By Rick Kern
Ideas have consequences, so the saying goes, and in the case of Genesee Country Christian School (GCCS), those ideas and their resulting consequences are far reaching as they shape godly character and perspective in generation upon generation. Established in 1996, the 22-year old academic powerhouse has flourished with enrollment increasing from its six inaugural students to its present roster of ten-plus times that number. “We have currently 65 students, and we’ve gone anywhere from 65 to 75 a year,” recalls founding principal, Susan Teitsworth. “God’s provision has just been amazing to start a work like that from nothing to something. It’s an amazing testimony of God’s provision…”
It was Teitsworth’s vision, faith, and faithfulness that God was pleased to use in launching the school. “I guess you could say that I was the one that God planted the vision for the school in and I went to the church where I was attending which is now Christ Community Church,” says Teitsworth. “I spoke to several people at my church — a college professor, an attorney, and just some people who were interested in education.”
Like a mighty, majestic redwood tree that began as a tiny seed, GCCS began in a rented room in Groveland Federated Parish with a mere six kindergarten students, a principal, and a lone teacher. The Lord blessed their efforts and obedience and they added one grade per year until the first kindergarten class reached the sixth grade. In 2010 the board voted to add a middle school program which brought a seventh grade in 2011 and an eighth grade in 2012.
“We began out there by renting Groveland’s Sunday school rooms and their fellowship hall,” Teitsworth recalls. “Of course, we could use their sanctuary if we needed to for Christmas programs and so on. We were there for three-years, and started with six kindergarteners and their teacher, myself, and some volunteer office staff. She adds, “The teacher was the only one who got paid the first few years, the office staff and myself were on a volunteer-based schedule until we grew the school a little bit.”
“We had school out there for three-years,” she continues, “and during that time we were able to acquire 13 acres near the village of Geneseo which was donated to the school. We then built a building with a lot of volunteer labor and monetary donations. Also, the ministry is debt free and always has been.”
Susan didn’t just arbitrarily decide to establish an academic institution one fine day, she was a seasoned educator at the time and thus, had a very significant frame of reference. “When I first started working on this, I was teaching at the Harley school in Rochester,” she reflects. “I was a 2nd Grade teacher there and I would say that was one of the things that God used to bring the whole idea forward, because that was my first experience with a private school.”
Continuing she explains, “Up until that point I had been in public schools so teaching at Harley was my introduction to private school education. I was struck by the benefits that a private school can have the terms of the school being able to set its own curriculum and develop its own culture, and not be tied to a lot of state mandates and state testing.” She adds, “I remember thinking that if you could have a school like the Harley school that incorporated faith that it would just be the best school ever.”
The original vision of GCCS was to provide an exceptional academic program for students based upon the best available curriculum and instructional method. To get there, the school avoided getting boxed in by hand-me-down or canned curricula, and occasionally blazed an academic trail where there wasn’t one. “We’ve always had a strong emphasis on professional development here and not relying on a particular published Christian curriculum,” Teitsworth notes. “To develop our curriculum guides we’ve tried to look at everything that’s available out there. One of the last things we incorporated was a reading program called, ‘Foundations and Frameworks.’ It is based on a lot of research on the brain and how people learn. We tried to be current and researched-based and that was our vision for how we would develop our curriculum.”
A hometown girl, professionally she is eminently qualified to do what she does and is supported by a highly relevant and impressive resume. “I grew up here in Geneseo on a small family farm, went to Geneseo Public School, and I did some college at Fredonia,” Teitsworth reflects, “I also had a major in early childhood education — that’s my Bachelor’s degree.” She adds, “Then I completed my graduate work here at Geneseo. My graduate work was in elementary education. I have five-years of public-school primary grades K-3 in Huntington, New York. Then I had ten-years at home, we have three children and after they got a little bit older that’s when I went to the Harley school in Rochester and that was second grade position.”
Among the most impressive educational philosophies that GCCS adheres to is their focus on their students’ hearts. “We subscribe to the philosophy of shepherding a child’s heart — simply getting compliance to the rules is not where we want to go because it’s not a biblical approach and that’s not where God wants us to go,” Susan states vigorously. “God looks at the heart and so we are really concerned about of what motivates children to do either the things they shouldn’t be doing or the things they’re supposed to be doing.”
Continuing she explains, “So that is an emphasis and there is a lot of time is spent teaching and undoing a high degree of formative instruction and getting our kids to understand God’s principals. Number one being that we live out of our hearts and that it is the motivation of our heart that is controlling our behavior. Like the principle of reaping and sewing, understanding that authority is God’s plan and it’s a good one and it’s for our benefit that there’s a chain of authority… Understanding that our purpose in life is not to be happy or have nice cars or houses but our purpose is to glorify God to serve others.”
That being said, the God who created the various academic disciplines and the application of His Word is as much a part of — say… math class as multiplication. The same goes for every other subject. “Biblical truth is interwoven in the English, history, and math classes so we start by teaching informative instruction to children,” says Teitsworth.
She goes on to elaborate and clarify her point, “The major aim of Christian schooling, teaching, and learning is to have our students discover God’s laws and apply them in obedient response to him. It’s not just laws like the Ten Commandments… Instead, the reality that God is the creator and sustainer of all things is something that is incorporated throughout the school day and in each subject.”
From there Susan drills down, “When we look at patterns like in mathematics, we talk about the fact that God created those patterns. God’s design for the world is not one of chaos but rather one of order but we see that order and dependability in God’s natural laws.”
She explains, “It’s in such as basic things like gravity and the water cycle, so we are showing children that when they learn about the natural world, they’re seeing God’s creative design and power revealed. That’s the way we talk in science class, math class, and history class. I particularly love teaching literature and reading with children and I use current literature. What we have in Christian schools is truth but also God’s truth. Like the characters in the books are good and evil we expect the children to behave well because we know what well looks like from God’s Word.”
“After we talk about the character development we talk about the Scripture and God’s Word and try and connect it to the kids,” she adds. “We want our kids to see that God’s power is revealed and that it is everywhere no matter where you are and/or when you are.”
From Pre-K through Middle School, GCCS has achieved its mission to: “…support and assist parents in the training and the teaching of their children and to provide students with a well-rounded education based upon biblical truth. Recognizing that each child is a unique creation, the school seeks to provide a variety of learning experiences designed to enhance each student’s development and help each one fulfill God’s plan for his or her life.”
They have been blessed with a catalog of success stories and there is no reason to think that is going to change anytime soon for they are committed to exalting God through education. “Our goal is to teach our students and develop tendencies and dispositions that encourage them to believe, value, and act, on the biblical principles Christ taught,” says Teitsworth. “That would lead them to lives of active service. Colossians 2:2-3 would describe this school, ‘That they may know… Jesus Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.’”
For more information about Genesee Country Christian School, visit their website located at www.geneseecountrychristianschool.org or call them at (585) 243-9580.