At certain moments in our lives, we find ourselves taking the time to prepare for a new season—perhaps “winterizing” a summer cottage or covering vulnerable plants before the first snow flakes fall. At other times a new season hits unexpectedly, like the onset of an early spring thaw that interrupts a planned ski trip, and we find ourselves scrambling to adjust to unanticipated changes.
Over the past couple of months I’ve found myself in both of these situations. As we neared the beginning of a new school year, the OACS communications team had already begun to prepare for writing and sharing news stories for the year ahead. However, we were cognizant of the fact that it will be the last year that the organization will be serving the Christian school communities and, as such, we had already begun to prepare ourselves in different ways for the changing of seasons ahead. Without warning, in the midst of these preparations, my own personal journey took an unexpected turn. One week before the start of a new school year, I made the decision to accept a teaching position at Providence Christian School in Dundas, where I have already begun to teach a grade 7 class.
In a way, then, this article serves as an announcement that I will no longer be writing the weekly news stories that I have enjoyed sharing as the OACS Community Journalist for nearly two years. But even more importantly, I hope to use this opportunity to reflect on what the news service has meant to me, and to thank those of you who have invited me to share your stories with the Christian school community across Ontario.
Soon after I took on the role of Community Journalist, I recognized that writing a news story involves a lot more than just getting words on the page. Story telling is about creating community; it’s about reaching out to other people and inviting them to see what you see. Stories have power—they delight, teach, encourage, inspire, celebrate, mourn, and challenge. Most importantly, stories tie people together.
As I look back at the stories I’ve been invited to share over the past years, I can recall examples of each of these. Just looking at the picture of the students holding images of the chickens they raised money to buy for children in Honduras, for example, brings a smile of delight. The title of that article—“Christmas Chicken Cheer”—is probably one of my favorites!
On several occasions, I was given the opportunity to attend conferences and to capture the powerful messages shared by keynote speakers such as Andy Crouch and Steven and Joanna Levy. Challenging and collaborative workshops invoked community among educational leaders, and it was a privilege to be able to share these teaching stories as well.
Educators were inspired by stories of their colleagues’ innovative ideas—those who carved new educational paths by redesigning learning spaces in classrooms, those who found ways for a kindergarten class and a grade 12 robotics class to learn together, and those who followed their vision to create a high school improv team that competed at a national level, for example. I especially enjoyed hearing from the students, who were always eager to share their responses to these and other unique learning opportunities and environments.
Sharing stories of celebration gives communities the opportunity to renew their commitment to Christ-centered education. One such story that was a highlight to write last year was that of retiring teacher Ed Tennant, who had been teaching in the Kingston community for 35 years. His influence on the school community was evident by the eagerness of staff and students to affectionately share their reflections on “Mr. T’s” investment into their lives.
Alongside the stories of celebration came stories of grief and loss. By far the most difficult story to write as a journalist was “Jordan’s story,” shared with me by parents Chris and Christy Hiemstra after the loss of their son last September. It was overwhelming to witness how many people were reached by this story across North America. By including the entire Christian school community in their journey of grief, rather than keeping it hidden, the Hiemstra family hoped that the story would create opportunities for others who are struggling with depression to recognize that people care, and to find ways to get help.
Stories tie people together. The stories I’ve been invited to share while serving as the OACS Community Journalist have reflected the ways in which school communities are a part of a much larger Christian school movement in Ontario that strives to be connected and to celebrate, encourage, inspire, and grow together.
I’d like to say thank you to all the teachers who invited me into their classrooms to share about the work they are doing with their students each day. Thank you, also, to the administrators and school leaders for sharing insights that opened the eyes of the community to their passion for Christ-centered education. And I’d especially like to thank the students who openly shared their excitement for learning with me. I deeply value the trust that each of you placed in me to share your stories with others these past two years.
As I continue to adjust to this new season in my journey, I will look back on this past season with humble gratitude for the things I’ve learned while serving as Community Journalist. I am confident that sharing stories will always play a role in the work that I do, and I am looking forward to participating in the continued story of Christ-centered education here in Ontario. I wish you all many blessings as you encounter your own seasons of change, knowing that we serve a God who remains the same yesterday, today, and for eternity.