Calvary Chapel K-12 Schools

Calvary Chapel K-12 Schools
Calvary Chapel K-12 Schools

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Handling Precious Lives—Calvary Chapel K-12 Schools: Laying a Firm Foundation for the Next Generation

Story by Christmas Beeler
Photos by Tina Mueller, Lisa Pascua, and Steve Shambeck

This article originally ran in Issue 65, Fall 2015, of Calvary Chapel Magazine.

More than 50 Calvary Chapel churches worldwide have started Christian schools to train up the next generation. The Calvary Chapel Education Association offers support for schools of all sizes, whether just starting or already established.

Sarai Ahina, age 13, sat at the dinner table, her mind brimming with questions. At her public middle school on Oahu, Hawaii, alternative lifestyles were often taught in class. Some of her friends even called themselves gay. But she knew that the Bible said marriage was only for a man and a woman. Did that mean being gay was wrong? Who was right?

“Is it really wrong to be gay?” she asked. Her mother, Tanya, asked what had brought up the subject. “I have friends at school who say they’re gay. I just don’t understand—what’s wrong with being that way?”

Kids hold bird

Children in kindergarten gently care for a bird as they study God’s creation.

Tanya exchanged looks with her husband. This was becoming routine. Almost every week, the school’s teaching directly contradicted the biblical principles taught at home. They explained to Sarai what God’s Word said—that God created people male and female, and that His design is for one woman and one man to be joined to each other for life through the covenant of marriage (Genesis 2:24). Sarai listened, but she was still confused.

“We got to a point where we felt we were constantly having to un-teach her things she learned at school and reteach her what God’s Word says,” Tanya recalled. Teen years are confusing enough without adding mixed messages, she explained: “There are seasons in a child’s development where they are going to struggle—especially in the teen years with peer pressure—and we wanted to put her in an environment that was not constantly pulling her away from a Christian worldview and causing more confusion.”

Soon after, Tanya and her husband enrolled Sarai in Calvary Chapel Christian School (CCCS), a ministry started out of Calvary Chapel Honolulu near their home.

Seaweed science

Students at Calvary Chapel Christian School in Honolulu, HI, examine sea creatures that live on seaweed. Science courses include hands-on experiments.

Godly Influences

Now age 15, Sarai has grown closer to the Lord and is learning the Word of God every day at school. She related, “I just feel so excited to take what I have learned, apply it to my life, and then share with my younger siblings.”

Then Jesus said … “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:31-32

Fellowship with godly friends is important, said Sarai’s mother, Tanya: “Who you hang out with influences who you become.” Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.”

Sarai added, “Friends have a huge effect on people. Being surrounded by Christian friends helps you grow closer to God. I have noticed a pretty drastic change in how I act … the way I talk, and how I feel. Now I’m surrounded by such a positive atmosphere; my best friend from public school has even noticed that I have become more cheerful and optimistic.”

Science work

Sarai Ahina (standing center) completes a biology experiment. Her parents took her out of public school because the teachings there went against biblical Christian values.

God’s Word has become her foundation—not only in Christian doctrine, but also her identity in Christ. She cited her favorite verse, “For the Lord will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught” (Proverbs 3:26). She explained, “I really love this verse. I wish I had this verse when I was going through middle school; it’s a constant reminder to me that I do not have to worry at all because God is my confidence. I always hold on to this verse when I’m not feeling too confident in myself.”

Protecting Innocence

Another family at CCCS also left the Hawaii public school system in order to protect their children. Anthony Bonilla is an officer of the Honolulu Police Department and leads a small-group Bible study in his home. He and his wife, Dionne, have three children and attend Calvary Chapel Honolulu.

Anthony related, “The government was bringing this teaching into the school called ‘Pono Choices’—pono means righteousness in Hawaiian. They were saying that the homosexual lifestyle was a righteous choice—in elementary school.” Causing headlines across the state, the Pono Choices curriculum also gave children detailed instructions on the different types of sex, how to use contraceptives, and showed explicit pictures. His oldest daughter was in fifth grade at the time.

Play rehearsal

Eleventh-graders listen as classmate John Martinez (right) recites lines. The British Literature class was studying Shakespeare.

“That’s what solidified our decision to take them out of public school,” he recalled. As a law enforcement officer, he said, “I have seen the other side, arresting kids at public school for drugs and offenses you wouldn’t think a child would do. I thought, My kids can’t be around this.”

And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

His daughter Leah, after completing ninth grade in the Calvary Chapel school, went on a mission trip to Cambodia in March 2015. God became more real to her through the trip, she said, because of “the way He allowed everything to fall into place; He blessed us immensely.” A Scripture that’s important to her is Matthew 6:33: But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. She explained, “This verse means a lot to me because God promises that if our eyes are on Him, He will bless us.” Anthony encourages other parents not to let finances stop them from doing what they feel is best for their children, as God has provided for all three Bonilla children to attend. The fruit continues: His two youngest recently asked to be baptized to show their personal faith in Christ.

Science pond

High schoolers from CC Christian School Honolulu retrieve specimens while on a field trip to Coconut Island, a marine research facility.

Lifelong Discipleship

Ed Arcalas was a youth pastor for seven years prior to becoming the administrative pastor for CCCS, with 170 students in grades K-12 and 40-plus in preschool. “We are a discipleship school because we require that at least one parent is born again; we work with the parents to train up the children,” Pastor Ed explained. In contrast, a mission school welcomes anybody in the hopes of sharing Christ. CCCS also requires that parents be married; as a result, two different couples became legally married so their children could attend. Ed emphasized, “We need to be committed to living out at home what the children learn from the Bible; that’s the only way we can disciple them—if we’re in agreement.”

He remembers the heartbreak years ago of seeing kids attend youth group yet, after graduating from secular schools, walk away from God. The goal at CCCS is to help young people continue in the faith as they grow into adulthood: “Our mission is to disciple the next generation for Christ, that they would walk with the Lord all the days of their lives.” When students reach high school, they are encouraged to serve the Lord on mission trips. Ed explained, “We don’t want them to have a ‘Kodak’ moment; we want them to have a God moment—for Him to become real to them.” Many of them do come back changed, like Leah Bonilla, with a deeper awareness of who God is and how He can use young people to help others.

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true. 1 John 5:20a

Woman helping boy with classwork

Calvary Chapel Christian School teacher Carrie Cross helps sixth-grader Isaiah Figueroa with English. The school is part of Calvary Chapel Downey, CA.

Supporting teachers is key, Ed shared. “I constantly remind them that we are here to serve the students the Lord has brought to us. These are His children, and we are to nurture them in the love and admonition of Jesus Christ in accordance with His precious Scriptures. We are to serve as their examples and mentors, ushering them into the kingdom of God.”

Seeing the School as a Ministry

Ed, who is also the chairman of the Calvary Chapel Education Association, has helped other Calvary Chapels start their own schools. He believes it’s essential for the schools to be under the blessing and oversight of the senior pastor.

Kids laugh

Students enjoy free time while waiting for their parents to pick them up at CC Christian School Downey, CA.

Pastor Bill Stonebraker, senior pastor of CC Honolulu, meets with Ed regularly to stay in the loop about the school and offer guidance. Bill explained, “If the pastor isn’t behind it, you may have a school, but it will be disjointed. It won’t be something that is truly connected to the ministry itself. We’re primarily a church; we want to see people—young and old—saved and raised up in the things of the Lord.” Because school ministry depends on financial and hands-on support from the church, the pastor should be involved and see the school as a ministry under his care, he added.

Bill explained: “For example, if there are discipline issues in the school, we bring in the principles of forgiveness and grace. Everything you’re teaching in church, you’re doing the same with the children because they are open to that.” He cited Proverbs 22:6, which says, Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Bill and Ed are seeing more young adults stay in church after graduating from CCCS.

Teacher hugging girl

CC Christian School Downey daycare worker Valerie Garcia ministers to first-grader Amara Attia.

Not Departing from Faith

John Thomas, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Fredericktown, PA, teaches the Bible to high schoolers at the church’s Christian school despite his busy schedule. He explained, “I believe that’s the direction that God would have us to go as churches—that we need to get our kids back.”

In his Bible class, John doesn’t simply tell the teenagers what to believe. He shows them how to find answers in the Bible with commentaries, Scripture, and cross-referencing verses; he teaches the inductive Bible study method—a close verse-by-verse study of the Word to find personal application. Open discussions play a major role. John explained, “It helps me hear their hearts, and they can hear my heart. We deal with subjects they are facing out there in the world.”

Woman helping boy with homework

Lisa Rodriguez, a daycare worker, enjoys a conversation with first-grader Jeremiah Singleton.

“We assume that if a young person has grown up in church, they know everything they need to know about God—but no, they don’t know. We need to disciple them, to interact with them,” John added. Discipleship and learning how to study the Bible have helped the teens grow. “They have such a confidence in the Bible, in the authority of the Word. So now when they’re sharing their faith—not only do they know what they believe, but also why they believe it.” Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV). He added, “When these kids go to college, they are going to be challenged. They are prepared. They know how to take the Scripture and reason with people in the world.”

Teaching class

Amber Linn instructs her high school English class at CC Christian School Downey.

Raising Up Leaders

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

Modeling Pastor Chuck Smith’s example of raising up Bible teachers, John will often let the senior students lead the class. He said, “I’m amazed at their response. It encourages the students to step up.” In fact, some of the young men have even shared at a local church. “They knew we were a Bible-teaching church, and they called to ask if someone could come teach on Sunday morning.” Feeling led by God, Pastor John sent one of his senior high students. The congregation was amazed and blessed by the young man’s teaching. Another former female student is now a teacher at the K-12 school. John added, “We are raising up leaders. I encourage other pastors to do the same—to disciple these young people and raise them up in ministry.”

Telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. That they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments. Psalm 78:4b, 7

Bible teaching

Pastor Dustin holds his Bible up as he shares biblical truths with his sixth-grade class.

Vision for School Ministry

At CC Christian School Fredericktown, PA, Beckie Cannon is the principal and helps other Calvary Chapels start schools through the CC Education Association. She shares her journey of starting a Christian school on the CCEA website, “It’s really amazing how the number of Calvary Chapel Christian schools has been growing,” Beckie said, contrasting that with the nationwide trend of traditional, religious K-12 schools closing.

After starting with two teachers and four students in 1996, CCCS Fredericktown has grown to nearly 100 students in pre-K to 12th grades. “It’s good to start out small. That way you can learn as you grow,” Beckie said. “It’s important to stay focused on the initial vision that God gave you.” Many Calvary Chapel schools start with just a handful of students. She advised, “It’s important not to get wrapped up in numbers—how you can make your school grow—but to focus your attention on the students you have, pouring into them. Big and little schools see fluctuations in attendance. Just trust the Lord.”

He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Kids laugh in class

Students enjoy a spontaneous moment in their Bible study class, taught by Pastor Andrew Cochran.

She encourages those interested in starting a school to visit one. “If you have 300 people in your church and want to start with 25 students, visit another CC school that is about that size. See how they do it,” she suggested. In her case, she was from a tiny fellowship and visited a large CC school. “I remember thinking, Wow, they have a gymnasium; we could never have that. Then it seems like it can’t be a reality for you because it’s such a different world.” CCEA helps match up new or would-be schools with a suitable mentor school.

Mentors Share Wisdom

CCEA chairman Ed Arcalas emphasized the value of having Calvary Chapel Downey’s school as a resource through the years. He recalled, “After visiting CCCS Downey, we followed their example. We wanted to balance the Word and academics in a disciplined, loving environment.” He stays in touch with Pastor Glen Valuet, the elementary principal of Calvary Chapel Christian School, Downey, discussing new issues that come up in education.

Girls stand at pews

At a choral consortium with multiple Christian schools participating, CCCS Downey high school choir students (standing) encourage elementary choir members before they sing.

Having helped several Christian schools get started, Glen commented, “We tell them they don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We’ve been doing this for 35 years. They don’t have to be exactly like us, but we share everything—our manuals, policies, legal documents. They can pick and choose what they think is best for their school.”

Pastor John Raymond of New Horizon Calvary Chapel in Slidell, LA, is launching a new K-12 school next year: “It’s overwhelming. We’re so grateful to have the CCEA as a resource for choosing the right curriculum, hiring a staff, creating school policies, and understanding the accreditation process.” CCEA charges a fee for schools and churches, starting at $200 a year depending on the number of students.

Girls worship

Sixth-graders from CCCS Downey’s elementary choir worship before they perform at the consortium.

Planning and Prayer

Planning and prayer are important first steps. In Honolulu, Pastor Bill had a vision for a Christian school from the early 1990s, but it wasn’t until after a decade of prayer and waiting on God that the Lord opened up the land and facility for a school. After Bill and the leadership felt confirmation to start a school, research and planning took another 18 months. CCCS Honolulu started with about 20 students in 2004 and now has more than 200.

“If God has given you that vision, then you need to plan. Part of that planning is humbling yourself and seeking counsel,” Glen said. “You don’t want to start a work and then just stop. It’s hard work, starting something from scratch. But if God is in it, He’ll see it through.” He cited Proverbs 16:3 (NIV), Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and [He] will establish your plans.

Kids sing

CCCS Downey elementary choir, in black vests and dresses, perform with another elementary school during the choral consortium held at Calvary Chapel Downey.

Each School Is Unique

Glen added, “In every elementary class, we start each day with the Bible. As the kids grow in their learning, we don’t want them to stay babies in the Word.” CCCS Downey uses a Christian curriculum.

Another unique element of CCCS Downey is their robust extracurricular program—sports, drama, choir. Last year, 10,000 people from the community attended a student musical and heard the Gospel. CCCS Downey partners with area Christian schools to do a choral consortium. “We like to reach out through our music program,” Glen explained. CCCS Downey has nearly 650 students from pre-K to 12th grade. Glen added, “It’s not about how many students you have—it’s about impacting the lives of your students and your community.”

Girls hug

Senior Andrea Gutierrez hugs an elementary choir student.

Collaboration is often a blessing. Recently, CCCS Downey added dual enrollment classes for high school seniors to earn college credit. Glen shared what he learned with Ed, and now CCCS Honolulu will do the same next fall. Both Ed and Glen emphasize the importance of being led by the Lord in making school decisions.

Ed added, “Just like each Calvary Chapel has its own flavor but stands united in the Calvary Chapel distinctives, so it is with the CC schools. Your school will have its own vision, its unique student body. There’s a commonality among us, but the journey can be very different.”


All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.