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School embraces Throughlines in action

Written on March 19th, 2018

Beacon Christian School hosted an afternoon “Celebration of Learning: Throughlines in Action” event that highlighted unique and meaningful work from each class. Every grade focused their work around a discipleship concept.

Community members, parents and grandparents attended the Wednesday, March 7th Celebration of Learning event. Handouts with a map showing where each class was set-up was near the entrance, and students were keen to answer questions and describe the displayed work.

There was a buzz in the air, as guests expressed positive feedback as they engaged students in questions about their projects.

There are many benefits to hosting this kind of event, which at Beacon takes the place of a science or heritage fair. “It creates a necessary tension for kids to say OK, this is for more than just my teacher,” said Ralph Pot, the school’s principal. “I think that creates a helpful and a real audience for them.”

Throughlines answer the question “How shall we now live?” through Christ-centred fundamentals that establish a foundation for curriculum and guide student development as God is revealed to them. The 10 Throughlines are: Community Builders, God Worshippers, Idol Discerners, Servant Workers, Order Discoverers, Beauty Creators, Creation Enjoyers, Justice Seekers, Earth Keepers and Image Reflectors. These characteristics benefit the school’s mission toward the restoration of creation.

Throughlines were developed at the Prairie Centre for Christian Education (PCCE) as part of the Teaching for Transformation (TfT) program. A few years ago Beacon was trying to redefine itself and Throughlines gave language to support being distinctively Christian, Mr. Pot said. The school hosted Doug Monsma from the PCCE, one of the TfT designers, a few years ago as they further learned about Throughlines.

Incorporating Throughlines into project-based learning (PBL) at the school was a way to tangibly incorporate them beyond chapel and into the classrooms and lessons. “The whole PBL model would suggest we want to extend beyond our walls and have it be real and important beyond a classroom space,” said Mr. Pot.

Junior Kindergarten students looked at Creation Enjoying, focusing on God’s creation in the winter. Their display illustrated activities the class did such as making winter art, taking a walk in a local park and making bird feeders to hang at Tabor Manor.

The Senior Kindergarten class worked with the Throughline Beauty Creating and asked: How can we, beauty creators, use colour to create beauty? Students explored how various artists use colour and made their own creations duplicating the methods, creating a gallery of inspired art.

The class took an introductory trip to the Niagara Pumphouse Art Centre and each week studied a new artist. Students started developing feelings around God giving them gifts and created art to showcase beauty and colour. Avery, a SK student, chose to mimic Jackson Pollock. “It was fun to flick paint,” she said.

“Their excitement about it is amazing,” said teacher Miss Courtney Flus. Working on a project with a distinct focus prompted the students to think about art they see outside the school in new ways. “One little girl said the reason why she likes colour is how boring it would be if everything was black and white, God made colour for a reason,” Miss Flus said. Two of their art pieces were auctioned at Beacon’s fundraising gala, and the class also made notecards with student art on the front selling packs of 10 for $10.

The Grade 1 class looked at Servant Working and how to build a safe place for those who need it. Students raised money doing chores and selling cards to buy nails for a Habitat for Humanity home. While their fundraising goal was initially $1,000 they have already surpassed that and are looking to raise more for another home.

One of the teachers, Wilma Harris, came up with the idea. Mrs. Harris helped build a Habitat home in Welland. Students attended the dedication ceremony in December and sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

When doing an owl art project one of the paintings was admired so much the class chose to use the image on notecards as an additional fundraiser. “It’s honestly bigger than I think we anticipated it being,” said teacher Madeline Ledwez. “It was such a simple idea at first and then expanding into this whole thought process with other things happen like the cards, its been awesome.”

Ana Diaz, relationship coordinator at Habitat for Humanity Niagara, attended the Celebration of Learning and took photos of students holding an oversized cheque of the money they raised.

“We are in awe of Beacon Christian School, Mrs. Harris, the students, and everything they have done is really inspiring,” she said. “At such a young age they are learning how to give back to the community, and I think that’s what this school is all about—community and collaboration.”

The Grade 2 class had the Throughline of Image Reflectors and looked at how to reflect God’s love to the homeless in their community. They learned about the causes of homelessness and hosted a dessert auction to raise money for the Out of the Cold program. The auction raised more than $5,000.

Grade 3 students focused on Earth Keeping and decided to create a field guide for the school with pictures showing the various trees on the school’s property.

In Jeff Brooks’ Grade 4 classroom, students were tasked with the Justice Seeking Throughline. The class initially looked at various water crises in First Nations communities and researched Kashechewan, a Cree reserve located near James Bay. Mr. Brooks called their elementary school’s principal who told him drinking water is no longer an issue but their community floods every year. The students brainstormed and through reaching out to various businesses and local supporters created evacuation backpacks for every Grade 4 student at the Kashechewan school.

The Grade 5 class looked at the Community Building Throughline and decided to host a spaghetti dinner for the school’s neighbours. They considered all aspects of the event, from invitations to menu planning and making people feel welcome.

The Grade 6 class showcased their unique, handmade kites. As they learned about Order Discovering the class looked at how to use their knowledge of flight to build kites. They studied the principles of air and flight and in groups designed and built kites.

In Grade 7, two groups each created a project exploring the driving question of how can we, as Idolatry Discerners, challenge the media’s portrayal of tweens and teens? They looked at different forms of media, including TV shows and magazines, to see how the media portrays their age group. Half of the class worked on producing their own magazine for teens that challenges the typical media images, and the other created a video directed at parents to understand issues around the effects of social media.

Vice-principal Albert Kok’s Grade 8 class looked at the affect God-Worshipping has on the immigrant communities in St. Catharines. The students studied various places of worship in their city and created a museum display showcasing the immigrant history and places of worship.

One day the entire class visited the six oldest churches in the city. Guests from the churches also came into the classroom, and Mr. Kok spent break times driving students to locations to take photos. The project tied into curriculum in the subjects of history, geography and language arts.

The project emphasized critical thinking and what a museum curator considers, while tying in media literacy. The display revolved around how students express themselves, using screenshot printouts of Instagram and Snapchat posts.

“It was a great way for students to recognize we are an immigrant society, and it’s a great context to look at it in,” Mr. Kok said. The variety of worship spaces explored gave insight into religious plurality, and how to get to know other churches without being afraid of something different.

“We, as a class, loved it. We liked learning about the different religions and different people that make up a church,” said Grade 8 student Jacoba. “I didn’t know about many of these churches before this project.”

The class worked with a representative from the St. Catharines Museum, and following March Break will make some corrections and pare down content for the museum to display.

While the pride and enthusiasm for the students’ work was evident, Mr. Kok noted one frustration he has had with PBL projects is that students aren’t excited until they see the final product. “I find that part I find difficult, there’s got to be a better way that I can create the vision with them,” he said.

Teachers shared a variety of benefits from combining their PBL units with Throughlines. PBL puts ownership on the students, noted Grade 7 teacher Mrs. Heather Wiersma. Students are passionate about the end product because its their idea. Connecting the PBL with a Throughline gave it roots and a framework.

“We always have our Christian perspective weaved throughout our curriculum, but this gave it some focus and combined the two things we’ve been working on—PBL and Throughlines,” she told the OACS News Service.

For younger students the big words, like “idolatry discerning,” may be a struggle but PBLs intentionally showed those concepts through practical projects. The youngest grades may need to have more teacher-directed PBL, said Mr. Kok, adding that is fine and may help produce work they are proud to share. “It may not be an official PBL but its still beautiful work.”

PBL units are an engaging way for students to dig into a subject and also tend to be a learning experience for the educator. Mr. Kok noted that when you are trying something that hasn’t been attempted before “you really are building the bridge as you walk on it.”

“That can be scary but when you see a product like this you’re like, OK, it was worth it,” he said.

Mr. Pot doesn’t take any credit but noted it is fun to see Mr. Kok motivate the staff. The projects created lasting memories for the students.

“None of the kids will forget having a spaghetti dinner with the locals or making these backpacks, (or) the time they got nails for Habitat for Humanity,” he said. The culminating work the classes produced were a way for Beacon students to bless others and also be blessed in the process.