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'This Is a God Place': Why I Send My Kids to Christian School

'This Is a God Place': Why I Send My Kids to Christian School

Mustard Seed School teaches my children—and many others—that they are loved.

Ms. Baker passed me the bag with the wet shirt at school pick-up. My shirt-sucking 6-year-old ran to me with a big smile and latched onto my leg. Since my husband lost his job last summer, our house had become all hills and valleys—mostly valleys. It was starting to show in the kids.

At our kindergarten parent-teacher conference, Ms. Baker told us what we could not see for ourselves: Joshua had been exhibiting some anxiety. "He is fine with the academics. Our goal for Joshua right now is for him to learn that he is loved. We want him to trust that we have a plan for him each moment of school, even if he doesn't know the plan. If sucking on his shirt helps him right now, we'll change his shirt when it gets too wet." Joshua doesn't know that his teacher has a deep impact on the person he will become, that her care for him matters in his academic work. He feels safe. And he doesn't know that in Jersey City, the quality of the education he receives is a privilege denied to the majority of children.

I did not set out to put Joshua and his brother, Isaiah, in an independent Christian school. I value public education and as a Christian, I want my family to be the presence of Christ in our neighborhood. School is a natural place to do that. But while the national conversation flounders around test scores, public school choice, bullying, leaving children behind and who is to blame, Joshua and Isaiah need an education. My husband and I chose Mustard Seed School in Hoboken, New Jersey, because the school lives out the gospel dynamic of putting the "last first" and "caring for the least" among us. Some 50 percent of students receive need-based financial aid. And students are not handpicked to be the highest performers. The school intentionally seeks to mirror the diversity of the kingdom of God in all its beauty and messiness.

And it can be messy. This week is my week to provide "community snack" for the kindergarten. Through eating a common snack with the guidance of teachers, Joshua learns to serve his classmates, take only what he needs from the bowl, ask for what he needs, and think about the needs of others. I am learning to let go of control of snack for the sake of community. On one end of the spectrum is the parent who wants to serve only organic food. On another end of the spectrum is the parent who provides their week of community snack from stretching food stamps. Over the years, the parent community has wrestled a lot over the simple act of eating from the common bowl. It is important work. Lessons learned at the snack table apply to life in the classroom. Kindergarten snack is part of a well-planned, school-wide social curriculum that teaches serving one another, enacting reconciliation, and forgiveness.

Students learn in different ways and have different strengths and weaknesses. Nowhere is this more obvious than in a school environment where there is socioeconomic diversity. (Think of the student who has been to every Mommy and Me class learning beside a student who has never been inside a library or who has rarely been read to.) Mustard Seed School uses daily experiences in the arts to address different abilities and ways of learning. For example, Isaiah is a high-flying reader, but he struggles to share his voice with his class. He and his classmates go to the Shared Space every day, where they use artistic media and project work to deepen and express their learning. In drama, Isaiah has to use his voice. He can lean on the strength of his friend who is a great storyteller but a struggling reader.

At bedtime last night, I asked Joshua and Isaiah what I should tell you about school. Their answer surprised me. They both said, "It is a God place." It's true. But more than the lovely, daily worship, faith is lived out in the classroom. And you don't have to be a Christian to attend the school. In fact, many families are not.

As for me, I love commencement. Each student is recognized for a character quality that he brings to the class. Before the end of the night, I am surrounded by "math lover," "musician," "truth-teller," "diligent," "researcher"—a host of children who are affirmed for who they are as they pursue academic excellence.

My husband has found a job. Joshua no longer comes home with a wet shirt. When we applied to Mustard Seed, I never expected that, for a time, the school would be the source of stability for our family. And I am grateful that our experience is not exclusive to those who can afford it, but available to many children in our community who cannot.

Abigail Liu is a part-time communications coordinator for Mustard Seed School and a full-time mother and wife.

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Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

Nate Clarke

April 11, 2012  7:53am

At This Is Our City we appreciate and encourage civil debate. We know that the question of where you send your children to school is heated. Institutional biases are important to discuss and investigate whether we talking about public or private schools. As this discussion progresses we value the personal experience and stories of individuals but let's make sure not to paint with too broad strokes.


April 11, 2012  7:51am

And to Karen specifically: You can help your children have less of a "hard time with God and Christians" if they hear consistently from you that these people were the worst kind of example of what Christians are meant to be - not the norm - and if you expose them to a church and/or other believers who truly and faithfully live out the Word. Sadly, the damage done by poor examples of any group - and especially Christians - is painful and unfortunate; I pray you will be able yourself to forgive enough to help them overcome that damage.


April 11, 2012  7:36am

I am saddened to hear the comments of those who have faced mistreatment and discrimination at the hands of some supposed "Christian" schools. However, as a person who has been involved in ministry for more than 30 years, in several geographic areas and in connection with many Christian schools, I feel the need to point out that I have NEVER encountered a similar experience to those recounted here. Granted, students with physical challenges are frequently underserved by these schools; but this is often the result of their inability to meet governmentally imposed requirements on facilities, staffing, etc. for institutions which serve those populations. The discrimination and abuse described by Karen and TSJ are unacceptable in any school environment. But to be accurate, those children were not hurt by "Christian School" as an entity, but by a particular school or schools. It is unfair to dismiss all Christian-based education on the basis of one - or even a few - seriously flawed examples


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