Woodland has a large selection of “co-curricular activities, a wide range of electives, and an unusually well-developed student government.” These activities include shop, rock band, worship teams, art programs, drama productions, choir, instrumental ensembles, intramural groups, a board games club, and an award-winning robotics club, among others. Many of these activities garner support from the whole school community. The school’s most recent annual drama production, for example, involved not only theatre students but music students and the school council as well. The event was attended by the board of governors and by parents. Intramural sports and regular chapels are also treated as opportunities for the whole community to connect. Both teachers and students see the abundance of co-curricular options as key to the vibrancy of the school.
Being together builds community
Strong student leadership is key to a strong school community
Woodland has built opportunities for regular community engagement into its schedule, including shared prayer, a common lunch break for the whole school, and regular chapels and assemblies. Daily staff devotions are a positive experience: “Devotions are every morning, and we love them.” Woodland’s bus system contributes to the sense of community at the school as well. All students are bused in—including from farming communities as far as an hour’s drive north—and the cost of busing is included in tuition. In addition to traditional morning and afternoon buses, Woodland offers a late bus that leaves the school around six in the evening; this arrangement makes it easier for students (and their parents) who want to participate in after-school programs, since they do not have to arrange their own transportation. The decision to make busing universal and include the cost as part of tuition followed several years of conversations among administrators. The buses are now widely viewed as central to the school culture and a unifying force in the student body.
Some teachers cite the school’s rural location as having a positive effect on community life. They note that the school is far away from “mall culture”: students stay on campus all day once they arrive, with few leaving the school for lunch or spare/study periods. Both students and teachers report enjoying various activities in the school’s tranquil surroundings, including going for walks in the nearby fields or forest, running scavenger hunts, having classes outdoors, sitting near the fire pit in the yard, playing sports on the soccer field, and simply appreciating the pastoral beauty that can be found outside every window.
Fostering a sense of home was a common theme in survey and interview responses. The administrators say that they “want all students to feel at home here.” Some of the teachers attended Woodland as high-school students themselves and explain that “it has always felt like home.” They feel a deep connection with the school as central to their lives as learners, as professionals, and as Christians in community with each other. Teachers agree that the strong sense of community at Woodland is what they enjoy most about working at the school. Each expresses strong attachment to the school and the sense of family they feel in their relationships with their students, the administration, parents, and their fellow teachers: “I am most thankful for my colleagues, who are like a second family to me.” Both teachers and administrators emphasize that Woodland is “not a product; it’s a community.”
Listening to the Voices of Teachers, Students, and Administrators
Teachers at Woodland link the task of relating well to their students to the school’s motto: “Enfolding, Engaging, and Equipping” (Woodland Christian High School 2020). Staff members note that they seek to “enfold” in large part because they feel enfolded by the school community themselves. It is this sense of belonging that fuels their efforts to make students feel connected with the school, engage them in meaningful learning experiences, deepen their faith, and prepare them for post-secondary education and their lives beyond. Connecting with students gives teachers a sense of fulfillment in their work: “My students energize me and give me joy and purpose.” One teacher describes the community as a “buzz” of activity, saying, “Our school thrives on the close connectedness and relationships that we have with each other.” Another teacher comments, “My students are energetic, enthusiastic, and (for the most part) positive. We like each other and enjoy being together.”
Woodland’s rural location has not hindered its community-building efforts. At least to some extent, the school’s location influences the community and some of the ways that it comes together: “Being in the country forces us to build relationships. For example, most students eat lunch at school. We really come to know each other.” Teachers appreciate having students from both country and city backgrounds in their classes as well. Yet this does not mean that urban schools are at a disadvantage when it comes to cultivating a vibrant community. While some of Woodland’s teachers see location as very meaningful in how they connect with the school community, their students, and their curriculum choices, other staff members do not view location itself as central to their relationship with the school. The principal likewise agrees that the rural location contributes to the school community but emphasizes other factors— particularly the structural supports he has committed to maintaining—as far more significant.
Art is a dynamic part of the school community
Student Services has a well-equipped office that includes offices for the student leadership team
Students and staff alike express deep gratitude for the positive and supportive character of Woodland’s community—“the most positive community I’ve ever been a part of,” one teacher emphasizes. This healthy community strengthens and is strengthened by a culture of fun and “a self-perpetuating sense of joy,” supportive parents, accessible leadership that teachers describe as “excellent—effective and responsible,” and profound, long-lasting relationships between students and teachers.