By Alexander Germanis
While reflecting on our academic days, it is not uncommon to find ourselves musing over what subjects we studied, what lessons we learned that we still put into use today and, of course, which teacher taught us the most.
That last part can often be a complicated question to answer. Not only is one answer not always sufficient, the answer is not always any individual person or even a person at all.
High School Counselor Rachel Downing reveals that at Peoria Christian School there will always be a multi-faceted answer to the question of who or what is the greatest teacher.
From its humble beginnings in the 1950s, Peoria Christian School (PCS) grew throughout the decades to become the all-encompassing home for academics that it is today. With a current student body exceeding 600, PCS teaches children from preschool through high school.
Fully accredited and recognized by the Association of Christian Schools and the Illinois State Board of Education, PCS not only sends on 95 percent of its graduates to higher learning institutions such as “West Point, Embry Riddle, Purdue, and the University of Michigan, just to name a few,” Rachel says, but that’s just a portion of how PCS proves to be a force for educational excellence in Central Illinois.
With one of the highest ACT scores in the area, PCS has also been named a Blue Ribbon School twice. In addition, PCS participates in IHSA and IESA sports and provides numerous advanced placement and honors courses.
Through it all, however, Rachel points out, “We unapologetically teach a Biblical worldview through the gift of academics. Many think that if a school is religious or Christian, the academics will be subpar — that you can’t have both. That is simply not true at PCS.”
“Our students work hard and pursue excellence in academics,” she continues. “But scripture touches every aspect of our school — not just Bible class or chapel — but in math and history and sports teams and drama. Simply put, we are doing everything for one purpose: for the glory of God.”
A well-rounded approach
While it could be argued a school’s goal is to educate a person to become a productive member of society, there is so much more to that than the words imply. In order to be truly “productive,” it has been proven one must be more than just a cog in a machine. At PCS, developing a well-rounded, healthy student is the key to preparing that student for their future.
“A healthy student is motivated, self-directed and willing to take responsibility,” Rachel describes. “Too often, a student’s default answer (to any question) can be, ‘I don’t know,’ but a healthy student knows to dig deeper and find the answer for themselves, instead of relying on others to feed them the information.”
Self-reliance does not mean a stubborn insistence on doing everything on one’s own. The ability to ask for help, Rachel says, is a critical skill — one not only adolescents but also many adults lack.
To have a well-rounded student, naturally, requires a well-rounded approach to education. That includes letting a student know it’s okay to ask why. “We strive to have students dig deeper, do the research and come to their own conclusion,” Rachel explains. “We encourage dialogue too. If someone disagrees or wonders why something is the way it is, let’s talk about it! We don’t waiver on teaching scriptural truths, but we also encourage students to voice their opinions and to talk about the tough issues.”
Of course, a well-rounded student needs time to be a kid. Most adults will attest to needing time in the day to decompress. Children are no different. While the stresses they encounter may be different from those many adults experience, they are stresses nonetheless. “Giving students time to process, relax and determine how they want to utilize their time can be an important tool in preparing students for life beyond high school,” Rachel points out.
“Academics are only one part of life,” she adds. “They are important but are not the end-all-be-all.”
Stress of the modern world
It has been argued that stress and pressure can be positive things. After all, carbon cannot become a diamond without tremendous pressure. While this may be true, it is also true that pressure applied in just the wrong way can split that diamond into multiple pieces.
The PCS faculty understands the pressures bearing down on their students are myriad and come from an array of sources not experienced by older generations. “Social media and the Internet age play such a huge factor in growing up today,” Rachel cites as examples. “Social media has an impact on a student’s developing sense of identity. Students are constantly bombarded with images and messages about identity that are unrealistic and superficial. If someone is trying to live up to what they see online, they will constantly be trying for something that is out of reach. It is only through Christ that we can find our true identity and have peace with who He created us to be.”
Indeed, realizing Christ for the great teacher He was and is has certainly been a way to find that peace and guidance. “Do not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2), has become a student-favorite scripture at PCS and stands as a banner for them during their more troubled moments.
The teachings of Christ and the instructions from the faculty at PCS notwithstanding, Rachel believes student development neither begins nor ends within the walls of a school.
“Communities, schools and families are so important to the development of a student. If one of those links is broken, the student struggles and the other pieces have to take on additional roles,” she says. “This is just one reason we advocate for families to be involved in churches. Not just attend, but to be involved.”
Involvement extends to every aspect of a student’s life, not just in the school or at church but in the community. A vitally important aspect of their overall growth comes from learning to give back. So important is this, each high school student at PCS is required to complete a certain number of volunteer hours every year.
Rachel elaborates: “In today’s society it can be so easy to get caught up in my needs, my wants, my expectations. But it is not ‘all about me.’ Christ modeled servanthood in His ministry on earth and teaching students to be involved and give back to their community can help give them a sense of the needs around them and what they can do to help.”
Losing oneself in service is, after all, the best way to truly discover oneself. As Christ taught: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25)
A priceless teacher
Even with the teachings of Christ, the experiences garnered through service and the lessons learned from experienced educators at school, Rachel says there is still another teacher worthy of joining the ranks of the great: failure.
“In failure a student can find success and learn to grow. It is okay to be wrong,” she states matter-of-factly. “That is often times how we find the right answers or learn the correct formula. It is easy to take short cuts to get to a right answer, but learning the skills and reasoning behind an answer is more important and will take you farther than the answer itself. A healthy student does not necessarily mean a straight-A student. A healthy student tries his best, and at the end of the day can say that he did his best.”
The one who grows the most is not the one who fails the least, but the one who is willing to pick oneself up after failing and learn from it.
“And most importantly,” she adds, “to seek God first in everything they do — both when times are good and when they are faced with the hardest trials they have ever known.
Partners in education
In the end, the educators at Peoria Christian School are not in the business of replacing or eliminating the other great teachers their students have. In fact, they encourage a growing partnership with those great teachers — family, church, community, or even failure.
“At PCS we do our best to partner with families to help their students be the most successful student possible. Sometimes that means tough love or letting a student fail at something to learn how to deal with the consequences,” Rachel says.
“But it is truly a team effort and not just school-to-family, but family-to-family, and church-to-family effort,” she adds. “Above all, we pray for our families. We know that we have so many praying for us as a school and we spend intentional time praying for our students and their families. All of this is possible through Christ and we want to make sure that is the first place we go.”
Peoria Christian School is a premier Christian school serving area families with students in grades Pre-K through 12th grade for over 65 years. Peoria Christian School is accredited by the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), AdvancED North Central,
and fully recognized by the State of Illinois. Peoria Christian School is offering enrollment incentives;visit www.peoriachristian.org or call 309-686-4500 for more information.