Cathy Van Arragon and her students at Ottawa Christian (OCS) have been joking about it all year.
“I’m finally going to graduate from Grade 4,” Van Arragon says laughing, referring to her retirement next month following 30 years as a Christian education teacher.
That good sense of humour stands out to principal Paul Triemstra, who’s worked with Van Arragon at OCS for the past 13 years.
He’s also struck by Van Arragon’s passionate curiosity for how individual students learn and her determination to find strategies to assist them.
“Students learn differently, and you can aim for the middle and catch most of the students, but Cathy is really curious about that student who is struggling and how to make schooling work better for him or her,” Triemstra says.
As a new teacher, Van Arragon says she dreamed of fostering individual learning and greater independence, after experiencing the rigidity of her own schooling in the 1950s. Her initial view to building the kingdom of God, born from the context of a real Christian philosophy, expanded as she taught more.
“I think one of the things that has kept me a Christian school teacher is a real passion for spiritual formation and for seeing children grow in the big-picture view of the world, seeing that our lives fit into a much bigger framework,” Van Arragon says.
Triemstra says Van Arragon’s well-grounded understanding of Christian education is evident in the classroom, along with “a deep and abiding love for the Lord.”
“(It’s in) the way she expresses herself, the way she prays with and for the children, and her simple openness to their spiritual journey,” he says.
A career highlight has been seeing Christian schools welcome a greater variety of learners, including children with distinct special needs.
“We really have developed resources to work with a variety of students,” Van Arragon says.
“It’s a huge blessing. For the Christian schools to be inclusive communities reflects a real vision of the kingdom of God,” she says.
In her time at OCS, she’s seen ethnic diversity among students deepen.
“If you think of the eternal kingdom of God and how we will be gathered together there, this is a little taste of it, and it’s a great blessing I think for all of us,” she says.
Other memorable moments stem from activities with her students, like enjoying a Victorian Christmas every year, and nature hikes which “explore God’s wonderful world.”
Van Arragon also cherishes being part of the OCS’ dedication service in 2010. She was asked to represent staff and join a student, parent and board member in praying and dedicating the new school to God.
“That was a wonderful experience, picturing the life of the school and the way that God would be at work in students and teachers learning together there. And it’s wonderful to see the way those prayers are answered and the way that takes place day to day in very ordinary ways and some special ones.”
In retirement, Van Arragon plans to spend more time with family including her husband, Leo, also a Christian educator, and volunteer with OCS’ outdoor garden initiative. She’s “thrilled” about OCS’ party for her June 1 because it’s “a chance to celebrate” service and a wide-ranging career touching five eastern Ontario schools and many grade levels.
She’s leaving her profession, which she says is also a calling, with a sense of having some done something worthwhile.
“It is a gift of God,” she says.