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Relationships at heart of OACS school innovations

Written on March 14th, 2011

From one school’s new position targeting enhanced connections between Grades 5 and 6 girls to another’s mentorship program linking high school students with adults in the community, a number of the Christian school innovations covered by the OACS News recently have relationships at their core.

Ontario Alliance of Christian School (OACS) members are exploring new ways to create, strengthen and build on the connections of people within their school community.

At Belleville Christian School, a new director of student life position is geared to helping young girls learn to navigate the challenges of peer relations.

Principal Jennifer Shoniker says families usually enrol their children aged seven and over in the independent school for two reasons — safety and a bully-free environment.

The new position, held by teacher Ingrid Roeper, is helping to ensure girls who are struggling have a voice, “and we have a mechanism in place to bring about restoration and healing,” says Shoniker.

In addition to a number of other innovations, Toronto District Christian High School (TDChristian) has introduced a learning approach that emphasizes strengthening student to teacher and student to student connections.

“We put kids together for long periods of time with what I call purple cows, really really good teachers, that are passionate, that know the culture, that know the field backwards and forwards, and can motivate children and can allow children to dig down and to uncover with rigor,” says principal Ren Siebenga.

“When I see the kids in there, they build community with each other, they learn how to work together, they appreciate one another, their teacher knows them backwards and forwards, because they spend chunks of time together.”

In keeping with the same theme, the school has a mentorship program that sees students, beginning in Grade 10, connected with an adult in the community, usually someone who is in a role the student would like to explore.

Guelph Community Christian School (GCCS) is another school that has introduced an innovation with relationships at its core.

A recruitment and retention committee has been formed which consists of parents who are making the most of their natural connections with fellow parents to discover what families truly need and want from the school. Their discoveries are then fed back to school leadership and used to inform the school’s direction and/or the creation of new initiatives.

The group challenges the school to run from the bottom-up, says principal Bob Moore.

“I don’t know of any other schools that have got such an effective, free-ranging ground-up kind of group that they let loose,” he says.

“They are continually scanning the horizon and gathering information and bring it to my attention.”

The committee has had a direct impact on the school’s significant growth in the past year, Moore adds, noting GCCS had 40 new families enrol for this school year.

Moore says he believes if Christian schools don’t innovate they will decline.

“We’ve got a choice to make; making a sacrifice or watch your school keep doing the same thing the same way you’ve always done, and what’s that definition of lunacy? Doing something the same way you’ve always done it and thinking there’s going to be a change.”