Janelle Rupp hadn’t planned to be a teacher.
Raised in a Christian family, she felt called by God to be a nurse – a calling she followed for nearly two decades. But even as a nurse, she was an educator.
“I had a passion for teaching teenagers [and] for sharing truth and the Word of God,” Rupp told The Lion.
She started working as a nurse educator at a crisis pregnancy center and teaching sex education seminars from an abstinence perspective at local public schools.
“It was great to get to come at that knowing all the biblical worldview and lens that I had,” Rupp recalls. “You don’t really have to talk about the Bible to get your point across on why choosing God’s design is the best design.
“But I was still limited in what I could say.”
After her family moved to a new state, Rupp decided to enroll her children at North Cobb Christian School in Kennesaw, Georgia, where she now teaches anatomy and healthcare to middle and high school students.
Along the way, the health educator noticed that Christian school curricula about sexuality was lacking and decided to create her own program, called “Remember Whose You Are.”
“We needed to revamp the way we talked about sexuality within the church and within the Christian school environment,” Rupp says.
Rupp’s program focuses on the first three chapters of Genesis. Its goal, she says, is to “root human sexuality in Gospel identity.”
For Rupp, that “Gospel identity” permeates her classroom.
“In Christian education, students are known,” she said. “I feel like I get to know my students not just academically, but where they are at emotionally, socially, mentally, spiritually – and seeing a student then as a whole, I always say, ‘made-in-the-image-of-God’ person. Not just a number and not just a name.”
Rupp’s commitment to helping students think biblically about how they are made and fit into God’s plan is one reason she’s among a cohort of 12 educators nationwide to be named 2023 Christian Teachers of the Year by the Herzog Foundation, which publishes The Lion.
And when she helps students understand their own “made-in-the-image-of-God” identity, science and Scripture go hand in hand.
“You cannot explain the intricacies, and I would say the beauty of how God created [the human body], and not see Him, a creator,” Rupp told The Lion. “Again and again and again, science confirms the Scripture.
“When kids ask me, ‘How do you know such and such is true,’ I will say to them, ‘I look at the body, I look at who are you are, and the way your brain works that no scientist can quite figure out still yet, and I see a creative God.’ And not just that He was creative but [also] incredibly wise and incredibly good.”
But the key for preparing the next generation is not solely dependent on Christian schooling for Rupp, who notes the importance of church and family, too.
She relates how her own education started with parents who provided a solid foundation for her to learn and grow in her faith.
“[My parents] encouraged me to think,” she recalls. “It wasn’t just, ‘We’re giving you this and you have to.’ It was, ‘We’re giving you this and here’s the how and here’s the why and don’t be afraid to question.’”
Now, Rupp believes that family, church and school must all work in concert to disciple the next generation.
“Church and home but also school should align, and when that aligns, you support a child in a way that I just think you cannot do in public education,” she said. “For me to say that – having grown up in public education, having chosen public education for my kids until we moved here [and] to really have come to that realization – has been a process, but a good process for us.”
The Christian Teachers of the Year honor is part of the Herzog Foundation’s Excellence in Christian Education award series. Each of the 12 winners will attend a special awards event in Washington, D.C., where they will also receive a monetary gift.