Even in the midst of a difficult school year, students at Northern California Conference (NCC) schools continue to thrive, thanks to a supportive and caring learning environment.
Redwood Adventist Academy kindergarten and pre-first teacher Steven VandeVere is one of the many NCC educators making extraordinary efforts to teach students during the pandemic.
Recently, one of his kindergartners missed several weeks of school because she had to quarantine with her family. VandeVere could have just mailed her family a packet of assignments. Instead, he offered to come to their home after school to teach their daughter. “I knew she would be happier to see her teacher and interact with somebody outside her family,” he said.
Standing outside a closed window, VandeVere held a 30- to 40-minute class with the student each day. He helped her with assignments and brought crafts and science activities. The student got a big laugh out of a water balloon experiment that hit him in the head. “Anything to make school enjoyable!” said VandeVere.
As much as possible, he is determined to keep the pandemic from interfering with his students’ learning process. “My goal has been to give the kids a safe space to learn, play together, explore, and be themselves without the constant fear of COVID hanging over them,” he said.
Since August, his class has grown from 10 to 15 students—full capacity. Each afternoon, the kids experience forest kindergarten, designed to help children develop a variety of skills through interactions with nature. On a couple of acres behind the school, the kids dig, climb trees, and play in the creek.
“They need joy, not anxiety and fear,” said VandeVere. “Our school is giving them that space where they can grow. In a year that’s anything but normal, helping these kids have a normal experience is what I’ve been called to do.”
An emphasis on outreach
Service to others is an integral part of Adventist education, and the Galt Adventist School has made it a priority.
In February, the K-8 students made Valentine’s Day cards for more than 80 residents of a nearby apartment complex for senior citizens. Each card included a handwritten message, drawings, and a Bible text. A school volunteer included several treats with each one.
The apartment manager shared words of appreciation on behalf of the residents, and one woman was so touched that she wrote a thank you card to the student who made her Valentine.
The children enjoyed the experience. “It was nice to give older people joy,” said third-grader Jack Friend.
Sixth-grader Abigail Gifford agreed. “It was really fun! And I enjoyed doing it for other people,” she said.
Before the pandemic, the Galt students participated in monthly community outreach projects. “We give them real-life experiences to put into practice the things we teach in Bible classes,” said Principal Jennifer Lalas, who teaches grades 3-8. “These service opportunities make those lessons stick.”
Throughout the conference, NCC church members contribute countless hours to support their local Adventist schools.
Pleasant Hill church member Brenda Brandy has volunteered at Pleasant Hill Adventist Academy since her daughter began preschool in 1978. Since then, Brandy has continued to donate her time and talents to the school—everything from helping in the classrooms to chaperoning field trips. This year, she has been spending about 10 hours per week grading papers at home for the 5-6 grade classroom. She also serves as the chair of her church’s Christian Education Committee.
Brady enjoys supporting the faculty and getting to know the students. “Teachers only have so much time, so the more I can take off their shoulders, the more time they have to be better teachers,” she said. “When volunteers help at the school, the students learn that there are other people that care about them besides their parents and teachers—plus they learn that it’s important to get involved!”
Each February, Brandy makes history come alive for the students during Black History Month. Through the years, she has spoken to the kids about a variety of historical subjects, including the Underground Railroad, African American cowboys, and the Tuskegee Airmen. “I am a history buff, and I talk about the history of places that I have visited,” she said.
Brandy believes that actions are more important than words when it comes to advocating for Christian education. “You put your money where your mouth is,” she said. “If you want a better school, you need to support the school and get involved!”
By Julie Lorenz