Bob and Trudy Van Wieren have spent most of their lives in Christian schools, since they met as first graders at Highland Christian School in Highland, Indiana. Over that long history, they have witnessed the transformation that inclusive education has brought to Christian schools, making them passionate advocates for CLC Network’s mission of creating inclusive communities.
As young students, Bob and Trudy recall a common lack of understanding for people with disabilities. Kids with disabilities weren’t part of the community, and often didn’t attend church or school with other students. Trudy and Bob contrast that with the experiences of their own grandchildren, who are attending inclusive schools.
“Our kids and grandchildren will never say they are afraid of those who have different needs,” shares Trudy. “I’m not even sure those differences are even in their vocabulary. Their friendships with students in special education are simply matter-of-fact.”
Bob and Trudy moved to Byron Center, Michigan in 1985 for Bob’s position as principal at Byron Center Christian School. One of his first tasks was to start a special education program at the school, so he met with the Christian Learning Center to learn how to do it.
Trudy and Bob give credit CLC Network’s executive director, R.H. “Bear” Berends, for launching fully inclusive programs at area Christian Schools. “His legacy is really incredible. When he started talking about all of our children being part of the covenant, about belonging to all of us, that really made sense to me,” recalls Bob. “The school community never really balked at the idea, it just felt like this is the way the Kingdom is supposed to be.”
Bob has worked at Christian Schools International (CSI), Calvin Christian Schools, and today serves as Accreditation Program Director for CSI. He often travels the country visiting Christian schools on behalf of CSI.
“Many Christian schools are realizing that they should include kids with disabilities, but they just don’t know how,” Bob shares. “Sharing CLC Network’s help is really important right now.”
As current Board President, Bob devotes a significant amount of time to guiding CLC Network’s future. He’s excited to see CLC Network grow to serve schools across the country and to meet those community’s needs.
Trudy recalls learning about a family who had to send their daughter far away to become part of a community, when students with those same disabilities were getting on the bus in their home communities with her own kids. Trudy and Bob ask, “Why wouldn’t you want your children to see all of us as part of God’s Kingdom?”