The Campbell River Christian School has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the Baptist Church basement.
There were fewer than 70 students and just six staff – including the school’s first principal Harold Carlaw – when the school opened its doors in September 1981. For classes outside of English, math and science, the school relied on the kindness of volunteers willing to share their craft.
“A bunch of people in the church saw a vision for a Christian education,” says Gregg Mitchell, a retired teacher who sat on the original school board and served as chair for seven years. “It started with a lot of individualized education.”
Two years later, the school’s population had grown and students were split between two locations. Kindergarten and Grade 1 students attended school in classrooms at Christian Life Fellowship church while students up to Grade 8 studied in the church basement on McLean Street, where the Salvation Army’s Ocean Crest Community Church is now.
In the early 1990s, the Baptist Church purchased a chunk of land on Dogwood Street where a new school was to be built.
On June 20, 1991 ground was broken for construction of the new school, but the church suffered a serious setback.
The school building was burned down during construction on Sept. 16, 1991 and workers had to start from scratch. Undeterred, construction resumed.
One year later, in 1992, Christian School students and staff finally had a building of their own when the first day of classes began that September. The building, which is in use today, is 2,700 square feet and has 22 classrooms – a far cry from the handful of small rooms in the old Baptist Church basement.
This year, the Christian School is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
Clarence and Lori Guilderson, who both attended the school as teenagers, have seen a lot of changes since their time at the school. For starters, there are now 240 students at the school and 40 staff.
“It was a great school when we were there,” says Clarence, who started at the school in 1983, with about 20 kids in his class. “The teachers genuinely cared for us and that made a big difference. I think the smaller class sizes helped me to focus on my education.”
But there were some challenges that came with the school not having its own building.
“For PE sometimes we would go down to the Community Hall and use the gym there,” Clarence says. “We would use the city buses and take them down.”
Lori recalls having to go to Phoenix school in the evenings to use the lab for science experiments.
Still, the Guildersons valued their time at the Christian School so dearly that they chose to enrol their own children .
Three of their kids – Allison, 17, Adam, 14, and Nathan, 10 – still attend the school. Their oldest daughter Hayley, 18, graduated from the Christian School last year.
“We had a good experience and we wanted that for our kids as well,” Lori says.
Clarence knew his children would get a quality education at the Christian School.
“We like the values at the school, we like the teachers,” he says. “The teachers really care about the kids and have strong ethics. You know the teachers have the same values as you do.”
The school follows the same B.C. government curriculum as public schools with the exception of Bible class and weekly chapel services.
Mitchell says the school is a ministry of the Baptist Church and caters to the Christian community. Students who attend the school must have either a parent or a grandparent who is a Christian.
“Putting Jesus Christ in all aspects of education is the reason why (the school) exists,” Mitchell said. “You have the freedom to talk about the Bible, there’s a Bible class every day, and science courses are taught from a Christian perspective – you can deal with creationism.”
Ken Falk, a Grade 5 teacher at the school, is the longest-serving teacher at the Christian School.
He started teaching at the school in 1985, fresh out of the University of Victoria, and planned to stay a year or two. That was 27 years ago.
“The kids and staff grew on me and it’s just a really fun place to hang out,” Falk said. “The benefits of the atmosphere outweigh the money dangling across the street.
“It’s just a really comfortable place to be, with good people.”
The school raises money for the food bank through its Stuff the Bus challenge; it sponsors a child in Africa; and it hosts a Community Service Day where the students pitch in to clean-up the community. Students have also participated in a mission to Africa and in Esperanza, where they work each year alongside the church ministry to provide the homeless on the west coast of Vancouver Island with stable housing and emergency shelters.
Students in the past have also volunteered their time at a soup kitchen in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
To mark the Christian School’s 30th anniversary, the school has two events planned, which will also go towards raising money to pay off the school’s new bus.
On Sat., May 19 there is an open house at the school from 1-4 p.m. with activities, outdoor games, entertainment, and a walk down memory lane.
Then on Sunday, the Baptish Church is having a fellowship potluck lunch from 12-2:30 p.m. on the Christian School field.
Later that same day, the school is hosting a special reunion dinner from 6:30-9 p.m. There is a meet and greet beforehand from 5-6:30 p.m. Tickets are available for the dinner at the Christian School office.