The memory of our first visit to Abbotsford comes back to me at this time of year. It’s open enrolment time right now and the principals (especially Roy Van Eerden) are spending large amounts of time touring families through our school. They are walking new and prospective families through our hallways into the classrooms and throughout the campuses to get a clear sense of what goes on at ACS.
I can still remember the day like it was yesterday. Heidi and I had both flown here for an extended weekend and we showed up on a Monday morning. It had snowed over the weekend and the school had the buzz that it has when there are “almost” snow days…we all know that feeling. Heidi asked if she could go to the elementary school and walk around a bit. I spent my time at the secondary campus speaking with various types of people and being interviewed for a principal position.
Billowing Voices and First Impressions
I sat in on a staff devotion, and it was Jeff Kiers’ turn. He shared an excerpt from a Brian McLaren book and talked about his passion for kids who didn’t fit the norm—who as he put it, “were square pegs in a round hole.” I remember Jack Boersma in his bellowing voice, welcoming me to the school and offering me a coffee from the “not so tasty” coffee pot in the secondary staff room. I remember Rob Bakker telling me a story as he was putting on a bright yellow vest (which I thought was a complete eye-sore and I swore I would never wear), I don’t remember the story…but it was compelling.
I remember the tour that Bill De Jager gave me and the way he rattled off both the mission statement and the core beliefs like they were a part of him…it echoed through his bones (and the halls, as he tends to speak at high decibel levels).
I remember the sound of a hot rod engine from the hallway outside the automobile shop wondering what crazy person was driving their car around in the school…and then being blown away as I was led into the shop.
I remember Jake Stelpstra showing me the lenses to which he led all Art students through as they created beautiful work, and Irene Buytendorp take me aside and share with me that she was the advocate for the French program and that we have the best French program around!
Later that day, I reconnected with Heidi, and the story she shared was also memorable.
Struck by the Soul of the School
She told me of a young girl with Down’s Syndrome bouncing up to her and asking who she was—without an inhibition in the world…and it struck Heidi that this girl was in her happy place.
She told me about ducking her head into a grade 1 classroom where Mrs. Stelpstra was on the carpet with her class singing the theme song for that month…and how she was struck by the beauty of the voices (who isn’t) and the deep beauty of the “soul” of the school.
No doubt she heard Roy and his bellowing laugh at least once. She must have seen Nancy Humphries take a young boy into the hall to tell him that she knows all about boys and what is important to them as she has four boys herself.
We talked that night about the underlying spirit of the school and the unique way this school shows its soul.
Over the past few years, I’ve realized that Heidi and I are not alone. Everyone has a story—their first visit to the school, their first chance to experience the “soul” of ACS, or their first opportunity to meet someone in the school community and experience their authenticity. None of us can truly explain it…we just tell stories about it, reminisce about it, and all nod in fraternal agreement…ACS…Mind, Heart, SOUL.