential for more schools. For Lo-Voo and Vegt, there is no question that there is a growing desire for Christian education in the Lower Mainland. God’s miraculous provision of these two new schools confirms His blessing on generations who believed that God would provide.