Gary VanArragon is optimistic about the future of Christian education in Ontario.
With more than 40 years in the sector, he has worn the hats of teacher, principal, vice-principal and guidance counsellor in a number of Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS) member schools.
So he has content on which to base his hopefulness.
While he understands there will be future financial and other challenges, the director says he is encouraged to see a growing awareness that Christian schools have “something valuable” to contribute.
“Faith-based education answers a lot of foundational needs in the hearts and minds and lives of people.
“We’re seeing a growing interest in schools that are well-equipped and taught by well-trained professionals who are driven by the passion of their faith,” he says.
More and more families are also drawn to the idea of having their children learn in spaces where they are deeply loved and cared for.
VanArragon has already watched a positive evolution in the field as the OACS membership has expanded from one denominational base to much greater denominational diversity in the past 40 years.
He’s also been inspired to observe accelerating interest in exploring what constitutes “really good quality Christian education.”
He contrasts this to a time when the loose definition of Christian education is that it was “taught by Christian people in a Christian school.”
“People in the Christian school movement have come to understand it’s a much bigger issue than that, that we really have to think about how we provide education for many different kinds of students in a really high quality and life-changing way,” VanArragon says, adding he’s encouraged by the understanding that his replacement, Justin Cook from Hamilton District Christian High School, comes with a deep passion for guiding schools on what good learning in a Christian school setting is all about.
“I’m really happy that he is on board and I think he will continue the trend that I’ve seen and good things are going to happen.”
As for what’s next for himself, while he tells people facetiously he’s off to go camping, VanArragon says he will be mixing his new time for recreation with a slew of other efforts. He will continue to train teachers in the Dominican Republic, as he has done for a number of years, and edit the Christian Educators Journal. He’ll also work with EduDeo.
He plans to continue to be involved with a community in Guatemala, as well as a multi-faith team at the University of Guelph.
“So I will go camping, but it’s not the only thing I will do. I have been blessed with good health and lots of energy and I’m not going to sit down anywhere.”
VanArragon took up a second career of sorts with the OACS in 2007, serving in various capacities, but mostly as a resource to OACS member secondary schools.
He is slated to retire from that position this month.
“This has been a great place to work, so I leave with mixed emotions,” he says.
“On the one hand, the idea of retirement has great appeal and on the other I will certainly miss the work, the people and the relationships that I have developed.”