[caption id=”attachment_11378” align=”aligncenter” width=”497”] Parents and children gather for a “picnic” lunch last Spring. WCS’s commitment to fostering community is likely to make the school a fun and welcoming place for the 21 new families enrolled at the school this year.[/caption]
“Here we are! It’s a new world. God is just opening so many doors, we feel like our walls have fallen down.”
As Principal of Woodstock Christian School (WCS), Bernice Huinink-Buiter has a long list of things to be grateful for this year—including a boost in enrolment that brought 21 new families to the school this September.
“Last year we had 185 students to start the year off, and this year we have 216. That is a sizeable difference.”
She attributes several factors to the increase: people moving from big cities like Toronto and Kitchener, an “amazing” advancement director, a diversifying and strong special education department, and a solid English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Huinink-Buiter has also been particularly struck by the amount of prospective parents looking for a more open, community focused approach to education where involvement isn’t limited to “dropping off and picking up their kids up at the front door”.
Such families are excited about what they’re finding at WCS, because staff members are deliberate in their efforts to include parents in the daily life of their school.
“The communication between home and school is very strong,” she said. “That, I think, is key because we have so many new families. We’re really trying to be intentional about making them a part of our school family.”
In the past, Huinink-Buiter said she’s been happy to oblige parents of Junior Kindergarten students requesting to be “a fly on the wall” and catch a glimpse of classroom life.
“I say, ‘Go in! Take a look to see what your child is doing!’.”
She noted that parents often react with looks of pleasant surprise when they’re welcomed into the school, instead of hearing that they need to wait at the front office. A trip down the hall isn’t frowned upon. In fact, it’s encouraged.
And it’s not just the parents who feel welcome and noticed at WCS.
“All of our new students go through a screening process, so that when they decide to enrol, right away, they’re embraced,” said Huinink-Buiter. “It’s not, let’s start your kid for a month and see what happens. The children are put through a screening process so that we know where they should be, and what kind of learning needs we’ll need to meet.”
Those needs will vary from student to student. Some require extra help during the day, or even after school. That’s something WCS has been able to provide, noted Huinink-Buiter. Recently, parents have been especially impressed by the school’s Special Education department. For over a year now, WCS has been running a one-on-one program for children with dyslexia called the Barton and Spelling System. So far it’s been an effective way to work with students whose learning needs might otherwise cause them to slip through the cracks.
“The school also has a very strong English as a Second Language (ESL) program”, said Huinink-Buiter. She explained that six Korean families and a student from Russia are attending WCS this year. When it comes to embracing these students, Buiter’s goal is simple: “Enfold and empower the stranger, so that this can feel like home for them.”
WCS aims to do that in a few different ways by involving the new parents in events such as fundraisers, barbecues, and even shared thanksgiving meals. Regular visits from an “incredible” volunteer translator (also from Korea) have been particularly helpful. These are the sort of factors that strengthen the welcoming spirit of the WCS community and encourage international families to put down roots.
“They really are eager to stay once they come,” said Huinink-Buiter. “Right now one mother is in Korea having cancer surgery. She went back to Korea two weeks ago and left her girls here. Their grandparents have come from Korea to stay with the girls for two months, so that they can continue going to school here. It was very important to their mother and her husband that they stay.”
Huinink-Buiter is also eager to give credit to Dawn Streutker—someone she describes as “the most amazing Advancement Director”.
“She is just such a people person, and she is very concise and excited about everything in our school. When people come for a tour they’re blown away by her presentation.”
Struetker’s tours always cover a lot of ground. Visitors learn about everything from drama productions, to chapels, to tournaments, to grade specific events and the role of the board.
“I’ve walked along a number of times and parents are so engaged,” said Huinink-Buiter.
Streutker is also in charge of a leadership team for students who want to serve as greeters and lead tours. In both cases the hope is to give visitors an authentic taste of what WCS is all about.
Although a variety of factors have made hallways a little more bustling this year, it’s clear that the school’s focus on welcoming everyone who comes through their door is in tune with the desires of today’s parents. This, along with the school’s rich history, flourishing community, and strong vision appears to be leading to a very bright future .