Deep Learning by Shallow Water

Wetlands are places of abundant shallow water.  This past week, the shallow wetlands east of Edmonton became places of deep, authentic learning.   It’s the kind of learning that moves Edmonton Christian Schools towards its mission of “challenging students, through Christ centred education, to actively play their role in God’s story.”  img_0923

The learning that the grade 4/5 R students from Edmonton Christian Northeast School did, highlighted a number of the key tenets of deeper, formational learning.  A quick mention of three of those:

  1. Deeper learning often happens in mutually beneficial partnerships with others.
  2. Deeper learning often takes us outside of the classroom and school.
  3. In deeper learning, field work takes the place of field trips.

Here is how Liz Rachul, teacher at Edmonton Christian Northeast described the day:

dscn1569In collaboration with the Biology Department at the King’s University, the grade 4/5R class at Northeast Christian school got to partner with Dr. Darcy Visscher’s Ecology students to experience the biodiversity of the wetlands in Cooking Lake- Blackfoot Reserve. Through this collaboration, our elementary students got a glimpse of how the wetlands are interconnected with our forests and grasslands and the important earth-keeping work that takes place in order to preserve them. As a way to express gratitude for this amazing trip everyone enjoyed a treat of ‘worms and dirt’ made by the grade 4/5R class.




Worms and dirt!
Thanks to Mrs. Rachul for the photographs and description of this trip and for giving her students this rich learning experience.  Thanks also to Dr. Visscher and the students from The King’s University  for sharing their learning with our students!

Journeys Joined–Meet ECWS’s New Assistant Principal

Mr. Hendrik Wolmarans

It’s probably a metaphor we overuse: Life is a journey.  But for Edmonton Christian West School’s new Assistant Principal, Mr. Hendrik Wolmarans, it seems a fitting way to introduce him, if for no other reason than how far from Edmonton his journey began.  There are 15,590ish kilometers, between Edmonton and Pretoria South Africa.  Mr. Wolmarans, or as some of his colleagues and family call him, Drikkie, spent the first 16 years of his life around Pretoria where his father pastored an inner city church and the whole family worked a farm.  The sweat and effort of  farm labour for Hendrik, the oldest of three children, has become something he fondly remembers for the together-time it gave his family.

It was when Hendrik was 16 that his family journeyed across the Atlantic and found themselves in Rocky Mountain House.  He recalls that the family, like many immigrants, came with little, but in the same breath he talks about life as being blessed. As for him personally, moving during that identity-searching time of adolescence wasn’t as big of a struggle as some might think.  He tells of the strong family bonds and the faith foundations that made redefining himself in his new country easier and he talks of important connections, that exist to this day, with other South African immigrants in Canada.

Rocky Mountain House is still home to Wolmarans’ parents and his brother.  His sister lives in Edmonton with her husband and four children.  His father pastors Covenant Christian Reformed Church in Rocky and his mom teaches a grade 2/3 class at Rocky Christian School.  As if those vocations are not enough, once again, the family has a small farm which often draws the family together, as it did in their homeland. Many weekends will see Hendrik journeying home to fix a corral or do chores with his wife  Annerieke, a PHd student in cell biology at the U of A  (remember the connections to others immigrants? –this was a special connection!)

Drikkie recalls how as a 9 yr old child in his homeland he took up wrestling to help him become stronger for rugby.  He was good at it and by 13 wrestling was his main sport.  In Canada, he was able to continue that pursuit in high school and at one point was the provincial champion.  When he furthered his education at the University of Alberta,  he continued to wrestle in the CIS wearing the green and yellow of the Golden Bears.  He medalled four of the five years in the CIS national championship.  He also was the Canadian Greco Roman Wrestling champion in the open junior competition.

Even though competitive wrestling has ended for Hendrik, he continues to enjoy wrestling with who he is, who God is and how knowing God can help us to live.  He currently is working on a Masters in Theological Studies at Taylor University, something he said that he “ felt a call to do” all the way back in 2005 when he graduated from the education program at the U of A.  Since 2005 he has also broadened his mind and his skills as a teacher and leader.  His experiences include being resident director and campus chaplain at Taylor when it was still called Taylor College.  Teaching experience was gained in a  Catholic High School in Rocky Mountain House, at Kate Chegwin Junior High in Edmonton and up until this week, at Ross Sheppard High School where he was the CTS and Fine Arts department head.  The fact that a Mathematics major could be a department head in fine arts speaks to his ability to gently bring people together around a purpose, calling out each person’s gifts.

And it’s the calling out of gifts as a servant leader that Hendrik looks forward to at Edmonton Christian.  “Two things excite me,” he says, “the chance to take my own growth and move it to the next level in leadership AND doing that in a Christian school where I don’t need to be as careful and reserved about how I present my faith.”  He says this humbly, but with anticipation for the next part of his journey.

Perhaps that metaphor isn’t  as much worn as it is just too small to contain our stories. One blog post is not big enough either.  And so, untold are the parts about his time as a heli-attack forest fire fighter.  Unexplained are the reasons why he would want to have two Boxers (dogs) and nine new puppies keeping him and his wife up all night.   Unexplored is Hendrik’s love for tinkering with things and how that has led him to some basic level auto mechanics and some grass roots motor sports all the while as he renovates his home.

Those, and many other things are parts of the journey you’ll need to ask him about as you welcome him to our community, thankful that in God’s bigger story, our pathways have crossed, and in this place we call Edmonton Christian Schools, our journeys have, for now, joined.  May God bless us all.

Growing in Grace and Gratitude

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.   For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Eph 2:8-10


This school year at Edmonton Christian Schools is brought to you by the letter G.  




The middle word, the word at the very centre of our school theme is the word Grace.  That is as it should be.  For it is by grace  we have been saved . . . it is the gift of God.  sara-groves-add-to-the-beauty-1
The Creator’s amazing, gracious love for us and all of the creation is why we can…no, we must, seek, find and worship God in all things; Math and Music, Phys.Ed and field trips, Science and sports are but a few ways for us to learn and live the story that God’s grace has invited us into.  Singer Sara Groves, in a song titled “Add to the Beauty” says, “This is grace, an invitation to be beautiful.  This is grace, an invitation.”  Accepting that invitation is what this school year is about,  for we are God’s handiwork.

Miraculously, the moment  we accept the gift of grace the other two  G’s begin to happen, and we become a school that adds to the beauty of God’s story.  Being a grace-filled school will mean we work hard at restorative practice and grow in our love for each other, for humankind for the created world and most of all, for the Giver of all good gifts.  

Gratitude Journal–ECNS Gr. 3

And daily, we will give thanks, in personal prayers, classroom devotions, learning activities and  community gatherings.  And the mysteries of physics and food studies and phonetics will, at very least, be tinged, and  will often  be soaked with wonder and joy that will leave us grateful and invite us to grow.

Will Edmonton Christian Schools do this perfectly in 2016-17?  We all know the answer. We know it because we know ourselves.  There will be times we will turn our backs on the gift.  There will be times we will be so focussed on ourselves, our growth will grind to a halt and gratitude will fade.  There WILL be conflicts and disagreements in our community, masking the beauty of God’s story.  And that is precisely when we will once again be called by our God, through a faithful and committed school community, back into grace.  Back into beauty.  Back to where we can grow, be grateful and do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do!

by Brian Doornenbal
What does this year’s school theme say to you?  What works has God prepared for you to do in our school community?

Rebooting Relationships–A New Year Begins

This week it all begins. Routines. Bus rides. Studies. Homework.  Making lunches.  Class projects. Staff meetings. Board meetings. Sports teams . . .

And those, those are the easy parts.  By far the most complex aspect in the story of our schools is the relationships.  Students will excitedly pick up with the friends they have been away from for the summer.  For most, there will also be some nervousness, an uncertainty about what some relationships might bring. Students will meet new classmates and teachers.  The teachers themselves will begin the challenging task of getting to know the students as people and as learners.  Parents will meet teachers. Teachers will work with parents.  Principals will establish trust with new staff members. Bus drivers will get to know their routes and their riders . . .   When 1500 people (that’s just students and staff!) get together 5 days a week in three different schools, the web of relationships is incredibly complex and deeply important to the life of a school.

We have always known that at Edmonton Christian Schools.  As people awash in God’s grace, we have tried to grace-fully deal with the inevitable conflicts that arise in this complex web.  But we can’t take that for granted.  Knowing that we need to be deliberate about this crucial part of who we are as the body of Christ, Edmonton Christian Schools, with the direction and support of the ESCE Board has embarked on deepening our learning around restorative practices.  These restorative practices are mindsets, attitudes, protocols, routines  and ways of being together that help our schools to be communities of grace and they compel us move us towards God’s vision for Edmonton Christian Schools — shalom.

Restorative Practice promotes values and principles that use inclusive, collaborative approaches for being in community.  These approaches validate the needs and experiences of everyone within the community, particularly those who have been marginalized, oppressed or harmed.  These approaches allow us to act and respond in ways that are healing rather than coercive.      Lorraine Stutzman-Amstutz and July Mullet, 2005

IMG_4532Last week, 25 staff members cut their summer short by two days to wrestle with and practice some of the skills and attitudes needed for the transformational work of restoration.  We pray that healthy, joyful relationships will be a defining characteristic of Edmonton Christian Schools this year.

This is just Part One on this topic of Restorative Practices.  In the coming weeks, in this blog, we will unfold what this means for staff, students, parents and supporters.
by Brian Doornenbal


Each year at this time, with some sadness, we say farewell to a number of people who have played their role in God’s story at Edmonton Christian Schools .  Four of those people we are saying farewell to have been servant workers at Edmonton Christian for more than 15 years.

IMG_4198Sharon DeMoor has been at Edmonton Christian for 25 years.  Five of those years were spent teaching at Edmonton Christian Northeast School  and the rest were in Edmonton Christian West School.  Sharon worked so hard to ensure that the students in her class learned, and she did a beautiful job in her teaching of clearly showing that Jesus is the Lord of all things!  Sharon is retiring and moving on to her next role(s) in God’s story.


IMG_0461Vicki De Haan has been with Edmonton Christian Schools for the past 18 years, all of them at Edmonton Christian Northeast.  Starting as a junior high teacher and then for the last 8 years as the Assistant Principal the beauty in her work was seen in the relationships she cultivated with students, parents and colleagues.  Vicki will be moving to the Argyll Centre, an arm of the Edmonton Public School Board that is a resource for virtual schools, schooling on the Internet, home schooling and distant learning.  She will be the assistant principal there.


Kathy Doornenbal has worked as an Educational Assistant in Edmonton Christian for 16 years since 1998.  Her heart for people with differing abilities meant that she often worked with some of our most high needs, medically fragile students.  This took her from working in Kindergarten to working with high school students and every grade in between. While you may occassionally see Kathy at the school as a supply EA in the future, Kathy is retiring to pursue other passions in the coming years.


Ger VanderMeulen began her teaching at East Edmonton Christian School in 1988.  Since then she has worked in West School, with some time away when her boys were born.  By her own calculation it is 23 or 24 years of teaching in intermediate and junior high.  Ger has a keen desire to see the students thrive not only academically, but emotionally.  She has put a great deal of energy in recent years into her own learning in this area and into counselling and walking beside students in our schools.  She will be going to WP Wagner High School where this will be the main focus of her role.

In addition to the above, there are a number of others who will be moving on to new schools, new cities or new vocations.  Staffing is very fluid at this time of year, so it is difficult to have a completely accurate list.  At the time of writing, the people pictured in the slideshow below are those to whom we will be saying goodbye. (Based on a list provided by each campus.  Does not include those going on leave or those whose contract status is still to be determined).

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Thanks to each of you for journeying with us. You will be missed.   May the new roles God has given you be exciting and fulfilling.  Keep the faith!

Where Is God?

Where is God?  It is a question we have all asked ourselves at different moments in our lives.


This question has been the focus of a semester-long assignment in Biology 20.  At the beginning of the semester, the students were challenged to keep their ears and eyes open, specifically in the course content, for places where they saw God.  Students reflected regularly on this challenge and created a “Prezi” to organize their thoughts.  Here are just a few of those thoughts, but to get a a sense for the content-rich depth of this work,  you should check out at least one of the Prezis linked below.



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Jacob’s  full Prezi can be found HERE. (once there, use the arrows to advance the Prezi)

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Janae’s full Prezi can be found HERE.

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Noel’s full Prezi can be found HERE.

As one student concluded:  “Wow…  God’s power and creativity are truly undeniable.”  

At Edmonton Christian Schools, as an academic year closes, we are thankful for the privilege of being awash in the grace of such a God!

Thanks to the students who allowed their work to be used here and to Bio 20 teacher, Mr. Brian Piers.




Reflecting Our Creator

You had to be there!  The pictures here can only capture a small part of the story.  A small part of the story of  how Edmonton Christian School’s students reflect the creativity of their Creator.  There were three different “art events” this past week,  each compelling.

Edmonton Christian West School — Street Art Installation

West school grade seven students have been looking at and discussing the roles, merits and downfalls of street art (graffiti, murals etc).  This past week, they did a simple art installation that consisted of a 3” by 5” post it note, with a positive “graffiti” message posted on every locker and classroom door in the junior high.  When asked what they hoped to accomplish, a couple of students answered that they “hoped it would make people smile.”  On Thursday morning when students arrived, there were a lot of smiles.  A number of students when they first entered and saw the art, doubled their pace to see what might be on their locker.  Some liked what they saw, others took the note down.  Still others wanted to make a trade with a friend.    A lot for the Gr 7 students to talk about as they continue to explore street art.

(Slideshow: 15 Pictures — installing the art, a few of the pieces and students arriving/reacting.  Pictures may take a few moments to load the first time on your device).

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Edmonton Christian High School Fine Arts Evening

The senior high also had more student art than usual on display this week for their Fine Arts Evening on June 8.  Hundreds of pieces, ranging from pencil sketches and studies to finished works and sculptures showed how gifted our students are.

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Northeast Edmonton Christian School Fine Arts Evening

Finally, Northeast school also did a Fine Arts Evening on June 9.  Band performances and the student Art work displayed in the library were a blessing to those that attended.

(Slideshow: 16 photos of some Art work and of Grade 9 Band rehearsal.   May take a few moments to load on your device)

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Thanks to all the artists and musicians (and their teachers) whose work once again reflected the creativity of our God!   Special thanks to those whose work did not get pictured on this blog.  There was just so much beautiful work.  You had to be there!