What Makes Eden Unique

A Brief Location History

By Eden Alumni and Eden Teacher Arnold Bueckert

In June 2020, Eden High School turned 75 years old. During those 75 years, many changes have occurred, and Eden has been located in three different buildings. Each location has seen Eden grow and adapt to many new challenges.

1. First Location (1945-1995) On Hwy 55 in Niagara-On-The-Lake for 50 years

In 1945, a small but dedicated group of people had a vision of founding a school in which Bible training would be combined with academic study. And so, Eden Christian College was established with one teacher/principal and thirty-six students. It was a private high school with tuition and a dorm residence for students coming from outside of the Niagara region. As the school grew, classrooms and a new gym were added through fundraisers, volunteer labour and sacrificial giving. Teachers’ salaries were well below the public school salaries and many teachers took on summer jobs to make ends meet. By the mid 1980's enrolment had declined to below 200 and some important decisions had to be made about Eden’s future. Instead of closing its doors, the Eden Advisory Board approached the Lincoln County Board of Education about joining as an alternative secondary school. In 1987 a year-long pilot project began and it was successful enough that Eden joined the public board in 1988 as the only school of its kind in the province. Certain changes were made as chapel and mandatory Grade 9 Bible classes were held before the official school day but the school uniform stayed. The school quickly grew and had to be capped at 450 students because there just was no more room in the building. There was a lottery system developed to pick students from every geographical area in the region. Every possible space was utilized into a teaching classroom: storage rooms, a girls’ washroom/changeroom, the weight room, the ping-pong area. Getting through a classroom change was challenging. A location change was imminent. The staff toured many high schools that were closing at the time for a possible re-location.

2. Second Location (1995-2000) 497 Scott Street, St. Catharines.

Our excitement was somewhat diminished when the board re-located Eden to an empty elementary school formerly known as Scottlea. (Now it is Wheatley Montessori). The building wasn’t any bigger, but it passed fire code and there were lofty promises of a new gym and classrooms. Despite teaching at chalkboards that went down to my knees and ceilings that I could jump up and hit with my head, Eden continued to flourish. The small gym became the cafeteria/chapel area lined with lockers. Gym classes went to the YMCA, teams practiced in neighbouring schools or church gyms. The facility additions never materialized and there was no room to grow so another move came five years later.

3. Third Location (2000-present) 535 Lake Street, St. Catharines (formerly Lakeport High School).

The move to the present location was exciting as there was so much more space but it came with an existing tenant. Lakeport’s enrolment was decreasing but they were a fiercely proud school steeped in their own history and tradition. Eden took the second floor with the main office in the present resource area and Lakeport occupied the first floor. Certain areas had to be shared like the library and gym. There were many challenges to overcome as Eden grew and Lakeport’s enrolment declined. Can you imagine the after-school sports schedule for indoor and outdoor practices? There were times I would run out to the corner of the field after school to claim a small space for a boys’ soccer practice. When the old Eden in NOTL was sold by the church conference, they decided to donate the money to the DSBN to build the beautiful existing chapel area that we have today. Lakeport eventually closed its doors with a 50th anniversary celebration and final graduation ceremony in 2010. During the final few years we were practically sharing everything from one administrative team and office staff to a crossover of students in classes. Over the past 10 years, Eden has continued to grow in student population. The cap was lifted and classrooms were relocated to bring scattered departments closer together. As our sports and academic programs grew the enrolment also continued to grow. The cap was lifted and our numbers have soared to over 1100 students and over 70 teaching staff!

What Makes Eden Unique? A Public School with a Faith-Based Ethos

By John Bryan, Spiritual Life Centre Director

There’s a long and rich history to Eden. It’s a history that I knew nothing about until 2006 when I was a guest speaker on the grade retreats. At that point, what fascinated me was that education and a faith community could partner in an intentional vision of providing a public school with a faith-based ethos, in this case from a Christian worldview. It is a truly unique venture because there is no other school in Ontario that features a top-notch public school with a Spiritual Life Centre (SLC) serving within its walls. I joined the SLC team in August 2009 and became the Director in 2014 and it has been a privilege to be a part of this community.

When I think about the question, “What makes Eden unique”? I believe it’s because Eden has approached education differently. For certain, it has provided a climate for intellectual and academic growth for high school students, with a commitment to excellence. It has certainly offered an excellent structure for physical growth through comprehensive athletics and fitness opportunities and the goal of encouraging physical growth in students has led to many athletic successes within our community and beyond.

But what is unique is the intentional effort to nurture the spiritual life of a student. For many who are new to Eden, that may sound very different and that’s because it is. Back in 1988, Rudy Bartel, Eden’s principal at the time, believed that Eden could be “a public school with a difference.” But how do you quantify that? What does the difference look like? I believe one way is that the ethos of the community was clear to those that were seeking to send their kids to Eden. Yes, families chose Eden, but they made their choice understanding that they were committing to supporting our community and ethos. They recognized the high academic standard, and the discipline of a school uniform that helped remove “brands and labels”.

But they also recognized and understood that our school was calling students to character qualities like integrity, compassion, kindness, perseverance, and a worldview that challenged students to “love their neighbour as themselves.” We know that these character qualities are not exclusive to Christianity, but in our case, they were birthed out of a faith-based worldview.

I believe that this partnership with families and a clear understanding that we’re trying to produce more in a student than academic marks, is what gives Eden a unique vision. Over the years, I’ve heard teachers say things like this: “students actually do the work when I assign it,” “I’m new here and I’d like to finish my career here,” and “there’s something different about this place.” This is because students and families chose Eden, not just because it is excellent, but because they are also willing to contribute to its excellence. And that is more important than you realize.

There is always adversity camped just beyond the borders of an organization. There are always things that will pull at the fabric of an ethos and therefore it is vital that we guard and protect the vision of excellence that we have enjoyed. Even things like a global pandemic has revealed that the structures we rely on have weak corners in the floors, loose nails in the timber and in some cases, gaping holes. But an organization like Eden has stood through many cultural shifts because it has a foundation that is secure.

Academic and athletic success are important pieces but ultimately, a deeper vision is what sustains us. For Eden, it has been expressed by many individuals with amazing qualities, creating a masterpiece called community, framed by a historical faith-based worldview. Today, many families list the SLC as a key factor in choosing Eden for their son/daughter so the SLC staff offers programming that seeks to nurture the soul of a student. The First 25, our morning chapel, brings relevant topics that engage students from a faith-based worldview. We mentor students one-on-one and we seek to equip students to be influential leaders wherever they are situated. We have grade retreats that provide a landscape for building lasting friendships and missional opportunities that help students look beyond themselves.

Yes, our mission is leading students to learn of Christ and live in Christ, but we connect with any and every student that is willing, regardless of their worldview. And yes, we are here to support the staff as Eden as well, caring for our teachers and support staff as best as we can. Eden is an exciting school, with a beautiful heritage and an exciting future, but only as far as we are willing to not lose sight of who we are, what we are and where we are going.

What makes Eden Unique: A Teacher’s Perspective

By Tricia Brenneman

Here are some thoughts, from my perspective as an Eden teacher, of some of the ways I have seen the impact of the Spiritual Life Center (SLC) in the life of our school.

At Eden, we have four adults who invest in building relationships with our students. They spend a lot of time spending time with them. It is truly an investment.

And then those relationships are there. As a teacher, it’s good for me to know that the members of our SLC are available to our students. Someone they know, are comfortable with, and can trust. People who will take the time to listen to and support them.

Sometimes life comes into the classroom with students, in ways that they don’t expect or maybe even want. As a teacher, I appreciate knowing that the SLC is there for students who want and can use their support. I can think of instances of students who have needed to deal with some big issues, and our staff in the SLC have been there to walk alongside them and support them, over months and years. There are also day-to-day things, just those moments where a chat and some guidance and a bit of perspective, maybe a well-timed joke, can make all the difference. 

In addition to their own relationship-building with students, the SLC also facilitates space and time for positive relationships between students - both the same age and mentoring between older and younger students. This, too, is a very valuable thing. There are other times that also come to mind - when we have lost a student or staff member, and our community is grieving and in need of support and comfort. Again, the groundwork of all those relationships becomes evident as we walk through these kinds of things together. The support is there for our students. It’s already been built.

To close, I’d like to share a recent experience. At the start of a course, I had my students do a “get to know you” activity online. I asked them what their ideal math classroom looked like, what their preferred pronouns are, whether a hotdog was a sandwich (a surprisingly polarizing question). I also asked them to “write about you:’ tell me what matters most to you, what you are most proud of, who is important in your life. As you might expect, there were a wide variety of answers: global warming, sports, my dog, my family, video games. There were also answers of God, Jesus and my church community. It struck me that students were comfortable sharing this with me. This was an open question. They could have said anything, and they volunteered these truths about themselves. I think that in being at Eden, students know that they are in a place where their whole self is valued and supported. That their spiritual life is acknowledged and is seen as something worth investing in. That Eden is here to support them in all their ways of being and growing during these very important years in their lives. It truly is a gift to our students to have this as part of their school.