The mission of San Jose Christian School is to advance the kingdom of God through exceptional teaching and curriculum fully integrated with a Biblical perspective. Within our Christian community, we seek to engage and transform culture for Jesus Christ.
Ask elementary students about a favorite part of school and you will likely hear, “RECESS!” Mister Rogers himself would agree that recess is an important and necessary “classroom” as he noted, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” The well-known poem "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" confirms this viewpoint with its opening lines, “All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in Kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile…”
At San Jose Christian our Reformed perspective starts at creation with the truth that the whole world belongs to God for God’s kingdom purposes. Eden was paradise where people were created for flourishing. This is why we teach the whole child at SJCS and why all aspects of our time at school–classes, collaborative work, spiritual practices, relationship-building, recess and playground time–are valuable and critical parts of the school day. Seriously!
Part of my job description as Teaching Principal is to “foster sound relationships among students, parents, staff, and Board; oversee student discipline and advancement of citizenship and spiritual/emotional/academic growth; and mentor and counsel students as needed through transitions or growth.” This is no small task, and, by its very nature, will not be complete until Jesus comes again. Given the challenge and scope, I see student support as one of the most difficult yet kingdom-oriented parts of my job at SJCS. I have opportunities every day to see God at work and join Him in that good work, work which can bring the kingdom of God here on earth and give glimpses of the paradise for which we were created.
The playground is full of opportunities for us to transform culture for Jesus Christ.
What might paradise, the flourishing for which we were intended, look like at SJCS? Imagine a playground where differences in students are celebrated and enjoyed. Imagine a recess game where each student joyfully and purposefully contributes. Imagine a conversation between principal and parent where grace and truth coexist. Imagine two students practicing conflict resolution tools which lead to forgiveness and healing in the relationship. Friends—these are all marks of God’s kingdom here on earth! The playground is full of opportunities for us to transform culture for Jesus Christ.
We were created for paradise! We see this paradise in part whenever God’s will is done or His power is shown. But it is an already-not yet kingdom until Jesus comes again. Until that day, we have good work to do in moving toward the flourishing for which we were created. Here are some of the intentional ways we are living out God’s kingdom at SJCS.
August | Grades 1-5 students gathered in the auditorium for a Playground Presentation to establish procedures and expectations in a community setting. Teachers joined the fun by role-playing for students what good choices can look like on the playground.
September | Our first Grade 5 Recess Pieces students started their leadership role. Each one completed an application which included self-reflection on servant leadership. Six students applied for the position and were chosen to serve this year. The Recess Pieces support the recess monitors with playground equipment pickup and advise the Teaching Principal in understanding concerns of our playground culture.
October, January, March, May | Four times throughout the school year I go into elementary classrooms to lead a Principal Connect session on an area of social-emotional well-being. In October we explored self-awareness, the ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values. We recognized the range of emotions God created in us as a stepping stone to understanding self and promoting communication about our emotions with the important people in our lives. (If you are an SCJS parent you can read about this Principal Connect in your student’s Faith Journey postings.) Upcoming Principal Connect sessions will focus on self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
Year-round | I have the heavy and holy responsibility to walk students through conflict resolution and choice-making. If students come to my office after a conflict, we take time to practice active listening. During this time of gathering information, each of us listens fully to the other without interrupting. In a culture where assumptions and interruptions are the norm, we want to listen well to one another to hear the heart and seek healing and restoration in relationship to God, self, and others.Through object lessons such as a quarter in my hand, a string held by two people, two concentric circles, or an apple placed among a group, I help students consider what a step forward might look like.
Imagining paradise in our daily lives sharpens our purpose and moves us forward in kingdom-minded ways. God made a beautiful, whole, fully-alive creation meant for flourishing and His glory. While we are reminded daily of the sin within ourselves and others, as Christians we have hope based on the truth of the resurrection. We can love those who hurt us because God loved us first while we were still in sin. We can seek healing and restoration because the Holy Spirit bears fruit in us of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. While this “work” is not always easy, it is good. It is God’s work in and through us that brings God glory.
Father, we praise you as our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, and Provider. You are holy, God! We confess our sin to you today—sins of pride, gossip, grudge, or hate. While we are still far off, you look for us as a Loving Father, and run toward us, welcoming us into your arms with feasting and joy. In this day, whether on the playground, in the classroom, at the office, or at home, may we see where you are at work and humble ourselves to live in ways that bring your kingdom here on earth. Amen.
This blog is part of a new series for the 2022-23 school year to ILLUMINATE how God is at work at San Jose Christian School. Each post will Spotlight a specific grade level and/or program. This second post in the series is a spotlight on the Junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten classes and features interviews from: Mrs. Mariza Campista (Junior Kindergarten / Kindergarten Combo Teacher) and Mrs. Suzie Van Ewyk (Kindergarten Teacher).
“You kind of have to be codependent.” Mrs. Suzie Van Ewyk said about teaching Kindergarten. “Not in a negative way, but you love being with [the students] and, you know, they love being with you.”
Mrs. Van Ewyk has been on staff at San Jose Christian since 2013 and has worked in many of our Early Childhood programs. At San Jose Christian, she has taught Junior Kindergarten (JK) and Second Grade in addition to being the Preschool Director to open the Infant Care Center. For the past three years, Mrs. Van Ewyk has been the Kindergarten Teacher.
“We love our job,” added JK / Kindergarten Combo Teacher Mrs. Campista. “We’re here because we like to see the kids.” This is Mrs. Campista’s first year teaching Kindergarten, having previously taught Junior Kindergarten and Preschool. She continues to teach Preschool at San Jose Christian in the summer.
Both Mrs. Campista and Mrs. Van Ewyk have a Montessori teaching background and have worked closely together at San Jose Christian for the past seven years. These two teachers are beloved by our community and show us everyday how much they love their vocation and this school. “Yes, we have to have a paycheck, but I would still do this until I’m cold in the grave,” Mrs. Van Ewyk said, laughing. She added that she could not imagine doing anything else or even retiring: “They would have to kick us out.”
Seeing students grow into themselves and grow in their faith is what gives these teachers the deep passion they have for teaching in JK and Kindergarten. “It’s the light bulb at the end of the year,” Mrs. Suzie Van Ewyk reflected. “They become independent and they become their own person, autonomous from their parents, which is very fascinating to see.”
“It’s the light bulb at the end of the year. They become independent and they become their own person.”
Mrs. Campista added that she loves the spontaneity and the honesty of her students. Mrs. Van Ewyk agreed, noting: “You see the best in humanity and the worst in humanity with Kinder. They do not hold back.” Both teachers value this genuineness because they recognize that it comes from students feeling secure in who they are as they are developing their own, unique personalities.
Both teachers described teaching JK and Kindergarten as an important opportunity to develop students’ confidence, responsibility, and awareness of those around them. Mrs. Van Ewyk pointed out, “Developmentally, they're just coming out of that egocentrism, and we're kind of helping guide them through that transition time.” She went on to explain that the way they do this is by setting up the class with several opportunities to share and to listen, to accept guiding feedback and to teach one another.
Sharing is one class activity where this is exemplified. At the end of a day, students will individually stand at the front of the class and talk about an object they brought from home. They are free to share what they want about the object, and then they answer questions from their peers about it. In this activity, students must be aware of their audience by practicing appropriate volume and engaging their listeners. Students who are not sharing get to practice taking turns, purposefully listening, asking questions, and showing interest in those around them.
Another JK and Kindergarten class activity students engage in is Jobs. For every skill taught in the curriculum, Mrs. Campista and Mrs. Van Ewyk provide students with a manipulative task to practice that skill. These manipulative tasks are placed on the shelves in the JK / Kindergarten classrooms to be practiced each day during the unit. Jobs are self-guided and help students grow as autonomous learners. Mrs. Campista explained: “They're responsible to go get their rug, they're responsible to go get their job, they're responsible to put it away after they're done, they have to check with the teacher to go check their job, and they have to put it away.”
In addition to teaching responsibility, this active learning process helps students be self-directed learners and critical thinkers. They are able to explore a variety of learning styles, and teachers and students alike can see which learning style works best for them. As a result of this process, Mrs. Van Ewyk explains that students realize at the end of the year: “I'm capable of doing much more than I did before.”
“When a student is able to be honest and feel safe in that honesty and know that they're going to be valued… that’s God’s light in them.”
Mrs. Campista described how she incorporates activities for a variety of learning styles in her classes with Bible stories. “We do one Bible story for the whole week and we do it in different ways, not just reading it.” She explained that she starts by reading the Bible story to them and then provides opportunities for students to retell, represent, and recreate the story with a variety of activities such as a hands-on art project or a song. In this way, value is placed on student response, which not only helps them develop academically, but also develop in their faith.
Whether they are aware of it at this time or not, these JK and Kindergarten students are taught that their response matters, which prepares them to be active in their personal faith and in their faith community. When learning happens in an active process that requires active participation, Mrs. Campista and Mrs. Van Ewyk are preparing students to engage and transform culture for Jesus Christ.
Later this month, Mrs. Van Ewyk’s Kindergarten class will be going on a field trip to Bernal Ranch to connect their class topic of “Gathering In” during the Fall season to the real world. “So we're talking about earth, we're talking about: ‘This is our planet. How do we care for our planet? What does it look like, you know, to be good stewards?’” The field trip will give students a real-world example of how people harvested in the past and what we do now. She wants them to make the correlation that caring for the earth is “why we are here, and it is what God wants us to do.”
“We’re just planting the seeds, right?” Mrs. Campista remarked. “We're planting the seeds for the future” At their young age, the most important thing these JK and Kindergarten students can learn is that they are loved and that they are a child of God. Both teachers pointed out that Kindergarten is a time when children start to discover who they are as individuals, making it a special opportunity to teach these students who they are in Christ and to prepare them for the role they have to play in the larger community of believers.
“That’s what we’re here to do,” Mrs. Campista concluded, “to open their vision.”
Rae Sterk is the Director of Community Development at San Jose Christian.
Mariza Campista is the Junior Kindergarten & Kindergarten Combo Teacher at San Jose Christian.
Suzie Van Ewyk is the Kindergarten Teacher at San Jose Christian.
This blog is part of a new series for the 2022-23 school year to ILLUMINATE how God is at work at San Jose Christian School. Each post will spotlight a specific grade level and/or program. The first post in this series is a spotlight on the Preschool Music & Worship program, and features interviews from: Ms. Monique Nicoleau (Preschool Director), Ms. Cat Miller (Worship and Performing Arts Teacher), and Mrs. Cat Vo (Preschool Lead Teacher, Dragonflies).
Monique Nicoleau came to San Jose Christian as a Preschool Teacher in 2016 and became the Preschool Director two years later. She said one thing that she enjoys about her current role is being able to advocate for the teachers, since she understands what it is like to be one. One of her goals as the Director is to align the Preschool with JK-8 in order to create greater unity across the campus.
In addition to unity, Ms. Nicoleau has also contributed to an evolution in what music and worship looks like in the Preschool. Since its opening in 2009, the Preschool has always had chapel and music. But the program developed significantly with the influence of Ms. Cat Miller.
Since her arrival in 2019, Ms. Miller has added new student opportunities such as Tigers Got Talent, grade-level-specific musicals, and daily Preschool Music that connects to and enhances the preschool curriculum. Ms. Nicoleau said, “We were so happy to onboard Cat because it took the weight off of other teachers trying to have to do [music]... And now having music incorporated into the weekly curriculum is even better.”
“I think music is just another language that God has given us, and it’s universal.”
“I believe it begins their day centered,” Ms. Nicoleau responded, explaining the benefits of teaching music and worship at a young age. She added that the program also enhances student listening skills, coordination, and self-expression. Moreover, teaching music gives students the vocabulary and the language to worship God in a way that is both universal and already intrinsic to us as humans. Ms. Miller put it this way: “I think music is just another language that God has given us, and it’s universal.”
In fact, everything anyone needs to worship is intrinsic; when students sing and dance during Preschool Music and Chapel, they come before God with their whole heart, mind, and body. Ms. Miller observes that, at this young age, students are not self-monitoring, but instead she sees, “so much exuberance in [their] worship. They’re just free to worship and they use their whole bodies and give all their hearts.”
Watching these children sing and dance is just fun. And while it is adorable to see, Ms. Miller reminds us that, “There’s no mini Holy Spirit.” Preschool students are not accessing only part of the Spirit because of their age or their size. Their worship is big, and it is pleasing to God. It is a reminder why Jesus taught us to come before God just like these children (Matthew 18:4).
Both Ms. Nicoleau and Mrs. Cat also reported seeing the Holy Spirit at work in their preschoolers when students offer prayer requests and praises. In this part of the daily routine, they expressed that students are “excited to pray,” and students and teachers alike use this time to focus their day. Incorporating prayer into the day also creates a community that relies on and trusts God. Mrs. Cat told how, throughout the day, if she, or a student, feels something tugging on their heart, they will stop and pray, often interceding on someone else’s behalf.
These opportunities teach young students that they are the ones in relationship with God. In these moments, preschoolers see that there is no one right way to worship. They can clap, jump, or stand still; they can pray for what’s on their heart aloud or silently. But in all these moments, they are growing in their faith and strengthening a foundation that can never be taken away.
“There’s no mini Holy Spirit… Everyone can use their gifts.”
Like every program at San Jose Christian, our Preschool develops the Whole Child. This means that teachers and staff not only teach students academically, but also socially, emotionally, and spiritually. Mrs. Cat stated how she treats music the same as any other subject such as math or Spanish. She uses songs to teach other subjects and has a center with musical instruments that students can use during Center Time. Putting it succinctly, Mrs. Cat added: “Everything ties in together. We're here to learn, we're here to teach, we're here to grow, we're here to engage in all these things.”
This approach to education at San Jose Christian School is the core of our mission. Describing the best part of working at the school, everyone pointed to the joy at seeing student growth over the year, or years. Referencing Proverbs 22:6, Ms. Nicoleau said we: “‘Raise up a child in the direction they will go.’ If we teach worship at a young age, I feel they will carry it as they get older.”
Part of teaching several different grade levels at once, is understanding each developmental stage and being able to create a program that builds as students move through it. In Preschool, Ms. Miller noted that this looks like both balancing movement and imagination and giving students plenty of opportunities for wonder. For example, when they experience a new instrument, it’s a hands-on experience where students hold and manipulate the new object to try it in several different ways. She said, “I love being in with kids as they're just discovering the world and it's kind of like I get to discover it with them.”
The consistency of Ms. Miller’s curriculum throughout the grade levels means students are more prepared for band and choir and have more confidence in performances and musicals. At San Jose Christian, there is an opportunity to perform and sing at every level, from Preschool to 8th Grade. “It just builds… It becomes familiar,” Ms. Miller said. Without consistency, students may not think they can sing or perform on stage. That is why Ms. Miller does put them on the stage and give them a microphone, even when they’re three. “I give them a chance to develop these skills, and their talents that God already put in them, and it gives them the confidence to use [a performance] to declare His name.”
“It honestly does not feel like work at all… It feels like you're going to where God is sending you today.”
Ultimately, we know, and proclaim, that it is God doing the work. Describing her favorite part of teaching Preschool, Mrs. Cat responded that she really loved reading and teaching Bible stories in her class. She said, “I take it very seriously, where it's like: ‘Wow, God’s using me to minister to them’… At first, I couldn't wrap my head around it.” Feeling God’s presence and the Holy Spirit working through her was a reminder that she isn’t just reading a Bible story; rather, she is “speaking the message that God put in me for that day.”
This is also how Mrs. Cat sees God’s Light at San Jose Christian. Speaking with true amazement, she expressed the feeling she gets when student growth and understanding is evident in the Preschool classroom. “When they speak up and they are retelling what we've learned throughout the day, or like their feedback, even… that's where it makes me feel good.” She also related how parents have observed this Light in their children as well. Parents tell her that their kids are going home singing, worshiping, and telling them everything they learned that day.
“I also see it in the teachers,” Ms. Miller replied, describing where she sees the Light. She said Chapel is one of the few places everyone is together, participating in the same event. Usually, teachers have prep time when Ms. Miller comes to their rooms for music class; but in Chapel, everyone is together, as one body. “The teachers are worshiping with the kids during Chapel, and we're like a family worshiping together. It's like all of us together, worshiping God. And that is – that is everything.”
“It honestly does not feel like work at all,” Mrs. Cat affirmed. “It's just like going to church every single day except you're at work, and that's the best part of it… It feels like you're going to where God is sending you today.”
San Jose Christian School will present The Preschool Mini Musical on April 21, 2023 at 9:30AM.
Rae Sterk is the Director of Community Development at San Jose Christian.
Monique Nicoleau is the Preschool Director at San Jose Christian School.
Cat Miller is the Music and Worship Teacher at San Jose Christian School.
Catherine Vo (Mrs. Cat) is the Lead Teacher in the Dragonflies classroom at San Jose Christian.