The year of 2016–2017 was a year like no other at Holland Christian Schools. It was full of events, programs, new initiatives, and a site visit for accreditation; but despite all those happenings, in many people’s minds 2016–2017 will be forever marked as a year of pain and loss. As a school community, we were forced to rely on each other and on the Lord for strength in ways that we had never experienced, and we shed plenty of tears along the way. However, I’m confident that years down the road we will look back and realize that the bonds forged during our trials have shaped a unique and deeper community for us.
In June of 2016, I was on a summer trip to Israel with other Holland Christian faculty, staff, and administrators when we received word that one of our high school students had been lost in Lake Michigan. His body was ultimately found a few days later. On the morning of September 26, I was sitting in my office when a local police officer came in to tell me that one of our high school teachers had been in a serious car accident and might not survive. He died the following day. On March 18, one of our 4th grade students passed away after battling a rare brain tumor for over a year. On April 27, one of our 7th grade students passed away the day after being diagnosed with a form of leukemia that usually affects the elderly. Then over Memorial Day weekend, our high school technology specialist died at home during a father-son weekend with his five-year-old boy. Finally, on June 20, a 6th grade student passed away after sudden bleeding in the brain began a week earlier.
Four student deaths and two staff deaths.
In one school year.
Loss, grief, and pain of this magnitude are almost unfathomable, and they touched all segments of our school community: elementary, middle school, and high school. Our collective suffering brought out our best and our worst, but we learned a lot about each other along the way that helped us come together as a body and that may be helpful to you as well.
Keep the routine, but adjust the expectations. This became a mantra for our high school faculty, staff, and students during the fall weeks following the loss of their beloved friend and colleague. It was tempting to call off school while we grieved, but we received great advice to the contrary. Continuing with our school schedule provided comfort to both teachers and students in the rhythm of the day, but we allowed ourselves the flexibility of special assemblies, counselors on hand, and colleagues at the ready to step in for anyone who needed a break. Keeping the body together amidst the sadness even allowed students to lift their teachers up in ways that required an authentic, adult, relevant embodiment of their faith. A common reflection on the week noted that while there may not have been as much normal class work accomplished, there was a whole lot of Christian education going on.
This is an abridged version of this article. To read more, subscribe to Christian Educators Journal.