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What Does it Take to Build Community?

November 14, 2023
By John Naeher

While I was on a mission trip with our students in a small village in Mexico, I was struck by the overwhelming sense of community.  They didn’t talk about it, they didn’t strategize how to facilitate it, they simply lived it.  At midnight the night before we were leaving, about 30 young people showed up at the family's house that I was staying in, a 10’ x 20’ concrete block home, with music, a cake and joyful hearts to sing Happy Birthday to the girl who was just turning 16.  I found out later, it was a village tradition.  Coming together to “share life,” it was great!

CHS has enjoyed a vibrant community of families coming together to “share life.”  During my 40 plus years of working here at CHS, the common bond of seeking to raise children with a heart for the Lord, and preparing them well to do what the Lord has created them to do, has been strong.

Several of you have mentioned, “Hey, we saw you choked up as you closed the Veterans Day Program last week.”  The power of the moment was overwhelming in all the right ways.  As I looked out from the podium, sitting on the floor directly in front of me were some of our youngest students. Just 25 feet further back sat our guest, Navy veteran Mr. Carl Massaro, 98 yrs young.  As a 19 yr old, he landed on Okinawa in heavy fighting to preserve the freedom that allowed the men who were assembled just to my left (made of students, alumni, parents and staff) to sing the most beautiful rendition of “How Great Thou Art.”  What a special glimpse of community!

When my youngest daughter Abby was a senior at CHS, early that September, she asked to stop at Dunkin’ Donuts on the way to school for an iced coffee. Excited for the new year and wanting to do something fun for her, I of course, said yes. The same request came the following week.  Thinking I would like to do something special for her again, I said yes. The third week rolled around and as we were approaching Dunkin’ Donuts Abby looked over and said, “Dad, you know ‘it’s tradition.’ We really need to stop again.”  As I quickly did the math in my head (36 weeks left of school + 1 iced coffee a week = $$) and being the easy target that I am, I pulled into Dunkin’ Donuts… and you know the rest.  I share this because in Abby’s senior reflections on what was most special to her during her final year, she included, “…waking up super early every Tuesday for my father-daughter coffee date!”  I’ve always recognized that special moments and events were important, but as I read her reflection for the first time I was so struck by that obvious reality that the foundation of what we do at CHS is critical.  The academic preparation and the Biblical foundation are the reason we exist but we can help better achieve both those goals and objectives by supplementing with a rich community and times of coming together as we “share life.”  The moments and the experiences matter and will often be what is remembered.

As the Director of Student Life and Operations, I have seen that community is often most richly built through common challenges and goals.  I am so grateful that CHS has always worked to embrace the lifestyle of service to others for the glory of our Lord.  Scripture is clear that we are built to serve.  I have been on many service projects and mission trips and, in these situations, I have often wished that the parents could get a glimpse of this experience.  For example, on a recent senior class trip we had the opportunity to do a service project in Florida. The Lord brought this family to our attention. They were young parents in their forties with two teenage children. The dad was quite ill and, as a result, was blind.  The family was facing many difficulties and we couldn’t address them all.  However, we could address the physical needs of yard work, building a wheelchair ramp and painting their house.  At the end of a very long day, close to dusk as the sun was setting, we completed the work and the family was brought back home for the reveal.  As the mom stood crying on the newly added front porch saying thank you to the kids, the husband grabbed my arm while sitting in his wheelchair.  He pulled me over to speak into my ear, saying, “I can’t see the work that the kids have done but I can feel the joy that it brings my wife.  Please bring the students over to me one at a time so I can thank each one individually.”  You can only imagine the scene as this gentleman reached out and grabbed the hand of each student to say thank you!!!  This was a very powerful moment!  I’m quite certain that the class was never so unified and never felt such a stronger sense of community with each other as they did at that moment with our newly adopted family.  

CHS intentionally works to create opportunities and special moments, such as Fall Festival, Veterans Day, Grandparents Day, School Spirit Week, service projects, special events and a number of social opportunities for the express purpose of building a stronger community to help us achieve our core goals. It is our desire to help our students become the person that God created and built them to be - one lesson, one class, one special event, one service project and one moment at a time!

We are so thankful that YOU are part of our community!


John Naeher is the Director of Student Life & Operations.  He started at CHS in the fall of 1981 and began his 43rd yr in the fall of 2023.  His daughters, Amanda 06', Alyssa 06' and Abigail 10' attended CHS from K-12.  John has had the privilege of coaching several teams, sponsoring many Senior Classes and been a part of building community at CHS throughout his career.  “CHS has been a rich part of my family for which I will always be grateful.”


The Most Beautiful Things You Will Never See

October 30, 2023
By Bruce Stempien

These are the most beautiful things you will never see! 

These are pictures of just a portion of the new HVAC systems installed over the past couple years.  At over $1 million, what an awesome display of God’s people investing in a better future for the ministry and mission of Christian Heritage School. 

There is this great image painted for us in Deuteronomy 6 just before the nation of Israel is to cross the Jordan River into Canaan.  God gives this word. 

"It shall come about when the Lord your God brings you into the land which He swore to give your fathers  . . . to give you a land with great and splendid cities which you did not build and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn wells which you did not dig and vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant” 

When we stop and look around us, literally everything here at CHS is here because someone gave, built or donated. Given, sometimes at great sacrifice, always with a yearning to see what we witness every day.  Children, families, and teachers working and learning together were on their minds and hearts when they gave their prayerful support and generous donations.  They earnestly anticipated the impact for Christ through the mission of Christian Heritage School and did it all with gratitude. 

The core values on which this place was built change lives and matter for eternity.  Values like an unshakeable faith in God built on a foundation of prayer, a firm adherence to His Word and a deep love for kids.  There is a passion for this biblically based education secured by a sacred partnership with the home and church.  And, there is a pursuit of excellence, all of it delivered by gifted and godly teachers in a culture that sadly does not often value these things.  

As CHS begins its 47th year, it has been and continues to be my greatest joy to serve in various roles alongside incredibly talented teachers and other professionals as we take on this important purpose. 

In my role in development, I speak with parents, former parents and grandparents of CHS graduates, alumni and friends of CHS.  I will sometimes ask, “Why continue to be interested in us?  Why support the CHS mission?  Your generosity is an obvious sign of support meant to encourage and strengthen what is done here.  Why do you continue giving money to CHS, year after year?" 

Their responses reference a few common themes: 

  • It’s our children, and our children’s children.  It’s our responsibility, our greatest joy and treasure to support a Godly heritage moving on through our legacy.  
  • It is our call and duty to our world.  It does not get any more important than this; together we raise up Christian scholars in a world that desperately needs people sharing the love of Jesus Christ in action and in truth. 
  • Because we are grateful.  We experience the unique and personal touch of Godly teachers who model daily an intimate relationship with, and love for, Jesus Christ.  Our children certainly learn to read and write and compete academically.  That is not unimportant, but it isn’t the full answer.  These teachers walk daily with the Lord and then teach children that the Bible is the Living Word of God.  We are grateful for that blessing.  

It is a privilege to take every opportunity to support the mission and ministry of this special place.  Please take a moment to reflect and share a gift that will literally touch lives for eternity. 

God bless you.


Bruce Stempien is the Director of Advancement. Bruce has been active at CHS in a variety of roles through their 45+ year history.  In the ‘80s, he set up the framework for the new high school and worked part time with college admissions for CHS graduating classes through the ‘90s.  In 2007, he assumed the role of Upper School Principal for 6 years and, in 2013, became the Director of Advancement.  As a team, Bruce and and his wife, Dianne, were involved in school musicals and a student singing group named Greater Love.  They enjoyed the experience as parents of a son and a daughter who attended CHS from Kindergarten through 12th grade.  They currently attend New Life Church. 

AI Technology

October 16, 2023
By Benjamin Chase

Like any new technology, artificial intelligence has brought new opportunities and ethical questions into our lives. Is it okay to click the automated email reply that says essentially what you would have said? Is it fine to let an algorithm clean up your grammar and syntax? How about letting your new car drive for you? None of these questions are going away, so we need to acknowledge their ubiquity and learn how to respond well to them. 

Schools everywhere are scrambling to respond to AI programs like ChatGPT, especially when it comes to academic accountability. Programs like these respond to prompts by gathering information from all over the internet and synthesizing it in a unique way that replicates human writing. At this point, the writing may be a little stiff—and some of it may be erroneous or irrelevant—but much of it is accurate and decently written. 

This makes plagiarism of various kinds easier for students, and much harder for teachers to detect (since each AI response is essentially a unique language event). When I reached out to my fellow AP Lang teachers on Facebook to share their strategies for managing this new challenge, I received about fifty thoughtful and varied responses! Clearly, there is no standard protocol for teachers right now, although there are many good practices.    

At CHS, we as educators are committed to learning more about AI, and, as always, we will set clear expectations with our students. It is not enough for us to say, “Don’t ever use AI!” Instead, we must teach students how and when to use these technologies. For example, ChatGPT might be a perfect resource for a student searching for a new book or research topic, but it should not be used as a writing aid for an essay draft. 

Since AI detection is much more challenging than traditional plagiarism, we will also be teaching students to authenticate their own writing (via citations, Google Doc drafts, accountability systems like, etc.). Originality and academic accountability have always been important in the writing process, but now they will be even more central. 

As technologies like AI continue to evolve, we teachers at CHS are adapting to the challenges and opportunities they present. ChatGPT and other models of AI were just released for public use last school year, and we experienced some of our first student incidents with them in the final few months of school. So far this school year, we have had a full PD training session about AI, all upper school teachers have created ChatGPT accounts, and some teachers are already finding appropriate ways to incorporate AI into lessons and assignments. There is certainly more to learn, but we are well on our way.     

Helpful Link for Parents:


Benjamin J. Chase is the English department chair at Christian Heritage School, where he has been teaching since 2010. He is a Connecticut native with an MFA in Poetry from West Conn. His poems have appeared in many literary journals over the years, and his first book of poetry, Here to See It, was published by Kelsay Books in May 2022. He lives with his wife Cristina and son Levi in Monroe, where they attend Stepney Baptist Church.

Test Taking Strategies

October 02, 2023
By Kim Haggerty
UPCOMING TEST: Plan to Study

Fall Greetings CHS community:  For those who are new to Christian Heritage School, I pray you are beginning to feel a bit more settled into our community. Academic classes are into a good routine by now and homework has begun. A first test or quiz most likely has happened in your child’s class. As grades are beginning to be entered into the gradebook, some students may begin to feel a bit anxious or overwhelmed.

If your child indicates that they may feel unsettled or even expresses some anxiety about an upcoming test, it is key to think through strategies for good test preparation. It is most helpful for you as their parent or guardian to put things into perspective. Your child needs to know that it is important to do well in school, but a single test or quiz will not determine his or her future. There will be more opportunities. Your child also needs guidance in learning how to prepare for tests in ways that will reduce test anxiety.

Step 1: Put a plan in place (throughout the semester)
  • Pre-read your textbook before class. (This especially pertains to the more advanced classes.)
  • Read notes after class even on nights without homework. (Rewrite anything you might not understand.)
  • Reach out to your teacher for extra help (schedule an appointment during their office hours)
  • Prepare and review notes
Step 2: Put a plan in place (the week or two before the test)
  • When a review sheet is provided, complete it (start on it the day you receive it!) and use it to study.
  • Reach out to your teacher for help on any questions that you’re stuck on, and physically write out your answers and explanations for anything you did not understand.
Step 3: Put a plan in place (the 24 hours before the test)
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Your ability to think clearly and to deal with possible test anxiety improves with good sleep.
  • Eat something to help with focus and attention.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Remember you have prepared, and now is not the time to worry.
Step 4: During the test!

Now is the time to SHOW WHAT YOU KNOW!  

  • Be prepared to run into a few questions you aren’t sure about. Know that it’s going to happen, and don’t panic when it does.
  • If you feel anxious, PRAY! Philippians 4:6 - “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
  • Breathe deeply to calm your “fight or flight” response. (You learned about “box breathing”  in Chapel recently. Use this!)
  • Focus on YOUR work. It doesn’t matter if others are working at a faster (or slower) pace. Take the time YOU need!
  • Do your best, check over your work, and turn it in. You can learn from your results when you get them back, but you did your best.  It’s time to relax a bit!

By reviewing these pre-test strategies you may have discovered new ideas to help your child to add to what they already use.

One of the most important keys to success in test preparation is having the discipline to do what you know you should do, even when you don’t feel like doing it. Encourage your child to develop productive test preparation skills, a plan for dealing with anxiety during the test, and an ability to keep a proper perspective on this test in the grand scheme of things.


Kim Haggerty, an alum of CHS, received a Bachelor of Arts degree in education from Wheaton College right outside of Chicago. She began her career in Special Education in the Westport School system; the Lord led her back to CHS to join the staff as an elementary teacher. Mrs. Haggerty is beginning her 9 th year in her current position directing the Student Academic Services program overseeing grades K-12. She is a part of a wonderful team who help support students and their families to assist in their development to reach their full potential as lifelong learners. She absolutely loves what she does and enjoys building relationships with CHS students and their families.


Lessons From Taking High School Students Out of the Country

September 18, 2023
By Mark Persson

Sixteen high school students, two faculty members, and I went to the Dominican Republic for a week in June to serve with Kids Alive International (please checkout this awesome organization!). Trips like this are always a mixed bag. They come with all the normal challenges that you’d expect trying to get so many people on buses and planes, through airports, and settled into a cross cultural context. But they also provide unique opportunities for personal and communal spiritual development. This trip began with the former.

The next week was marked by surprising elation and expected frustration. There were moments when students were phenomenal - sharing testimonies, working together, enjoying God, His people, and creation. There were other moments that were not. But here is what I’m learning from taking high school students out of the country.

I am just like them. I crave love, significance, and comfort more than God.

“But, but!” I say to myself, “my cravings are justified.”  How can it be wrong to miss the love of my wife and kids, long to make an impact, and to give myself permission to take it easy?

But their cravings are vices! Phones, momentary impact, and flirting. Oh they are bad. I’m good.

Here is the reality, I missed my phone too, I’m just a little more experienced in behavior management. I wanted the feels of momentary success and significance of this trip too. If I am really honest, I want people to think I’m attractive, impressive, and desirable too. Idolatry is not pursuing bad things but craving anything more than the presence and favor of God. And I’m still fashioning idols at 32.

And I need the same thing as them. The highlight of the trip was team worship each night. Something profound and mysterious happens when you sing with others. Singing changes the way you look at others and yourself. When you see others singing, it humanizes them. You realize they aren’t the caricature you’ve made them out to be. They are living and breathing; made in the image of God and sustained by His grace. And when you sing, you realize you aren’t so great. Singing about God’s glory reminds you that you have been living very much for your own, and it humbles you. Singing to the LORD confronts us with the message of Jesus. But, the good news that Jesus came to share (and be!) starts with bad news. We are more sinful and selfish than we thought, but we are more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope.

‘23-24 School Theme

Our school theme this year is Sing to the LORD from 2 Chronicles 20 and Psalm 100. Singing is risky and makes us vulnerable. Not surprisingly, it can be hard for everyone (and especially students and young adults) to belt it out. But we all listen to music, we are shaped by melodies and lyrics, and there is a strange power in music that moves us, removes us from worries, soothes our spirit. So, God commands us to sing and praise Him so that we can tangibly and communally experience the benefits of being loved and saved by God. We are going to explore and experience the power of singing together this year through corporate worship and special concerts!

Spiritual Life at CHS - Partnership, Participation, and Process

Spiritual life at Christian Heritage is a partnership with parents and churches to help students understand that “In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). Learning to be captivated by Jesus Christ and His Kingdom means participation. It happens everywhere from student clubs to the science lab and from the sports field to chapel. Learning to love Jesus is a process. At CHS we want our students to live in the hopeful tension expressed in the Gospel of Mark, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Pursuing Jesus and His Kingdom is not an easy road, but it is the path to life (Psalm 16:11).

The flight home…
Our trip home looked like it might be just as nightmarish as the start. We were on the runway and ready to take off when the pilot announced, “The main engine didn’t start right. A heat sensor is not working.  We are going to get the engineers to take a look.” Then he added, “It might be a different story if we were in the air.” The ambiguity of that last sentence was not what the passengers were looking for. What followed was no small amount of hysteria and grumbling. Some passengers immediately went to the door and demanded to be let off. They wanted no part in this flight. Finally everyone was asked to deboard. The mood in the terminal was the same on the flight. It was packed. Nowhere to sit. Long lines for food. Spotty WIFI. And no clarity on if we’d have a flight out. Meanwhile, I had no idea what I would do with 19 people in Santiago if our flight was canceled and rescheduled for another day. We waited for three hours with no clear message from the airline (I won’t tell you the airline - this isn’t about them). Then, the gate agent said that the flight was on and we needed to board immediately. I ran back to the students and delivered the message - and their jaws dropped. It was more shock and awe than the joy and relief I was expecting from them. “Chappy,” they said, “we literally just finished praying that God would sort this out.”


Mark Persson, aka “Chappy P,” is the Chaplain at CHS. He is married to Michelle, and they have three children: Karis (starting Kindergarten at CHS!), Micah, and Asher. Mark likes baking (read “eating”) bread, running, reading, and building forts with his kids. He is an elder at his church. And, he is blessed beyond belief to work alongside the incredible staff and faculty at CHS as they serve students and families!

Recent Posts

11/14/23 - By John Naeher
10/30/23 - By Bruce Stempien
10/16/23 - By Benjamin Chase
10/2/23 - By Kim Haggerty
9/18/23 - By Mark Persson


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