Sioux Center Christian finds growth, success with ‘every child’ approach

A Christian school in Iowa is proving that Christian education can meet the needs of all sorts of children, including those with special educational requirements.

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A Christian school in Iowa is proving that Christian education can meet the needs of all sorts of children, including those with special educational requirements.

Sixth grade teacher, Mr. Alan Bandstra. (via Facebook)

The vision of Sioux Center Christian School in Sioux Center, Iowa is “every child treasured, every child trained, every child transformed.” The school is committed to inclusive education – not a hyperfocus on diversity metrics, but a commitment to provide resources for every student, including those who require additional support.

“We were running into families having to separate their kids for school,” Dr. Josh Bowar, Head of School, told The Lion. “Kids in a traditional classroom at Sioux Center might have a sibling with a disability who had to go to public school. It became important to the school board and staff to serve families as a whole. This was an intentional decision. We believe this is who we need to be as a school.”

The school uses a multi-tiered approach to provide students with high-quality classroom teaching along with focused interventions for those who may need more time, practice or instruction in order to grow. 

Each grade level has a paraprofessional in the classroom, working with the lead teacher. Five resource teachers provide additional support, working in the classroom or pulling out small groups as needed. This includes special instruction for higher-learning level, or gifted, students. 

Students at SCC may fall into one of three tiers:

  • Tier 1 are those who can be in the classroom, learn in the conventional way and do not need any interventions.
  • Tier 2 might need some interventions in the classroom, such as help with a specific subject to get back on grade level.
  • Tier 3 may need alternate curricula, need time in a resource room more frequently and have more one-on-one time with a paraprofessional.

Kristina Harmelink, SCC’s director of inclusive education, says quite a few students have one-to-one paraprofessionals helping with behaviors or learning needs, from fine motor skill work to low vision or hearing issues.

“We look at it as a philosophy, not a program,” said Harmelink. “When students are in the classroom, the teachers are inclusive teachers. Then the support staff comes alongside and supports the teacher and the student for the best experience.

“The biggest catalyst here is our teachers. They are willing to work with the resource team and inclusive ed team to be sure the kids are getting what they need.”

Dr. Bowar emphasized the SCC mission and the way accessibility advances its ideals. “We believe our inclusive philosophy reflects where a child’s value comes from – they are made in God’s image,” he said. “We want to enroll as many students as we can and serve them well. We feel that this initiative has really advanced the mission of Christ at Sioux Center Christian.”

He emphasized the school’s collaborative relationships with families. “We want to partner with families – after all, a child’s primary teacher is their parent. We believe God is doing great things here at SCC, and if you have a desire for Christian education for your child, you have a place here.” 

Sioux Center Christian School was founded in 1905 and has a current enrollment of 517 students, K-8th grade.