Yep, a Basement

Here is the next edition in our series of letters celebrating our tenth year at ECS, this one by Mrs. Jennifer VanderBeken, overseer of ECS’ original basement home, mother of three Raggants, and one of our first teachers


It is hard to believe that a decade has already gone by and here we are together celebrating Evangel Classical School’s 10th anniversary. What an amazing experience it has been and what a tremendous impact those experiences have had on our family and so many others. 


Really, the groundwork for ECS was set long before 2012 when God in His absolute sovereignty brought together like-minded families at a small church in Marysville and eventually, through a series of challenges and events, the idea of creating a classical Christian school took form. 


The first day of school was a gorgeous September day with an abundance of excitement and anticipation. Rays of sunshine highlighted the freshly ironed uniforms and carefully organized school supplies and streamed through the windows of the…basement. Yep, a basement. A basement located in a home, on a farm, on Goebel Hill Road…with the family who owned the basement, in the home, on a farm, on Goebel Hill Road living in Brisbane, Australia. 


While the Bour family enjoyed their extended stint in the Southern Hemisphere, our family had enthusiastically taken on the opportunity to act as caretakers of their property. Then when the fledgling ECS needed a space to meet, it made perfect sense to utilize the property for this endeavor. After all, what could be a more idyllic setting for a classical school than a beautiful property with sheep, goats, cows, and chickens meandering through the surrounding fields, eagles soaring above the large garden; all with a breathtaking view of Mt. Pilchuck?


During that first year, Mr. Sarr’s desk was in a storage area right beside the hot water heater and under the pipes to the upstairs hall bathroom. While kindergarten through 5th grade met in the open area of the basement (about 300 sq. ft.), the three secondary students met upstairs in the living room. Recess included school-wide soccer games on the gravel driveway and, for a time, swinging on the rope swing in the barn (until it became too risky). 


Toward the end of September, the property’s well ran dry, so we brought in a portable outhouse and large bottles of water to get by until a new well was drilled. Ironically, later in the school year the basement flooded with an ample amount of water, and we were required to face the challenge of moving the entire school upstairs for a time. Our already cozy and crazy school setting was even more so and yet absolutely wonderful. 


The lessons of God’s sovereignty in both abundance and want continued to come into focus throughout the year. The garden produced wonderful vegetables, including carrots to nibble fresh out of the ground during recess and periodically, a newly laid egg could be found in the hen house. A school wide contest to name a newborn calf resulted with the winning name being “Stewy.” When the two ewes, Sophia and Lily gave birth to their lambs we were delighted to watch two sets of twins frolicking together, not to mention very entertained.  However, it was heartbreaking to have one lamb, Benny, rejected by his mother. The little black lamb was brought into the house to be cared for and bottle fed. Eventually Benny died due to a heart defect and many tears flowed. On the other hand, when a naughty and downright mean goat was sent to the butcher tears were not shed and the students thoroughly enjoyed snacking on tasty goat pepperoni sticks. 


Now here we are in 2022, far from the farm on Goebel Hill Road and instead nestled in essentially the middle of Marysville. The four 5th grade girls were joined by three additional classmates and together made up the largest graduating class so far when their graduation was held clandestinely at the Pakinas’ Farm in May 2020. The three original kindergarteners whose feet dangled precariously above the floor at their shared table during their phonogram tests are now a part of the 9th grade class. Recess on the gravel driveway is now, for the most part, in a large parking lot, and while the footprint of the school has expanded beyond a residential basement there are still, shall we say, space limitations.

However, God’s faithful provision is perfect, and taking the time to reminisce is encouraging. With grateful hearts we look forward to the next ten years and wonder what our perspective will be at ECS’s 20th anniversary. Whether your family has joined us this year or several years ago or anything in between, we all have the immense privilege and important responsibility to lock arms, work together, and anticipate God working tremendously through the ECS Raggants and their families. 

—Mrs. Jennifer VanderBeken

Letter From The Intern (aka Miss Kara Rothenberger)

It has been amazing to get to watch God’s outpouring of blessings on ECS the past 10 years. When the school first opened its doors, I was 12 and officially the first guinea pig to make it through all of Secondary. From my perspective as a Raggant during those first insane years, I definitely never noticed how odd we must have looked from anyone else’s perspective – all I knew were faithful and joyful teachers, and a plethora of hard jobs to attack to the best of our abilities. Through the faithfulness of those first teachers, I was brought to Christ; over the years, their perseverance made me want IN to the party in all the ways they could give me. I remember thinking in early high school that there were no other people I’d rather lock arms with and jump into the trenches with gusto. Over these 10 years, between wearing hats of student and teacher, I can vouch for the fact that all these teachers continue to pursue God more and more every day, that their joy has been given greater roots than they thought possible, and God has given them more grace than they realized they would need.

A couple random memories that come to mind:

  • Year 1: Our entire school fit in the window of an aquarium where, 8 years later, my entire class had to squeeze to fit.
  • Year 4: Our first class of Seniors graduated. Today, 6 years later, our Omnibus classes are currently working through the same books those Seniors ended on.
  • Year 10: My first class of 2nd Graders (including the current youngest Rothenberger) is now in 5th Grade – this happens to be the same grade Mrs. Taylor Rothenberger started in 10 years ago. And now, in this tenth year, we will welcome ECS’s first alumni-baby!

God has been good to this little school, and I am daily blessed by the students, families, teachers, and Board. Laughter is, indeed, war within these walls! May it ring ever louder!

—Miss Kara Rothenberger

A New Conclusion

I love school.

I know, I know. It’s weird to say that. I think that in some circles it would effectively squash any Coolness™ I may have boasted beforehand. But that’s fine; I find that books, gel pens, papers, speeches, choir, uniforms, freshly sharpened pencils, and homework are all worth good-natured mocking about nerdiness. I even like finals week, and Herodotus is my favorite author, so I deserve it.

Consequently, I just didn’t want to graduate. Graduation marked what seemed like the end of my favorite things, things that I wanted to stretch out and enjoy forever. My mother kindly reminded me that books and writing wouldn’t magically disappear once I moved a tassel from right to left, and so I got a little more excited about the whole thing. I then looked towards graduation with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. High school gave me a very clear trellis to grow my work on, and I was simply afraid to lose it.

But I’m a Calvinist with a strong streak of narrative love, so I should have known that God had a plan for me — and this time, the whole globe — that would completely undermine my expectations. I lost my last quarter of school-at-school due to the COVID-19 craziness, and I’ve been grown in new and uncomfortable ways through that loss. God told (and is currently telling) a weird story which I get to be a character in; I really don’t aim to be the sort of woman who needs to call for smelling salts. So, with encouragement from parents, friends, and Scripture, I buckled up, did Zoom workouts from my living room, Zoom classes from my room, graduated on a farm, and enjoyed most of it, even when I needed to write a poem to productively express a sad emotion.

I’ve been a high school graduate for ten days now, and I’m loving it. This week I’ve spent most of my time working alongside the teachers during “Outservice” week, and I’ll be joining the team as a full-time intern teacher next year, with duties including assisting Mrs. Pakinas with fourth grade and probably teaching a few classes of my own. Monday was my first day helping out, and about four hours into it I had reached a new conclusion on my graduation.

The conclusion I reached is as follows: I can already tell that I am going to love working at ECS even more than I loved being a student at ECS, for a few reasons. The teachers are a team hungry for fellowship and itching to “carry and advance Christ-honoring culture,” and I am honored that they would include me in that endeavor.

The school taught me, alongside my parents, to love the work in front of me because of the principles behind it. Yes, I naturally love new notebooks and learning just because I enjoy them, but I realize that’s not at all the main reason I love ECS. I loved being here because of the culture that came from the teachers and their collaboration with parents.

Education is sorely lacking in our culture— if you don’t believe me, watch this video, which isn’t any form of rhetorical argument that I was taught— and we have a unique opportunity to fill our local community with God-glorifying men and women who are not afraid to stand up to lies from media outlets or friends and family. Nehemiah and his men worked to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls because the city sorely needed defenses; Christian parents and teachers must currently work to rebuild the educational defenses that have been neglected, and in some cases, torn down purposefully. This is what the school aims to do.

The school is in the business of people, as I believe the U.H. has said before. If someone graduated and couldn’t recall any conjugations or chemistry formulas, but they knew their identity in Christ and their calling in God’s world, the school would have helped fashion a person that could advance Christ-honoring culture, no matter what they set their hands to. I just happen to be setting my hands to teaching next year, alongside continuing my own education, and I am eager to do it with a red pen and book in one hand and a coffee in the other.

—The M.H.*

*Maggie Higgins (flagship student when the school began in 2012; graduate of the Class of 2020; teaching Intern for next year; resident Gnome agitator)

Speakers’ Q&A

with Mr. Andy Bowers, Mr. Jonathan Sarr, Mrs. Leila Bowers, Mrs. Rebekah Merkle, and Mr. Sean Higgins

2019 Fiction Festival
Speakers' Q&A
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