Icing on the Cake!

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 11.42.23 AMMy mom’s mocha cake was special, not just because it was sooo delicious, but also because she only made it on very special occasions, such as my dad’s birthday.  When that cake was brought to the table and the candles were blown out, the six kids around that table had already begun strategizing, figuring out a way to get the perfect piece.  You see, while Mom’s cake was delicious at the centre, the real treasure was found at the edges, and especially the corners, where ample amounts of that buttery mocha frosting could be found.

Danica, TKU student teacher, initiated the learning activity.

Often the stories we live and tell at Edmonton Christian schools are like that.  They are, by grace, good at the centre but they get even more special as we move to the edges of the story.  A bake sale put on at Edmonton Christian Northeast last week was like that. The goodness at the centre of this event was a group of Grade 3B students studying Communities in the World and deciding with their teacher Janine Bihun and student teacher Danica Ford* that they could be community builders by having a bake sale for Roots and Wings International Mission.  This is an organization, doing work alongside families in some of the poorest places in Mexico (www.rootsandwingsim.org).  For the bake sale,  3B students provided baked goods to be sold to other students, raising $554 which will be used to help a marginalized family and the community they are part of to attain physical and spiritual wholeness.  That’s the centre– Grade three students playing their role in God’s story of love for all.  It is beautiful, delicious and satisfying!

cid_25 (1)

desperate-2040598_1920But there is a richness to be found near the edges of  this story as well. Like a finger full of mocha icing, we can get a taste of this richness by looking at just one other class’s part in this story.  Mrs. Hollingsworth’s Gr 3H class could be found that morning excitedly clutching their change purses and ziplock bags of coins as they awaited their turn to go to the bake sale. Some of them talked with great anticipation about which treats they were going to buy.  When the news came that the bake sale had sold out, all were disappointed and many tears were shed.  Disappointment, however, can be an excellent teacher. Through the tears, Mrs H was able to help the grade three students come to a gladness that the sale had raised lots of money and to the reluctant conclusion that that was even more important than “us getting treats.”   As this sunk in, the majority of the students decided to donate the money they had brought, even if they  gained nothing from doing so.** As word about this leaked out, another class brought their “extra treats” to be shared.  A grade two teacher dropped in to encourage the 3H students and to impress on them how their giving had touched her heart .  A mom who had helped out with the bake sale went home to bake a couple dozen more cookies to be delivered to the class as a thankyou . . .

God’s love for and through people is amazing!  When a community of people digs deep, celebrates sell-out success,  sheds tears of disappointment and  sacrifices in love for others … well … that’s the icing on the cake!

by Brian Doornenbal, Story Teller for Edmonton Christian Schools
*Danica and her husband will be travelling to one of the communities served by Roots and Wings Int.  She will be taking a book made by the 3B class with her.
**Note that more than just this class experienced the disappointment and still decided to donate their money.



Challenge Accepted, Lessons Learned

Challenge given:

“You have been asked to submit a proposal for the design of the front entrance of the new school.  The school design committee would like the centre piece of the front entrance to be made of stained glass and to tell a story about what the school is about . . .”

Student work displayed in a classroom window

This was the guantlet Mr. Lobb and Mr. Boschman threw down in front of their grade 6 classes at Edmonton Christian West School in early February.  To meet this challenge, the students would have to write a proposal with some specific requirements and later would need to reflect on their design (Language Arts curriculum).  Their proposal would also need to demonstrate some specific knowledge of angles and geometric shapes needed to design their stained glass and demonstrate their ability to use a protractor (Mathematics curriculum).  Included would have to be a sketch of their stained glass design and a model made of paper that met design specifications (Art curriculum). In all of this, they would need to rely on their learning community and available resources to find solutions to problems they faced or skills they lacked and they would have to meet proposal deadlines. “It’s a project I did almost no ‘instructing’ on,” shared grade 6 teacher Mr. Lobb.  “The kids had to figure things out.”

The result?  Some deep learning and some intriguing design proposals some of which may need to be considered for the proposed new West school building.

Gianna’s design (Gr6-2)

“I was trying to show the dove from Noah’s ark and how it was a symbol for life.  God always has a plan.  God has a plan for our school.”  Gianna


Nina’s design (Gr 6-2)

“I made the cross stand out from the rest to show this is a good Christian school.”  Nina


Sienna’s design (Gr 6-1)

“I just wanted mine to show a miracle–water into wine.”   Sienna


Lana’s design (Gr 6-1)

I included the cross so that people would know we are Christian.  I used yellow around the cross because the cross shines out.  It was something that was meant for killing, but it saved us!” Lana


There were many more thoughtful and colourful designs from these classes and many student reflections on the learning that happened:

“I liked it because it had Art in it and a mixture of other subjects.”

“I like how part of the learning was helping others with their challenges.”

“I learned all the different quadrilaterals, and before this, I didn’t even know what a protractor  was.”

“It was fun, but I did get stressed out a bit with the design.  I learned I needed 4 drafts to get it right.”


Of course this project also made the students think about the school they attend.  Micah, who came to Edmonton Christian West School in grade 4 designed a stain glass showing someone who had fallen being picked up by someone else:

“I have been at schools where people just bring you down.  Here, people will lift you up.  Our school is caring and helping.  It’s safe here.”

In this assignment,  Grade 6 students both discovered and created order and beauty in God’s world.  They grew in their writing and art skills and reflected on the role their school has in God’s story.

Challenge accepted.  Lessons learned!

by Brian Doornenbal


Deep Hopes for Our Students

What are your deep hopes for your children?  More specifically, what do you hope for when, each day,  you send them off to Edmonton Christian Schools (West, Northeast or Senior High School)?  These are great questions because deep hopes are at the centre of what we do at Edmonton Christian School.  After all, we are part of God’s story, a story filled with hope.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for God who promised is faithful. (Heb 10:23)

It isn’t news that the frenetic pace of life can often make us forgetful people.  In fact it has been said that forgetting is the default position for humans. It could also be the default for Edmonton Christian Schools.  That is why staff have been spending some early dismissal time lately deliberately articulating and discussing the deep hopes they have for the students they see each day.  Here are just a few of those deep hopes drafted by teachers from all three of our schools.* 

My deep hope is . . .

K-9 Deep Hope (1)

Div 2 deep hope

SH Deep Hope

K teacher deep hope

Div 2 Deep Hope

Div 2 deep hope (1)

Div 3 Deep Hopes

Staff at Edmonton Christian Schools hope deeply that your children will find their place in God’s story.  How would you express your hopes for your children?  It’s a conversation worth having in our community as we continue living in the grace of a  faithful God whose promises give us unswerving hope!

* graphics  and visuals have been added by this blog author without teacher input.
by Brian Doornenbal

Hope Sandwiches

Recently our teachers have been thinking about their deep hopes for the students that attend Edmonton Christian Schools.  Many of these hopes, in one way or another,  speak about our students being people who love God and love their neighbours.

(Watch for an upcoming blog about DEEP HOPES)

But like the people in Jesus time, we sometime need reminders about who those neighbours are.  If we don’t live in the downtown core, are the people who live life largely on the streets our neighbours?  Does God call us to see and treasure His image reflected in the 1800 plus people in our city who are struggling with homelessness?

Dan explains the work of the Mustard Seed to the students.

Some classes at Edmonton Christian Schools answered those questions with an emphatic “YES” last week as they used opportunities in their studies to actively love some of the people on the margins of the society we live in.  Both groups made sandwiches for the Mustard Seed and it’s partner programs in Edmonton.  These sandwiches will help someone on the street bridge a gap until their next meal or will become a child’s school lunch or will supply the energy for one of Edmonton’s working poor, heading off to their job.  Simple sandwiches providing hope for the day.

Mrs Piers and her grade 8 French class at ECWS made over 200 sandwiches as a learning experience in their FSL unit on Food:



Two days later, at ECHS, Ms. Tsang and her Foods 10/20 class along with Mrs. Krol’s Physics 20 class that had raised some money for the sandwich supplies also made 200 sandwiches:


Writing messages of love and encouragement on the sandwich bags.
“Today I choose to be a History maker in the lives of those around me.”


 Growing as servant-workers,  community builders and justice-seekers.  Recognizing the image of God in all people.  Finding their role in God’s story.  This is all part of what we hope for the students of Edmonton Christian Schools.

This time, that hope was realized in the simple act of making a sandwich.

by Brian Doornenbal

More than Bricks and Mortar

IMG_7006Planning a new building for the West school will be exciting work!  This past week, a group of teachers, staff,  administrators, architects and Edmonton Society for Christian Education employees took two days to tour some new and newly renovated school buildings in and around Edmonton.  They saw some impressive school spaces, but this group was looking at much more than banks of windows, CTS labs and functional flooring. They were dreaming and hoping!





IMG_6992They were dreaming and hoping because this school society, which in 1949 started with 25 students in the basement of a church, has not changed in it’s resolve that Edmonton Christian Schools  be places in which Jesus Christ is recognized as Lord of ALL things and honoured above all else.  Over the years, God has blessed this resolve and now there are almost 1500 students receiving a distinctive Christian education that invites them to live lives of renewal as they find their place in God’s story.  A new building for Edmonton Christian West School will be a new “dream chapter” in this old story of God’s faithfulness to ESCE.





So, as this group of people toured buildings, they were seeing and dreaming of much more than bricks and mortar. They were dreaming of the kind of learning that could take place for our twenty first century learners.   They saw possibilities and enviroments where students could be invited to discover and develop their gifts so that they could join God in transforming the world, reclaiming and rediscovering the beauty of all that God created. This new building will have those deep hopes, rooted in God’s love, as a firm foundation.  Now that’s a building project to get excited about!




Yes, that IS a fireplace in the Learning Commons!
(Note–we saw lots of active classrooms but needed to avoid pictures that showed students)

Do you have ideas or thoughts on the design of a new building?  You can start giving some feedback HERE.

by Brian Doornenbal

One Candle

“One candle can light a thousand and is in no way diminished–but actually resurrects in a thousand ways.”  Ann Voskamp,  The Broken Way, Zondervan Press,  2016

FB_IMG_1494196991925 - CopyOne candle.  That’s what would have been on the cake at Willem Kees Huig Aarnoutse’s birthday party on January 10.  His parents, Adrian and Carolyn¹ and his siblings  Annemieke,  Saskia, Anja  and Adriaan  would have been joined by others who loved this relaxed, happy boy.  It would have been noisy and joyful; somewhere along the way a one year old boy would have grabbed into that cake and a short time later would have flashed his beautiful smile through a messy mask of cake and colourful icing.  It would have been…  It should have been…  A family, celebrating around that one candle.


Willem and his family never got that chance.  In a perplexing, unimaginable tragedy, Willem’s candle flickered out at 6 months, when he was suddenly taken by SIDS on July 30, 2017.  Losing this perfect, strong son, brother and grandson, losing the smiles and the hugs and the sloppy sibling kisses, losing the dreams of having a brother to play soccer and baseball and hockey with was grief that only the family can put words to. Grief and darkness.


But not total darkness; Willem’s candle, before he was taken away lit many other candles.  And, from within their grief, Adrian and Carolyn and their children are determined to keep the flame of love they have for Willem spreading.  This began in the very depths of this tragedy when they chose to re-kindle the hopes of two other families by allowing Willem’s heart and liver to be used in transplants.  And re-kindle hope it did!  Both transplants were successful.  One of those families wrote a letter:

“There are no words to say how thankful our little family is, that our child has received a miracle; our child  was given the gift of life because you made a choice to save our child . . .”

A candle lit . . .  

The letter also had a poem in it.  A few lines:

…so hope will live eternally,

Born of  saddest irony

Life will not be the same,

Not for me and not for you….

…May the life that lives in me

Shine the light so all can see..

Candles of hope. Light for all to see!

20180110_111859 (1)And then came January 10, the day there should have been that birthday party with that one candle.  Instead, the candle that was Willem’s life continued to light more candles. That morning, the whole family went to the maternity ward of the Royal Alexandra Hospital.  They brought pastry cookies for the staff and delivered 20 bags they had lovingly filled with premium products for new moms.  One of the items was a swaddling blanket with words from Psalm 139  that were part of Willem’s funeral service, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  Perhaps the most unexpected, uncomfortable and yet most special moments came when the family was able to share a bag with a couple whose baby had been born less than an hour earlier.  Another candle.

Meanwhile, with the help of Siebe and Joni Koopman at Dutch Delicious, 100 bags of raisin buns, that the family had purchased, were being given out to customers who came into the bakery.²  In each bag was a note:

Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 7.52.39 PM

Remember Willem.  Love others.  Light a candle!

The birthday remembering and candle lighting did not stop there.  That afternoon, the entire family went to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the Stollery Children’s Hospital where they had, in July, spent the last three days of Willem’s life here on earth.  There, they delivered more treats and a lot of toys that Carolyn had spent months getting as donations.   In addition to the toys they also left behind packages of  high quality toiletries for families who suddenly found themselves in a time of deep crisis that the Aarnoutses knew all too well.


Finding our role in God’s story does not insulate us from pain. In fact, being Christ-followers will lead us to the foot of a cross, a place of pain and suffering.  Adrian, Carolyn, and their children know pain and suffering.  In different ways, we all do.  But the author of our stories is a God who, at that very cross, also knows the pain of losing a son.  Grief is real, but our God cries with us, walks with us and promises to restore hope.

Candles burning. Hope mixed with tears.  Darkness  being chased away by the life of a happy little boy who left his family far too soon, but who continues to light a thousand candles.

candle burning brightly¹Adrian Aarnoutse attended Edmonton Christian Schools K-12.  He graduated fron Edmonton Christian High School in 2001.  Carolyn Aarnoutse (Schoonderwoerd) attended Edmonton Christian schools K-6 before her family moved to Red Deer. During the writing of this story they expressed how grateful they are for the support that they have received from the community of Edmonton Christian Schools. 
² a highlight of the day for the family was receiving a number of messages from people, telling them about their acts of remembering
Thanks to Matt Schoonderwoerd (Opa) whose writing on Jan 10 informed a lot of this blog.  You can see that writing   HERE
You can read the words Carolyn and Adrian spoke at Willem’s funeral HERE
by Brian Doornenbal

Blessed Are the Peacemakers


To make peace, one needs to know what peace is. Grade 3 at ECWS began exploring that.  I came across across this bulletin board outside their classroom.  The sign beside it said:

After reading the book “What Does Peace Feel Like” by Vladimir Radunsky, students in grade 3 used their five senses to describe what peace means to them.  Next, they chose their favourite sentence and created a watercolour painting to enhance their text.


Peace sounds like the pitter patter of rain one morning in Canmore
Peace feels like when you go outside when it’s just sprinkling with a nice big rainbow.
Peace smells like a bouquet of fresh plucked flowers from my mom’s garden
Peace looks like a lion and a lamb cuddled up on a dark and stormy night.
Peace sounds like my dog Rufus’s soft tender woofs as he dreams all curled up in his bed.
Peace sounds like two people having fun and laughing with huge smiles on even the darkest days.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Blessed are the children!

by Brian Doornenbal