Servant Leader: Beyond The Classroom With Ross VanDerBill
Leslie Ravencroft '19

Developing a student’s character and faith — in and outside of the classroom — is at the heart of Mr. VanDerBill’s teaching style.

Historical documents cover the walls of Mr. VanDerBill’s classroom: Photographs, an American flag, and his combat uniform. The uniform is a reminder that the seventh grade social studies teacher served our country in Iraq. He isn’t just teaching from textbooks — but through experience. 

“Living the actual history, gave me an appreciation for history,” he says. “In my classroom we look at the ugliness of humanity. It’s the realities of our sinfulness that we wrestle with and how our faith should guide us.”

It’s this blending of faith and history and how Christians can learn from past atrocities that help shape his seventh grade social studies curriculum. “I want my kids to turn to the Bible to figure everything out,” he says. “I want them to process everything through their faith.”

Processing historical events through faith also helps develop critical thinking. “I want them to see how historical events led to one another and how they were all connected,” says Mr. VanDerBill. 

Developing his students’ character and faith — in and outside of the classroom — is also an important part of Mr. VanDerBill’s teaching style. At the beginning of the year, he tells all of his seventh grade students that they are young adults. Just those two words — young adults — helps make the environment a place of equal respect between the teachers and students. “The students really rise to a new level of maturity,” VanDerBill says. “The students feel respected and it adds to their confidence and character.” 

Developing confidence and character is something that Mr. VanDerBill strives to do even outside of the classroom — particularly with middle school boys. And sometimes that means taking them outside of their comfort zone. 

I want my kids to turn to the Bible to figure everything out.

For the past six years, Mr. VanDerBill, along with fifth grade teacher Mr. Scholma, have lead a group of middle school boys to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for a week of camping, canoeing and fishing. About seven hours away from the concrete jungle of Chicagoland is the Sylvania Wilderness, part of the Ottawa National Forest. It’s here that all modern conveniences are left behind — and young men can truly experience God’s creation, deepen their faith, and develop more responsibility. 

Mr. VanDerBill explains, “We want the boys to experience life outside of their comfort zones and learn skills beyond what they are used to.” 

There’s no running water, no electricity, no cell phones, no cars. The boys have to fish and cook their own dinners, sleep in tents, and the only way to get around is by canoe. 

“The boys develop higher levels of maturity as they are shown a mutual respect from Mr. Scholma and me,” Mr. VanDerBill explains. “I want to show them that when we’re out in the wilderness we are all equals.” 

It’s in the towering trees, the still lake, and even when it rains (Mr. VanDerBill says it always does!) that young men can experience God’s vast love through his creation. Every morning the boys have devotions together, then they each break away from the group for quiet reflection. 

“This trip really helped me in my faith, because it was time away and miles away from everyone,” says Trevor Wolterstorff, who is now a sophomore in high school. “I started doing devotions more after the trip.” 

As the boys renew their faith through fellowship and mentors, they are able to take their experiences with them as they venture out of the woods and back into the halls of Timothy. Experiencing new territory and greater responsibility is vital to growing in maturity and becoming lifelong servant leaders.