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Hanford Christian School teachers seem to keep coming from Dordt

By Andrew De Young (’05)

This isn’t a Dordt ad!” laughs Gary Cookson (’75). He’s just finished gushing about his alma mater, remembering the “well-rounded education, variety of classes, and tremendous opportunities” that he found there. But he doesn’t want to be misunderstood. No, he’s not being paid to say these things, he’s not reading from a Dordt brochure, and he’s not trying to sound like a Dordt recruiter.

He just can’t help it, that’s all.

The same could be said about Hanford Christian School in California, where Cookson serves as principal—it’s not a Dordt ad, exactly, but with eight out of ten of their teachers hailing from Dordt, it might as well be.

Dordt alums teaching at Hanford Christian School in Hanford, California, are (front row, left to right) Lujean (Evink) Verhoeven (’83), Kristin Homkes (’04),  AnneMare (Ross) Poynter (’01), David Persenaire (’01), (back row, left to right) Margaret De Valois (’77), Gary Cookson (’75), Martje Kesting (’75), Aljean (Schaap) Plooy (’84), Marlene (Mulder) Vander Moren (’80).

Dordt alums teaching at Hanford Christian School in Hanford, California, are (front row, left to right) Lujean (Evink) Verhoeven (’83), Kristin Homkes (’04), AnneMare (Ross) Poynter (’01), David Persenaire (’01), (back row, left to right) Margaret De Valois (’77), Gary Cookson (’75), Martje Kesting (’75), Aljean (Schaap) Plooy (’84), Marlene (Mulder) Vander Moren (’80).

“It’s not a hiring policy to single out Dordt people,” says Cookson. “Aside from the Lord’s hand, I don’t know if there’s anything else you can say.” In case there’s any doubt, he points out that Hanford Christian began more than ten years before Dordt College did, and that Dordt grads have been coming and going in their halls for years. This year, they advertised for two positions on the CSI (Christian Schools International) website, and interviewed qualified candidates from Calvin College and Trinity Christian College as well as Dordt College.

“As it turned out, the Lord blessed us with some more Dordt graduates this year,” says Cookson. “We’re happy to have them.”

Kristin Homkes (’04), one of the new teachers and the most recent Dordt graduate to join the Hanford staff, says that she’s pleased to teach at a school with so many of her fellow alums. Even though the graduation years of the staff range from 2004 to 1975 and none of her former classmates work at Hanford Christian, Homkes says that it was something of a comfort to be joining so many graduates.

“Maybe it’s just a good feeling to know that you’re going to be with good people,” she says. “You know, I just love Dordt, and I thought it was really neat when I found out all the people who went to Dordt.”

Margaret De Valois, a junior high teacher at Hanford, echoes Homkes’s sentiments, although she does it from the opposite end of the spectrum. A ’77 graduate, De Valois is one of the older teachers, and has been at the school for twenty-nine years. She enjoys teaching with fellow Dordt graduates because of what she calls “a common vision.”

“It’s definitely that the Word of God has something to say about every area of life,” she says. “There’s also the love of learning and working with children, and giving back to God. There’s a satisfaction there, a joy, in doing what God has called you to do and passing it on to younger children.”

There are some drawbacks, however. De Valois, Homkes, and Cookson all say that it’s important not to let their school seem like a “Dordt club.”

“You have to be sensitive,” says De Valois. “You don’t want to go too overboard, especially with some of us who still know both verses of the alma mater!” She also mentions that, although she currently works with a lot of Dordt graduates, they have come and gone in her twenty-nine years as a teacher. Non-Dordt graduates, in other words, shouldn’t read too much into Hanford’s current teacher lineup.

If there is a message being sent here, it’s an accidental one. As Cookson puts it, they don’t just hire Dordt graduates, “but we are consistently impressed with Dordt graduates, otherwise we wouldn’t hire them. It’s nice to know that, after all these years, my alma mater is still doing a great job. They’re still training young men and women for kingdom service.”

Hanford Christian School is simply trying to teach young people to love and serve the Lord; they never set out to be a Dordt advertisement.

They just couldn’t help it, that’s all.