Notes on the Grace-Filled School Community

Covenant Christian School’s mission is “Educating the whole child to the glory of God in a grace-filled environment.”  From its beginning, Covenant has sought to be a community not only characterized by grace, but clearly filled with grace.

At our school’s first open house in January 2003, it was declared that:

We want every teacher, every administrator, every helper, and every board member to be in love with Jesus Christ to the point… that everyone who walks our halls will know this is a different place. We will not be characterized by rules, or strictness, or rigidity. We will be characterized by the grace of God realized through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which is compassionate toward those who are but dust.

These notes are meant to help define what attributes are found in a grace-filled school and how we, as a community, can apply these qualities in our school.  I have learned over the years that the application of grace is challenging. Thoughtfully applying grace in the context of relationship takes prayerful, caring effort.

Bryan Chapell, in his book, “Holiness by Grace,” defined grace as

…an unconditional release from the judgment we deserve, and accompanying undeserved blessing based on God’s mercy alone.

We apply this understanding of grace in the school through an atmosphere of patience, humility, forgiveness and Christ-like love.  This arises from Ephesians 4:1-3, where we read:

I therefore… urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

An atmosphere characterized by patience, humility, forgiveness and Christ-like love is at the core of our understanding and application of grace.

Importantly, this understanding of grace does not imply…

“…the absence of behavioral expectations. On the contrary, in response to God’s grace we ought to strive for obedience and holiness. Our goal in nurturing children is obedience motivated by a heart captured by grace, not the application of a strict set of rules.” (Covenant’s Vision for Education, 2006)

At Covenant, grace-filled discipline begins with relationship and the application of grace; as we seek “obedience motivated by a heart captured by grace,” we must demonstrate patience, humility, forgiveness and Christ-like love.  In doing so, we treat children as whole persons, created in the image of God and worthy of inherent dignity.

Modeling grace is critical to developing a grace-filled atmosphere in the school.  This is the responsibility of the entire school community.  As recipients of grace we must acknowledge the grace that God has demonstrated in our lives and also be generous dispensers of grace.

John Roberts, Head of School

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The Power of Experience

Earlier this school year, Covenant’s third grade students, under the leadership of their teacher, Anne Woodard, experienced the world of the hunter/gatherer.  Through this experience, students came to a deeper understanding of what life was like for humans who hunted and foraged to sustain themselves.

Their hunter/gatherer experience arose out of the third grade history curriculum and began in the school’s prairie.  In the school’s tallgrass prairie, Mrs. Woodard and Katie Mohler, Covenant’s Outdoor Classroom Director, helped students to connect to the hunter/gatherer by teaching them how hunter/gathers navigated by the sun and the stars.  Students were fascinated to not only learn about navigation, but they also learned that when there was no wood for a fire, hunter/gatherers would collect dried animal dung and burn it.  Their experience continued in the school’s woodlands, where students took found materials (stuff just laying around) and worked collaboratively to build shelters.

At Covenant, students go beyond simply reading their textbooks and taking a test.  Instead, they are provided with carefully chosen and integrally designed opportunities that bring a depth and richness to student learning.

This depth and richness comes through experiences that demonstrate the connected nature of God’s creation and allow students to confidently explore their gifts and all of God’s creation in meaningful and creative ways.

In this case, students took this experiential opportunity in directions that the teacher did not anticipate, moving themselves from hunter/gatherers to barterers to developing businesses to support the village they were creating in the woodlands.

Well-designed experiences reflect the interests of the students, allow them to learn to work collaboratively and let them take the lesson to the depth that they desire.

Back in the classroom, students had the opportunity to share about their learning.  In doing so, the children were asking questions of one another and thinking reflectively and critically about what they had accomplished.  While they shared, students continued to make connections.  For example, they speculated as to why people in ancient times might barter for goods rather than have a monetary system.

“So much learning,” third grader Isabella said, “We learned all this about history and we didn’t even open our textbook yet!”

Continuing their work, students drew maps of the village they had created in the woodlands and produced drawings of their group’s shelter.  After sharing everything they had learned, the children then wrote about their experience, in letter format, as a means of communicating what they had learned with their parents.

This post provides just one example of experiential learning, but experiential learning grounded in an integral curriculum is found throughout the school.  This one experiential opportunity connected to the third grade history, science, math, writing and drawing curriculums, while also engaging the whole child spiritually, intellectually, socially, artistically, emotionally and physically.

John Roberts, Head of School

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Educating the Whole Child

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Since its founding in 2003, Covenant Christian School has sought to educate the whole child.  Our call to educate the whole child arises from an understanding that each child is created in the image of God and is multi-faceted and worthy of inherent dignity.  Our teachers work exceptionally hard to plan lessons that engage the whole child as an image bearer of God.  This understanding is deeply rooted in our school and reflected in everything we do.

Covenant School educates the whole child by coming alongside each learner to help them grow spiritually, intellectually, artistically, socially, emotionally and physically.  Educating the whole child, recognizing their inherent dignity, naturally enables us to provide a richness and depth to student learning.

  • We think of children, first and foremost, as spiritual beings.  When they finish their time at Covenant, we want them to love the Lord and their neighbor, have a foundational understanding of Scripture, know the gospel and to be able to defend their faith.
  • Intellectually, we seek to have our students ready to find academic success wherever God calls them after they finish their time at Covenant.  We help our students to be self-motivated learners, and purposeful, creative, and innovative thinkers.
  • Each student’s artistic gifts are developed through the fine and performing arts.  For example, students take art class, but to further hone their skills they also take a separate drawing class.  In addition, our students have multiple opportunities to perform on stage in a variety of settings.
  • We carefully nurture our students socially and emotionally, helping them to apply biblical principles to relationships.  We help them identify and use their personal strengths, take responsibility for themselves, demonstrate respect for peers and those in authority and work effectively both individually and in group settings.
  • Carefully chosen experiences that blur the lines between the traditional classroom and the learning environment provide deeper understanding, while enriching the learning experience and demonstrating the connected nature of God’s creation.  These experiences allow students to confidently explore their gifts, and all of God’s creation in meaningful and creative ways.
  • Covenant intentionally allows for children to be active.  Recess is an opportunity for our students to play more traditional games, but also a time for fort building, tree climbing and engaging creatively with the school’s extensive and varied outdoor space.  At the same time, Covenant students, through the Physical Education program, develop new skills as they learn to participate with Christ-like character.

Thinking of children as whole persons is at the core of our school.  It is reflected in everything we do: from our biblical worldview, to our integral curriculum, to purposeful relationships, and the experiences provided for our students.

John Roberts, Head of School


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