Big changes are coming to St. Thomas’s private school scene this fall.

On Friday, Feb. 22, Faith Christian Academy and its partner church Faith St. Thomas (located in the same building at 345 Fairview Ave.) announced that the school would soon be joining St. Thomas Community Christian School as one unified JK–Gr. 12 school. News that Faith Christian Academy’s principal Barry Pearce is stepping down this June accompanied the announcement.

Principal Jason Schouten says they don’t view the school as classrooms and hallways because “anything can be a learning space.”

Though the news comes as a surprise to many, as FCA has been an independent elementary school for 38 years, this partnership has been on the table for a long time. Eight years ago, leadership from both schools were in talks about a single school, but did not achieve unification. Now, Faith St. Thomas Pastor Steve McCready and STCCS Principal Jason Schouten are confident that 2019 is the right time to come together.

All the details of what a single Christian school will look like have yet to be ironed out. It is expected that there will be work to rebrand, and leadership of the school will fall under STCCS’s board and parent society, adding some of FCA’s parents to that group. Both buildings will continue to operate as schools, likely divided up with JK–4 at STCCS and 5-9 at Faith’s building. A full high school is in the expansion plans for the future, and Gr. 9 will be offered this fall.

Principal Jason Schouten (left) of STCCS and Pastor Steve McCready of Faith St. Thomas.

The partnership will also result in a shift for Faith’s classrooms as they transform to fit STCCS’s educational philosophy. The elementary school has a unique approach to education that can be seen in each classroom’s furniture. There are no rows of desks or individual desks at all, even for the teacher. Instead, the classrooms are what Principal Jason Schouten calls ‘student centred,’ with various seating options that allow students to collaborate, move around the room, gather around the teacher for a lesson, and work comfortably on their own, as the need arises. “We don’t worry about things like volume. We don’t worry about the position kids are sitting in. We want to know that they’re engaged with their learning,” Jason says.

The staff at STCCS believe that minimizing teacher-led time maximizes its value and leads to better engagement, less boredom and therefore less negative behaviour. It also allows for different learning styles, as students who struggle to sit in a desk for long periods of time are better able to stay engaged. Jason points out that many adults would not do well in the same situation that we expect students to learn in.

A student-centred classroom at STCCS.

“We think that somehow students can manage being in a desk for eight hours a day and behave themselves. That is a wildly inaccurate understanding of a child. Nobody wants to sit in a desk for eight hours. It’s not even physically healthy to sit in a desk for eight hours,” Jason says.

St. Thomas Community Christian School has been growing in numbers significantly over the past couple years, which Jason attributes to their educational philosophy and relational teachers. “We have a unique model. We have high quality teachers who are really relational with kids.” The results speak for themselves: “When kids are engaged, respected, and loved by the educators in the room, you tend to get the best out of children. We have a really positive culture here.”

The response to news of the partnership has been positive overall, according to both schools’ leadership, though there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. One of the questions that has come up about the new unified school is tuition, as Faith Christian Academy has a lower tuition than STCCS. Pastor Steve McCready says that they will be working hard to put a tuition assistance program in place, since affordability while maintaining academic excellence is top priority for the school’s leadership. “For families that are really passionate about Christian education, we’re going to help them find a way,” he says.