By Natalie Barahona Bruzon
When Debbie Pinto Campos ’17 arrived at Union College to study elementary education, she knew only about public schools. From first through twelfth grade, Campos attended local public schools and couldn’t imagine what a classroom with God in it looked like.
But being at Union and then student teaching at George Stone Elementary School changed all that. Union’s unique, on-campus elementary school brings students from the Lincoln community into a multigrade classroom that allows student teachers like Campos to experience life in a small Christian school.
“I’ve learned that I can’t imagine teaching without God in the picture,” Campos said. “Teaching can come with its challenges, but when you can openly talk about God with the kids, it opens a door to a special relationship with your kids. You’re no longer only a teacher to them but a child of God, just like them—ultimately we’re all trying to get through life and to heaven. It’s crazy!”
Before her George Stone experience, Campos couldn’t see the value in a small school. “Because I was raised in public school, I saw small academies as a hindrance to one’s education,” she explained. “Teaching at George Stone demonstrated to me the benefits of not only a small classroom but also a multigrade classroom.”
Education majors begin observing in the George Stone classroom their freshman year, and then teach a variety of classes to students in grades one through eight throughout their curriculum. “We really benefit from George Stone,” Campos emphasized. “As early as the sophomore year, education students have the opportunity to teach children at George Stone. They become familiar with classroom routines, child development and teaching responsibilities early in the program. Lead teachers Jackie Simpson and Jeannie Kriegelstein are incredibly experienced mentors.”
For Campos, George Stone provided an opportunity for her to grow—and sometimes fail—all in a safe environment.
“Because it’s a teaching laboratory, we have a personal space where we can build our confidence. It sounds funny, but we learn to fail well,” said Campos. “Education majors have the chance to become accustomed to all age groups and learn how to develop trusting relationships with their students. It’s a safe zone where the lead teachers are intentional about mentoring college students and we can practice all of our creative ideas.”
The opportunity to become familiar with a God-centered classroom structure changed Campos’ career path from an aspiring public school teacher to an Adventist school advocate. The experiences she had at George Stone shaped her into the teacher she is today. Some of her favorite memories are the times she could point her students to Jesus.
“I had a student who was having a hard time staying focused and because it was one of my first teaching experiences I felt a bit discouraged,” Campos remembered. She felt like a failure because she couldn’t hold the child’s interest. “Then one day during a reading project, I started asking him about his life. Soon we were exchanging funny stories and I could tell he was beginning to trust me,” she remembered.
At a pause in the conversation, Campos could tell the boy wanted to asked a question, but hesitated. “What’s up?” she asked.
“Mrs. Debbie,” he asked. “Do you think my grandpa will be in heaven?”
“If your grandpa loved Jesus, then He [Jesus] will want your grandpa in heaven,” she replied.
The boy smiled. “Do you think I will be in heaven?”
“Do you love Jesus?”
The boy nodded.
“Then I know you’ll be in heaven,” she answered.
“I can’t wait to see you there!” the boy said with a broad smile.
Now Campos will use the skills she learned from those George Stone students to teach in her own classroom at Buena Vista Academy in Auburn, Wash.
“If I’ve taken anything from George Stone, it’s confidence,” she said. “I have a better understanding of who I am as a teacher and what I want my vision and goals to be. Of course we’ll always be learning and growing but I feel I was given a launching pad that taught me not only to be an elementary teacher but a holistic and spiritual elementary teacher.”