Back in 1957 parents sold birthday cards, handmade windmills and baked goods in an effort to raise money for Georgetown District Christian School, known today as Halton Hills Christian School (HHCS). This year the school community is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and is still grateful to the group of dutch immigrants whose passion for Christian education compelled them to fundraise—through bazars, church offertories and auctions.
As HHCS staff, students and parents take time to reflect on the school’s humble beginnings, they’ve been struck by the many ways it has evolved over time. What started as a small, four-room school house is now a dynamic campus that includes a well used playground, a cozy, colourful library, a large gym and multiple classrooms (including an outdoor learning space).
Georgetown District Christian School officially opened its doors in 1965. A small staff of three adults welcomed 107 children into a building that boasted three classrooms. But over the last fifty years, the building has continued to expand: By 1968, four classrooms were added to accommodate a growing number of students. The years between 1974 and 1984 saw the addition of another classroom, a library, a kitchen, and a gymnasium. And in 1981, fifteen children had the chance to enrol in the school’s first ever kindergarten program.
The decades that followed also brought more developments, including a new gym near the east wing of the school and a new Harmony Preschool program. In 2001 Treena Sybersma retired as principal and Corrie Bootsma was hired to fill the role.
The last ten years at HHCS have been equally fruitful. The school has flourished in countless ways under the leadership of current principal Marianne Vangoor, with a fully licensed preschool opening in 2007, the introduction of the Arrow Smith program for students with learning disabilities, and another major building expansion in 2013—just to name a few.
Vangoor sees “God’s finger prints” in each development.
“It is more a testimony of God’s faithfulness to us a community, rather than to anything we have done,” she writes. “We consider it an honour and a privilege to have been able to educate over 1, 500 students throughout the past fifty years!”
On the first day of classes this year, staff and students marked that milestone by gathering in the gym for a party. Joining the festivities were Halton Hills Mayor Rick Bonnette and Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong, who offered their congratulations to the school.
So, what will make HHCS distinct as it moves forward? According to Vangoor, students at HHCS are consistently invited to focus on “giving back to others” through at least one class service project every year. In the past, classes have sold bracelets to raise goods for orphanages and relief organizations, collected food for the local food bank, cleaned local parks, and visited nursing homes.
“We believe service is learning,” writes Vangoor, “and that students need to be given opportunity to make a difference in the world”.
In addition, the twenty-five leadership teams that exist invite students to take responsibility for “day to day management of the school”. Jobs carried out by these groups include shovelling snow, recycling, peer tutoring, running sound and lights, offering hospitality, and reading the morning announcements.
All in all, it’s added up to a warm and inspiring learning environment for many students.
“One way the school is a great place to learn is because even if there is not one teacher available there is always another one to help you out,” says Mattias Terpstra, a student in grade 7. “The students also make a big difference in the atmosphere, as they are also encouraging and wanting to help. It is not hard to find a good friend here; usually there is at least one person that will help you out and be your friend.”
“My fellow students are also some of the best people I have ever met” echoes Paul Cate, “and us older students make great helpers for some of the younger classes. The school atmosphere is fantastic, and being here for 8 years now it basically feels like a home to me.”
While many students are in no rush to say goodbye, they’re grateful for the wisdom they’ll take with them when they graduate.
“Halton Hills Christian School is so great because of their love for Jesus and their efforts in helping us become well equipped for the spiritual challenges in life,” says Spencer King, a student in grade 8.
For teachers at HHCS, these words are meaningful reminders of what their vocation “is all about”.
“I have served as the teacher representative on just about every committee at the school, worked on curriculum planning, enrichment days, and almost every musical performance,” writes Joan Collier, a long time educator at HHCS. “Yet, when it comes right down to it, teaching at HHCS is all about the students.”
Many of these students walk the halls of HHCS because of a dream that began with their great-grandparents. The desire to see Christian education transform the learning happening in their own community demanded energy, faith and a great deal of persistence.
“Praise the Lord that their labour was not in vain” writes HHCS Board Chair Liza Davis. “Thousands of lives have been nurtured and equipped through the care and teaching at HHCS. God is GOOD!”