Reaching Beyond Borders: An Innovative School Advances Christ-Centered Ed

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Reaching Beyond Borders: An Innovative School Advances Christ-Centered Ed

Early in the morning, a circle of students from Oaks Christian School (OCS) in Westlake Village, California, enjoyed a Zoom call with two engineers in Honduras. The purpose? To create plans for a water system that would provide— for the first time— clean water to a rural Honduran village.

“The students created the plans, the Honduran civil engineers stamped them, and their government will provide the bricks and pipe to build the system,” said Dr. Matt Northrop, Associate Head of School for Academics and the Arts. “It is a perfect example of how we emphasize hands-on, real-world experience.”

With its innovative structure of “institutes,” OCS is gaining worldwide attention and advancing Christian education in groundbreaking ways. Recognizing the varying, God-given passions and skillsets of their students, school leadership seeks to cultivate each student’s unique giftings by providing opportunities in three institutes: The Institute of Arts and Innovation (IAI), the Institute of Engineering (IE), and the Institute of Global Leadership (IGL).

Northrop believes this structure allows students to dive deeper into their areas of strength.

“We see that education as a whole is rooted in the industrial revolution,” he shared. “We often treat our students like they’re all the same, but they’re not— they’re uniquely made by God.”

Each institute benefits from an advisory council of industry experts. These professionals work closely with the students as mentors, often providing them with behind-the-scenes exposure to their areas of interest.

Mary Kay Altizer, Director of Institute of Arts and Innovation, shared that through the advisory council relationship, one student was even signed with Quincy Jones Production soon after high school graduation.

“Our advisory council members have amazing industry connections,” she said. “We think it’s important to not only have local industry experts, but emphasize a global connection, too,” she shared.

OCS leadership is committed to employing best practices in Christian education. They have traveled to several countries seeking inspiration from leading schools. One that stood out during their travel was Singapore American School, which created and utilizes the concept of Individual Learning Pathways.

“Employers today are looking less for the ‘straight-A student,’ but more for the critical thinking creatives,” Altizer said. “Through the focus on Individual Learning Pathways and the institute structure, we are trying to depart from the one-size-fits-all education.”

OCS invests significant capital into providing students with state-of-the-art environments that enable creative thinking and experimentation. One of these environments is the IDEA Lab (Innovation, Design, Engineering and Aeronautics)—a 10,000-square foot building equipped with robotics technology, 3D printers, and college-level tools and machinery.

Juan Velasquez Rocket ManC

Juan Velasquez, OCS aeronautics/robotic teacher at work in the IDEA Lab.

In their effort to glean ideas from other visionary schools, OCS leadership visited two Swedish academies: The Academy of Music and Business and The Songwriters Academy of Sweden.

These visits have led to songwriting collaborations between European and IAI students.

“We arranged a concert exchange, where 12 OCS students traveled to The Academy of Music and Business and performed joint concerts in Sweden with the students,” Altizer shared. “We also provide the opportunity for our students to collaborate virtually with students from The Songwriters Academy of Sweden. After 3-5 days, each group delivers a fully produced song.”  

This global focus can also be seen on the IGL advisory council, on which Howell Zhao, CEO of international fiber-optics company Bandweaver, serves. Zhao has worked personally with students on a fire-prevention solution that may even form into a future LLC.

According to the Forbes article, “California School Reimagines The Education Model,” in which OCS is featured, “Doing things differently has become a ‘distinctive hallmark’ of the student educational experience at Oaks Christian.”

This commitment to challenging the traditional educational landscape has led to acclaimed successes. Beginning in 2019, IAI high school students worked together to direct, produce and film a full-length feature film that garnered accolades including Los Angeles Film Awards Winner, Seattle Film Festival Winner and San Diego International Kids Film Festival Winner.

“We are open to bringing in people from the outside,” said Northrop. “We lower the drawbridge and bring in people with new perspectives to share.”

Whether it be enabling students to work with Honduran engineers to construct water systems or building bridges to Sweden for international songwriting collaborations, leadership at OCS is truly embodying what it means to advance Christ-centered education.

“The Lord has been in this and through this, as we continue to pray and rely on His leading,” Northrop reflected. “It’s amazing to see the things that He lines up that are completely out of our control. I think we’d be amiss to share any part of this story without recognizing His hand.”

To learn more about Oaks Christian School, visit their website.

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