By Judy Vos
Teacher/Administrator from 1982-2008
Several years of visioning a Christian school in Pella in the early 1900s led to the reality of opening PCGS on Jan. 6, 1913. The events leading to that exciting day and the century following will be celebrated this summer from July 6 to 8. The theme, “Founded on faith, growing by grace,” describes aptly the faithful efforts of those who have shaped the school to become what it is today.
As I neared retirement from Pella Christian Grade School in 2008 and sorted through years of educational collections, I remember advising our new Principal, Mr. David De Jong, of the necessity of organizing archival information for our upcoming 100th anniversary celebration. Soon that conversation led to a board request and my consent to serve as Chair of a History/Archives Committee, and eventually to accept the position of Chair of the One Hundredth Anniversary Steering Committee. It is because of that Co-chair position (now held jointly with Carroll Hoksbergen) that I have been asked to write this informational summary of Pella Christian’s exciting “Vision to Reality” history during the twenty-six years I served Pella Christian.
I began my teaching career at Peoria Christian School, a one year at Dordt College beginner who signed the teaching contract in August. Soon I was in a classroom of thirty-four 1st and 2nd graders. My teaching assignment there continued for 13 years and I would serve in multiple ways from K -2 classroom teaching to 7th and 8th grade creative writing, drama and directing musicals. Those experiences were preparing me for the future. I then became a stay at home Mom.
Talented and Gifted Program
During that time I was pursuing my Master’s degree at Drake University in order to become a certified administrator. My administrative internship was served at Pella Christian Grade School under Mr. Ivan Groothuis, Principal, as my mentor. There were eight broad areas such as Finances, Transportation, Food Service, and Research and Development to be explored. My assignment in Research and Development was to design a study to implement a Talented and Gifted program, the recommendation of a Christian Schools International recent evaluation of the School. Observing and being part of that process helped me to realize the innovative vision of Pella Christian Grade and its firm faith foundations.
Few Christian schools at that time had TAG programs nor had they broached the research. The U.S. Department of Education was issuing definitions of areas of giftedness and monies were flowing to public schools for that purpose. A committee was appointed and we began the research under my direction as an Intern. Christian Schools International stayed very much abreast of our work. The study turned into a new career for me.
At the end of the internship, the School asked if I would stay on as a staff member to continue the development of this program for advanced students. After nine months of looking at our Christian philosophy of what ‘gifted’ means, study of many program designs, interview of all teachers in the school to incorporate staff vision and committee guidance, the TAG program at PCGS was underway in March 1983, holding firm to the school’s mission of helping each child to develop unique talents and gifts. Despite questions and challenges of some concerning ‘giftedness’ and thoughts that these ‘ kids can make it on their own,’ the school continued the program development.
The vision became reality and the 100th anniversary theme, “Founded on faith, growing by grace, ” rang true. Our mission of “providing excellent academic training rooted in God’s infallible Word, challenging students to develop their individual God-given gifts for a life of service in God’s kingdom” was carried out. Pella Christian Grade (through a Vermeer Foundation grant) provided scholarships to attend the University of Northern Colorado for two summers, studying under Dr. George Betts, an expert in gifted education. During the era of the TAG program development, principals Larry Vander Leest and David Lyon served at the school. I completed my Master’s and Specialist degrees at Drake in Curriculum and Instruction with the Macro Design of the Gifted Program as a major graduate project and became a Certified Administrator.
Assisting Other Schools
Other Christian schools became interested and asked for our help. Christian Schools International, the impetus for all of our visions, commissioned me to write a book, “Gifted Children in Christian Schools,” which was placed in all Christian schools in the United States and Canada. That project was completed in 1988. Dan Netz became the principal during that year. Christian Schools International had a consulting program in place for schools to serve other schools, so Pella Christian’s program could be shared readily. The vision to bless and share with other Christian schools became a reality. As a result, Pella Christian developed a program/policy, permitting staff members to assist other schools. During that era I traveled as PCGS’s representative to schools in Iowa, the Chicago area, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New Jersey to assist in gifted programming in Christian schools.
Pella Christian’s consulting policy which released staff members to assist other schools also permitted me to become the Administrator for a sister school, Newton Christian School for a number of years. Sharing the vision of Christian education as I knew it at Pella Christian became a reality and a blessing to this small newer school. Other teachers would also assist and speak at other schools, sharing the realities of many of PCGS visions. I continued to direct and teach TAG classes, experiencing so many talented students, Knowledge Bowl competitions, independent projects, and Geography Bees. A delightful experience was accompanying the first girl ever to win the Iowa State Geography Bee contest, Amy Nugteren, TAG student of Pella Christian Grade, to the national contest in Washington D.C. A vision to participate in local and state competitions became an exciting reality as we participated at a national level.
Administrative tasks of the school grew. The state of Iowa had new and additional requirements for reporting. It was during the 90-91 school year that the Board decided that the position of Curriculum Director should be initiated, creating an administrative team to cover growing administrative tasks. My administrative qualifications and training in Curriculum Instruction equipped me for the task and Dan Netz and I became the Administrative Team in that year. We shared a vision of making that Team promote excellent Christian education for Christ’s sake. Many of my responsibilities related to State reporting, curriculum issues, and special needs of students.
Heartland AEA provided a Curriculum Network monthly and Pella Christian Grade became an active part of that. Many opportunities arose to fulfill the vision of sharing Christian education in a broader world as excellent for Christ’s sake. We attended Curriculum Network, which included administrators from numerous schools. We shared our innovative language arts program, “Club LA,” at those meetings. Meanwhile, our Principal, Dan Netz, became a leader at the state level at the Iowa Association of Christian Schools. The Curriculum Director position became one that was shared among area Christian schools since many were asking for our help and this would offer them a service they did not have. Our vision for sharing quality Christian education became a reality in very concrete ways.
Part of the Curriculum Director task was assisting to plan summer workshop for teachers. Though this effort had been sponsored for many years by the gracious donations of the Vermeer Foundation, during this era we were able to make connections with Drake University and our AEA and offer classes for our teachers with graduate or renewal credit, a blessing of time and funding for staff. I was able to become an adjunct professor for Drake and am presently completing facilitating my 29th class. The workshops were arranged in such a way to support the curriculum cycle of the area Christian schools.
National Blue Ribbon School
Many innovative educational efforts of a highly qualified staff needed to be shared in some manner. During the ‘93-‘94 school year, the Board gave the go ahead to apply to become a National Blue Ribbon School. Knowing that the application process would be time consuming, tedious, and rigorous, we nonetheless forged ahead.
Mr. Netz took the lead but the Curriculum Director’s desk became a landing spot for many questions regarding the many curricular dimensions of the school. A team of us, including Chuck Muether, junior high Language Arts Teacher, Dan Netz, Principal, and myself spent many hours writing and submitting an accurate rendition of what was happening at our school. A Blue Ribbon Schools representative came to confirm our writings. Imagine our delight when in May of 1994, we learned we had been selected as a Blue Ribbon School. The three of us, and our spouses, traveled to Washington D.C to receive the award. It was a vision come to reality: A humbling but delightful knowledge that the vision of excellent Christian education was again a reality shared in a broader realm.
Preschool needs were being talked about. PCGS began a study of the feasibility of operating a preschool. We researched how we would be certified and decided it would be through the Iowa Department of Education. We decided upon a name: Creation Station. Committee work was extensive and the vision thorough. A subcommittee of us researched possible locations and settled upon the house where we are now located. Creation Station opened in the fall of 1997- another vision became reality! Quality Christian education was now being offered to our 4 and 5 year olds. Efforts were well received by the community and its students. Classes filled up. The One to Grow On program was initiated. Programs are still being run very successfully: another reminder that we are “founded on faith, growing by grace” and another vision became a reality.
Our chief administrator, Dan Netz, felt called to a Christian school in Michigan in 2006. Could a new Administrative Team operate successfully? I was nearing retirement. We had worked together successfully for many years. Was it time for both team members to leave? The PCGS Board asked that I consider remaining to help to mentor a new administrator.
I was grateful to have had the opportunity to work closely with Mr. Bill Finley, Interim Administrator for a year, and felt blessed to assist him to know our school, but in turn learned so much from his years of experience. In many ways he solidified existing visions and brought some incomplete projects to reality. Serving as part of the search team for a new administrator was another task filled with blessings. Learning to know Mr. De Jong as he walked through the interviewing process was interesting. The Search Committee was led to recommend him as the new potential principal: he accepted, and one more year of mentoring/assistance in knowing the ins and outs of the School was added to my contract. That year was a delightful year of hiring a new Curriculum Director to take my place, of seeing the refreshing vision for Christian education caught and continued in new ways, and enjoying working with an Administrator so young and fresh to Christian education who held the same commitment for excellence for Christ’s sake which we had held for so many years!
There were many other initiatives during the quarter of the century that I served Pella Christian Grade School. The desire to better serve students was exhibited in areas such as technology plans and lab ventures, organization of a Student Assistance Team which was for the purpose of giving teachers suggestions of how to assist struggling students to become more successful in school, and enhanced drama and musical productions. The continual desire to better serve our students continues to be exhibited in every classroom and in the broader plans/ventures of the school. How privileged and honored I have been to be a part of all of this, watching the school move into its second century with many exciting initiatives. More visions will become reality because we are “founded on faith and growing by grace!”