Grade 5 Students RISE to the Occasion

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 12.54.57 PMA deep hope we have for Edmonton Christian students, is that when they come face to face with brokenness that they will rise to the occasion.

In term two this year, the grade 5 classes were challenged to  take an “expedition” in which they used their gifts to explore what reconciliation with Canada’s First Peoples means, and more importantly how they could live it.  Some of the work that resulted was published in Issue #2 of RISE ZINE.   This issue was published to commemorate the three years since the close of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the national event in Edmonton.  RISE stands for Reconciliation In Solidarity  Edmonton.  Every grade 5 student contributed to a bulletin board which was prominently featured in the magazine.  In addition, at least eighteen of the grade 5 students had pictures of their project work published.   Below is a sample of  how our students did RISE to recognize their role as image-reflectors, justice seekers and community-builders in this world.

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Now . . . it’s on to the next expedition . . .


(In addition to the above work, you will find work by Shamea, Kaylan, Sophie, Lily, Nina, Vivian, Nolan, Reuben, Kiana and Ceasli in the magazine.  If you get a chance, ask a fifth grader to show you their copy of RISE ZINE  and ask them what else they learned on this expedition).

Talking, Learning and Doing

Gen1;28Talking about watersheds and wetlands is an excellent part of the curriculum in Grade 5.  Talking about basic chemistry and chemicals is too!  But talking doesn’t always equal learning. Facts and data apart from the story we are in have limited use.

A big part of our story as God’s people was given in the first days after Creation when God made humans the stewards (caretakers) of the Garden (Creation itself)
This past week, ECWS Gr. 5 classes culminated their learning about water, wetlands and chemistry by doing a small act of stewardship.  Partnering with Trout Unlimited’s Yellow Fish Road Program and the City of Edmonton, they reminded the neighbourhoods surrounding the school that we all have a role to play in the story of stewarding God’s good creation.  IMG_9754They did this by using non-toxic paint by each of the storm sewers in the neighbourhood to remind everyone that dumping any chemical into a storm sewer has a negative effect on watersheds and wetlands.  After painting the “yellow fish” reminders by the storm sewer grates, information explaining the initiative was hung on each front door in the neighbouhood.  Attached to these door hangers was a student-written statement expressing the student’s desire to be stewards and earth-keepers in God’s world.  Here are a few pictures of one of the groups in the McQueen neighbourhood.






Taking. Learning. Doing.  Finding our role in God’s grand story!

by Brian Doornenbal

Learning That Adds Up!

Edmonton Christian Northeast School is exactly that — it is a school.  Schools are places to learn STUFF.  But at Edmonton Christian, we believe that we have an amazing opportunity for the students not only to learn the STUFF of the prescribed curriculum, but also, in doing so, to  explore and learn their place in God’s STORY.

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ECHS Alumnus and teacher Mrs. Rachul with Gr. 4 students from her Gr 4/5R class.

The curriculum STUFF that the grade 4 students at ECNS needed to learn recently was the use of decimals in addition and subtraction.  The STORY they learned was that God loves all of us and can use our gifts and skills to love others.

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Letter to parents explaining the real work.



One student’s work.

The grade 4 class, and teacher  (ECHS alumnus) Liz Rachul connected with the Mustard Seed Church downtown and found out that they have a program that provides sandwiches for those community members who for various reasons cannot join the inside meals served at Mustard Seed.  Ms. Rachul provided the students with a grocery list and challenged them to check three different stores to find those ingredients within a $100 budget.   Totalling the cost of multiple loaves of bread  and all the other ingredients needed, created lots of real-work practice in addition and subtraction of decimals.  Students had to stay within budget.  Not $0.05 over!  Once that work was done, the class picked a plan that was on budget and purchased the ingredients.


The next day they were toured through the Mustard Seed Community Support Centre by Sara Nicolai-deKoning (also an ECHS alumnus!) before making the sandwiches to be distributed.

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An extra reminder of God’s grace:  tour is given by an ECHS alumnus!

They learned the STUFF while participating in a beautiful STORY.  Deep learning accomplished by doing real work, meeting the real needs of real people!  Deep learning that invited our students to live lives of renewal.  Did they accept the invitation?  Here is what a few of them wrote:

“I learned that lots of people don’t have homes and that one sandwich means a lot.”    Jaeda

“Another thing that can be done is to be kind to the homeless.”  Ashleigh

“I can help the Mustard Seed by donating my birthday money.”  Aleina

“The Mustard Seed community church is a good place to be if you are lonely, sad, homeless or just need to talk!  One meal can make a big difference in someone’s life.  It also makes you happy.” Ryanna

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Now that seems to be a Math lesson that really added up!

by Brian Doornenbal



Slow War–Ben Hertwig Shares His Story

We say it all the time at Edmonton Christian:  “God has a role for each person in THE story.”  All WE need to do is find it.  Simple… Right?  Think again!

IMG_9539 (1)Ben Hertwig attended both Edmonton Christian West School and Edmonton Christian High School where he graduated in 2004.  He is remembered as a positive, cheerful, athletic student.  He grew up liking sports publicly, and books privately.  Since finishing high school, he has spent time as a university student, a  soldier, a tree planter, a bike courier, a university professor, an inner city housing worker, a potter, a painter and an author.

Ben’s time as a soldier included a six month tour of duty in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan.  “My time there definitely changed the way I look at the world,” he reflects.  After a pause, he continues, “The world was significantly more complex than 18…19…20 year old Ben kind of anticipated.”

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With Afghanistan as the catalyst for a new complexity to life, Benjamin struggled to live into new chapters of his story.  Much of the narrative he had left behind did not really make sense when he returned.  Post traumatic stress made for a sepia setting and blurred plotlines.  “When I got back, I no longer wanted to be in the military but I stayed for another six months or so before quitting.”  Even Ben’s faith no longer made sense. “I think after Afghanistan, I started at ground zero again.  Things I had taken for granted, I no longer necessarily believed.  In the end though, I felt a very strong need to return to my faith, though it was and is different. I am part of a church community in Vancouver that I really value.”Benjamin Hertwig

Ben has been very active in the new, post-Afghanistan, chapters of the story.  Since 2006 he has achieved an undergraduate degree in English and Philosophy from Concordia University of Edmonton, a Masters in English from McGill University and is currently in a PhD program at UBC in Vancouver where he resides.  Lofty studies, but no ivory tower.   “I have no interest in academic pursuits that are removed from the concerns of real people,”  he said.   As if he needed to back that statement up, he shared that he was in Edmonton to write a magazine piece about the effects of the downtown arena/ Ice District development on the street people and on the agencies that assist them in the inner city.

Slow War (1)For this award winning* author, writing isn’t only about the concerns of others.  It is also about his own healing.  He has written a book called “Slow War” (McGill-Queens University press) which will be launched late Summer/Fall 2017.  It is a book of poetry written in the last two or three years in which he wrestles with his experiences.  When asked why he didn’t write it immediately upon return from Afghanistan, he says, “I don’t think I even had the emotional maturity at the time . . .I just tried to push it away for awhile, which definitely didn’t work.”

Life is not all wrestling for Ben.  As he navigates these new chapters of his story,  he often finds himself in places of beauty and joy when creating pottery and  painting landscapes.

Spring in the Sierra Nevadas

Late Fall, Mount Rundle

abandoned farmhouse off of a vanderhoof logging road

The story is ongoing for Ben, but he saysI do think that I am finding my role in what God is challenging us to do.”  By God’s grace may we all be able to say that.

by Brian Doornenbal
*in addition to publishing in multiple magazines and newspapers including the NY Times, Benjamin has won the 2015 Writer’s guild of Alberta/Glass Buffalo Poetry Prize and the 2015 Prairie Fire nonfiction contest.  He was nominated for an Alberta Magazine Award for poetry.
Visit to see and find out more about Ben’s work.


Europe Trip 2017

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18 students.  6 adults. 9 packed days.  3 European countries.  Countless memories.

That is the barest summary of Edmonton Christian High School’s “Vimy Ridge 100th Anniversary” trip.  It might be best to leave it as a bare summary, because it is clear from speaking with some of the participants, that attempting to capture this trip with words leaves them feeling inadequate.  When asked the standard, “So how was it?” question, Grade 12 student Emily W. said, “I would need to get out a dictionary to try find enough words to describe the trip.”  And so it is best not to use too many words for this story.  What follows are a few reflections from some participants and some of the pictures that were taken.

“The most impactful thing for me was probably Tyne Cot Cemetery (Belgium), because of the amount of people and the vastness of everything that we were seeing.”  (Emma M., Gr 12)

“The Vimy monument was a lot bigger than I thought.  (Noel N. Gr 12)

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“Seeing how big the monument was and all the names engraved on it was pretty powerful.” (Jaden S.  Gr 12)

“All of the boots on the hills at the monument had an impact on me.” (Jacob P. Gr 12)

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Whenever we went to  a memorial or a graveside I would get a realization that every one of those people, whether they were German or, like, from some other country, they had people that they were close to and that loved them.  So many people died.  (Jaydon S. Gr 10)

“I know quite a bit about the wars, but to actually be there gives you a feeling you can’t pull out of a textbook.”  (Emily W. Gr 12)

“I would have to say one of the most impactful events was going to the concentration camp (Dachau) because even though it was smaller than the Vimy Ridge ceremony location, in its time it held more than 10 times the amount of people that were at the Vimy ceremony.”  (Jaydon S. Gr 10)

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“Yesterday morning was a day of sober reflection and thought. We had a very powerful devotional time in the evening where we all reflected on our visit. In this Easter season you could sense: Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; God have mercy.” (Mr. Cam Befus, teacher, on Instagram, April 12)

“Dachau, in tandem with Easter, was very powerful.  Sin was clearly evident.  The next day we hiked to a castle and the beauty of the surroundings reminded us of the resurrection. (Mr. Wes Boonstra, teacher)

This trip included more than memorials and sober reflections on the brokenness of war.

“The most fun was the Palace of Versailles.  The gardens were so huge and so beautiful and they had music playing.  We just felt like dancing.” (Emma M. and Emily W. Gr 12)

The best day was when we went to the Neuschwanstein Castle (Germany).  We hiked up a beautiful ridge and could actually see into Austria (Noel, Jacob and Jaden  Gr 12)

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“The BMW factory/museum was great.”

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“It definitely made me want to travel more,  that’s for sure.  It was a lot of the Creation-Enjoying throughline.  (Noel N.  Gr 12)

“It made me realize its a big world.  I just want to get out there.”  (Jacob P. Gr 12)

“I would do this again. It was a good experience for me.  It built up my confidence.”  (Jaydon S. Gr 10)

Clearly this trip was a blessing.  How appropriate that as the participants posted on Instagram @echstravel they used the hashtag #graceandgratitude.   God is good, and even more than the Palace of Versailles, that’s reason to dance!

Thanks to the participants whose pictures (taken from Instagram) appear here.  Thanks also to staff members Mr. Befus, Mr. Hofstede and Mr. Boonstra for working to make the trip happen and to those other adults who accompanied the students.
by Brian Doornenbal

Remember ‘Remember My Name?’


A look back at this year’s Edmonton Christian High School drama production


It has been a few weeks since Edmonton Christian High School students, under the capable guidance of teachers Suzanne Knol, Tim Epp and Nick Boschman, moved audiences with with their performance of Remember My Name by Joanna Halpert Kraus.  This WWII story tells of a young girl’s survival in wartime France and the courage of those who, at great risk to themselves, protect her from the Nazi Holocaust.


“It’s a play that we have wanted to perform for a long time,”  Knol shared as she introduced the play each night.  Spring 2017 seemed to be the perfect time.  The right cast was available.   Moreover, the politics of fear and division  were once again bubbling up in the world as humanity dealt with the very real and difficult issues of war, terrorism, refugees and race relations.  This added to the depth of the story told in Remember My Name.  “Mr. Epp and Mrs. Knol did such a good job making it … like …  more real, more relatable to nowadays,” said Christine E who was acting in her third high school production.  Fellow third year actor, Ryan V, who had an antagonist role as a Nazi officer agreed.   “It gave the whole play some purpose,” he said. IMG_9780

The play featured 10 actors with a mix of experience.  Ryan V, Christina E. and Emma H. were in their third high school production and that was reflected in their fine performances in major roles.  Neso I and Caleb S were second year actors.  Experiencing the bright lights on the stage for the first time were Noah W, Charissa K,  Jarin T, Michal R and Jake T.  Says Jarin of his first-time experience, “I will definitely do it again.”


Behind the scenes looking after lighting, costumes, set, stage management etc were a whole host of other Edmonton Christian High School students.  Check out a copy of the Remember My Name Program (link) to see the lists of all the  “servant-workers, order-discovers” and “beauty-creators” that were crucial to this production.



Once again, we are reminded by this Edmonton Christian High School production that we live our lives as part of a very rich story, a story authored by a creative God whose people can reflect that creativity whether it be in a science lab, on  a basketball court, in a studio, at a workplace or in a spotlight at centre stage.  But it gets even better!  The Author of the story we live in, knows our names. God knows the names of those that endured the holocaust, knows the names of the presidents and the paupers, knows the names of the rich and the refugees. God knows the names of all who have walked, do walk and will walk this earth.  And even in difficult times we can cling to the promise that those are names God will never forget.

Thanks to Mr.Tim Epp for the photographs.
by Brian Doornenbal

Deep Wells of Learning

NEGr2wells2Let’s face it, some things we learn stick with us for only 60 seconds.  Others, we remember for 60 minutes and still others 60 days.  But do we ever learn something that might stick with us for 60 years?  Do we learn things that shape who we are?  At Edmonton Christian Schools, we hope so!  It’s our mission  to “challenge students, through Christ centred education to actively play their role in God’s story,” a story that encompasses their whole lives.

Presenting to the Parent Council

 Mind challenging, hand engaging, heart shaping, role defining, 60 year learning was celebrated in Grade 2J at Edmonton Christian Northeast this week. In the past 6 weeks, as they studied liquids, states of matter, natural resources, basic mathematics,  geography and  literacy,  students  in Grade 2 learned the “60 year lessons” about seeking justice and building community.  These students learned that not everyone has clean water and that unclean water leads to diseases and deepens the effects of poverty. They set out to play their role in a better story– God’s story!  A challenge was given to the community to fund four wells through World Renew (website here).  The students listened to a grandparent who has assisted an African community in building a well.  With ninth graders, they wrote letters to the Prime Minister about the 71 First Nations communities in Canada that still do not have safe drinking water. They made presentations to classes in their own school,  at Edmonton Christian High and to the ECNS Parent Council.  While they were doing all of this, they learned deeply the outcomes that the Alberta curriculum has laid out for second graders in subjects like science, math, social studies and language arts.

Holly and Beth

In the end, this remarkable group of students, under the enabling guidance of teacher Holly Jensen and King’s University education student Beth Sandle,  learned so much.  And, with the support of this generous community, they raised $3886.00!  Let that soak in . . .

Enough for 9 wells!

Water for more than 1080 families!  

World Renew sent the class this video in time for their March 20 celebration of learning:

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The thank you video was only one part of the celebration.  Parents were there.  Mr. Mike Suderman, Assistant Superintendent of Edmonton Public Schools attended, as did Mr. Peter Buisman, Executive Director of Edmonton Christian Schools.  Also in attendance, Ms. Michelle Draper, Chair of Edmonton Public Schools Board of Trustees.  And of course, leaders from ECNS were there, drawing some extra attention with their newly dyed blue hair which was a commitment they made to the grade two students if they reached their goals.  A few  pictures of the centres, songs and prayers that were part of the celebration follow:    (slide show-may take a few moments to load on your device)

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If you saw the grade 2J class at ECNS today, those children would probably say to you, “I am a justice seeker.  am a community builder.  For these students,  two of the ten Biblical through lines that are woven into our entire K-12 curriculum at Edmonton Christian have become “who lines.” They have become who these students see themselves to be in God’s story.  And we pray, that that is who they will see themselves to be 60 years from now as they continue to live gratefully in the grace of the great I AM.  To God be all glory!

by Brian Doornenbal