Distinctive education for Vancouver youths

Paul Tigchelaar '80


Winter 2010

Paul Tigchelaar '80

Paul Tigchelaar '80

It took 56 years, but in September 2005 a Christian high school founded on a Reformed worldview opened—and stayed open—in Vancouver, B.C. Turning the key in the door was principal Paul Tigchelaar ’80.

When he and his family left Michigan for Vancouver Christian School (VCS) in 1992, Tigchelaar knew his mandate was to expand the K–8 school into grades 9 and 10. 

“VCS had a high school back in the 1980s, but it closed its doors,” Tigchelaar said. “When I arrived, there were no concrete plans to go beyond trying grades 9 and 10 again.”

British Columbia Ministry of Education requirements for grades 11 and 12 made it easier for VCS to open the lower high school grades first, he explained. And, on their urban campus, that’s all the school had room for. 

“But,” Tigchelaar continued, “there was always some background talk about and desire for a complete senior high school.” 

In 2000 that talk and desire swelled into a task force to look at whether the time was right for adding the upper grades. Five years later, in a rented building and in partnership with VCS and John Knox Christian School, Carver Christian High welcomed 77 students in grades 9–11; this year 200 students enrolled in grades 9–12.

“We have an untapped market here,” Tigchelaar said. “Vancouver has a large and strong multicultural Christian community that doesn’t really have the fullest sense of what Christian education can be. My view is that we could have three high schools like ours in urban Vancouver.”

Families new to Christian education sometimes come to Carver looking for a bubble, he continued, “which we’re not. We don’t shelter students from culture; we engage them with culture.” 

That engagement is guided by the Distinctives Program. “That’s what we call the biblical worldview, the endoskeleton of faith that students get in everything at Carver Christian,” said Tigchelaar.

Students get introduced to that endoskeleton on an all-school, off-campus retreat during the first week of the academic year. Once in the classroom, they take a “Christian Studies” course that allows them to select from over 20 modules with topics such as media and the Bible, apologetics and the book of Revelation.

Through all a student’s coursework a theme is woven that is particular to each grade. For juniors, for example, that theme is servant leadership, which they explore in language arts, science and math; in the spring they take what they’ve learned on an international mission trip.  

There are also opportunities for students to earn high school credit working in the community as apprentices and interns in professions that interest them.

To all this engagement for the mind Carver adds encouragement for the spirit. Each student belongs to a pastoral group of 12, led by a staff member, in which they can be supported in the struggles of being a teenager. 

These components of the school’s framework have built “a culture of leadership and a tone of inclusion,” according to Paul Tigchelaar:

“With families from all over the globe, we retain a Reformed flavor, but we focus on a biblical foundation and don’t get worked up about differences in dogma. The result is a genuine sense of student leadership and a community that embraces everyone. I think we’ve built something that really impacts Vancouver and brings Christ to the lower mainland. I mean that from my heart.”

Learn more about Carver Christian High School