My family is so appreciative of the care and support our son is getting at PacBay. His enthusiasm over math is music to my ears. Biology is a close second.

A Parent of a High School Student

Insights from PacBay

How We Recognize Our High School Students
Dr Michael Chen


We celebrated our high school students during our mid-year Academic Award Chapel this morning.  Specifically, we highlighted students whose achievements came with the highest cumulative GPA thus far, as well as those who demonstrated resilience and tenacity as indicated by their improvement.

To set the serious and celebratory tone of this particular chapel, we heard thoughtful and profound remarks made by two of our seniors as they shared about their motivation for learning openly and wisely.  

Natty Mulugeta ‘20 talked about how he learns. “I am a physical learner.  This self-realization that I learn easier when I am doing something has helped me understand that learning is not easy; but there is a reward that comes with the hard work that makes it worthwhile.  Learning nourishes my mind like food nourishes the body.”

 Laurie Ye ’20 encouraged the students with some practical tips: “Trust yourself.  Be confident. Study smart. Don’t compare yourself to others. Ask questions all the time.” 

I appreciated Natty’s comments about accessing your strengths and finding your inner motivation and Laurie’s practical advice.  Moreover, their comments beg the question of how we separate these considerations from an authentic engagement of learning? My answer to this question is that I believe love and learning are connected.  In my own personal journey, I have come to realize that the more you learn the more capable of loving you become. The more loving you become, the more you want to learn.

And it is with this belief that this morning we recognized students who exemplify the love of learning, genuine curiosity, the pursuit of excellence, and the value of collegiality.  This is not about competition.  This is all about highlighting what inspires us for greater things.  

Those students who received the recognition today now have the challenging task of holding the tension between being proud of themselves and being authentically humble.  They were recognized because we want them to continue on this path of active learning and because we want them to inspire their peers.


With that, we congratulate the following students.


Joel Zabaneh (Highest GPA)
Skylar Stambaugh (Most Improved)


Hailee Wu (Highest GPA)
John-Mark Boyd (Most Improved)


Dietrich Bumgarner (Highest GPA)
Grace Mei & Charlene Lozano (Most Improved—Tie)


Dwight Bumgarner (Highest GPA)
Edison Chau (Most Improved)


Warmly and proudly,

Michael Chen, Ed.D
Head of School


Risk of Your Choice
Mr Gordon Hultberg

Mr Gordon HultbergA hallmark of a PacBay education is encouraging students to take academic risks in the classroom.  While we recognize the importance of grades, we believe that it is more important for students to develop a love and joy for learning.  Faculty member, Gordon Hultberg, who teaches English, AP Literature, and Christian Studies, has penned this blog post comparing risks taken on the school yard in his youth with risky behavior he encourages in his students.

My first steps at school-yard risk had been foisted upon me. I remember being walked to school in Southern California on the first day of Kindergarten, running back home only be taken once more by the hand and accompanied there by my mom, a neighbor, and her daughter, who was my age. Later, in high school, came my tentative but required steps into the artificial light of the locker room, where the dangers included towel-snapping, extortion for lunch money, pelting, punching, or teasing. In those days, simply sitting in math class was a risk. I ended up with a pencil rammed into my thigh by a neighboring student, its tip permanently embedded there. I seldom risked telling adults about these occasions. Didn’t everyone simply endure the dangers of school in order to take advantage of all its benefits?

I liked learning, but in those days, I had no choice. When I became a teacher, I decided to offer my students more choices. At Pacific Bay, elective classes and outdoor offerings give students a chance to grow by choosing their challenges.  

Enter “Choose-Your-Own Risk”. 


studentsTentative Steps at First

What do I see when I watch risk-taking by choice? 

This past week I have seen students, by choice:

  • attend their first opera, Billy Budd, a paired study of text and adaptation
  • write about personal challenges.
  • craft and share an original poem in an unfamiliar genre as an English elective.
  • become familiar with digital breakout games in a Bible elective.
  • pedal their bikes up and over the Coastal Trail to Rockaway Beach on a warm day, navigating its difficult switchbacks with all due courtesy to pedestrians.

When students take such risks they are problem-solving. 

I am in the position of watching them negotiate the unfamiliar. 

Sure, some of them have ridden bikes before; solved escape room puzzles, written poems, read mysteries. 

But the rewards that impress me most are the unanticipated ones:

  • riders who learned in one week how to eat and drink before cycling in order to ensure a safe and enjoyable ride; who learned in a year to have control of a bike and move from follower to leader. 
  • writers who produced first efforts at a new genre, and enthusiastically shared their process during writing conferences with me.
  • readers translating their love for Sherlock Holmes as experienced through a tv series (L1) to a reading the character aloud in Arthur Conan Doyle’s original. 
  • seeing students silhouetted against the night lights of the San Francisco Public Library, after the opera, as they interact with its UN Plaza exhibit, holding hands to make music play through loudspeakers
  • hearing an opera-goer say “We should go to more operas. When is the next one?”
  • hearing someone who has never played a digital escape game say “I solved it! Can I do another one?”

Such students are claiming rewards and accepting new roles. They are taking control of their own learning, and seeing themselves as in charge of their choices. 


students holding handsNext Step 

I ask my writing students to plan their next step before they leave a conference. I notice many of the above students are thinking ahead to their next bike ride or outdoor ed elective, the next poem, game, or performance in a special genre, the next problem to pose and investigate. 

What can teachers and parents do to support the tentative steps our students will take tomorrow? 

We can be there to affirm their choices, allow them to risk and fail at first, provide immediate and ongoing feedback, and celebrate their learning every step of the way. 

“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, /And He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, /Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.” 

  • Psalm 37:23-24 NASB
From White to Mosaic
Dr Michael Chen


PacBay Head of School, Dr. Michael Chen, contributed a chapter to the recently published book, MINDSHIFT: Catalyzing Change in Christian Education (ACSI, 2019) 

Here is a portion of the chapter he wrote on the benefits of building a diverse student population.


From White to Mosaic


Building on the Foundation


Dr Chen talked to students in class

Educators spend most of their time working with knowledge.  We teach students to know subjects, know themselves, know each other, and know the world around them.  But rarely do we ask the question of what it means to know something or, more specifically, some one.  A deeper understanding is needed as a foundation for doing the work we discuss in this chapter.  Lesslie Newbigin, a British theologian and missionary, offered this insight:

But there is another kind of knowing . . . It is the kind of knowing that we seek in our relations with other people.  In this kind of knowing we are not in full control.  We may ask questions, but we must also answer the questions put by the other.  We can only come to know others in the measure of which they are willing to share.  The resulting knowledge is not simply our own achievement; it is also the gift of others.

(Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1995.)


This type of “knowing” is crucial for our students – and for ourselves as educators –to develop.  Our turbulent world is full of broken relationships. We are often surrounded by only the voices with which we already agree, making it easy to just ignore or write off people with different perspectives.  Yet, Christ calls us to something different – to love our neighbors as ourselves.  To be effective, Christ-centered teachers and leaders, we must equip our students to lovingly engage with people who come from communities, life experiences, and perspectives different from their own – without presumption or expectation, but rather with the desire to truly know them.


Similarly, our knowledge and understanding of God, which is built on our ongoing relationship with Him, gives shape for how we interpret and understand the world around us.  We wonder if this is part of what Paul says in Colossians, that “[Christ] is before all things and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). When we get to know Christ more through a lifetime of discipleship, things in life would make more sense to us because “in him all [meaning] holds together.”


Curiously, the story of us knowing God begins with the premise that we, as human beings, are incapable of knowing the true God.  Christian faith asserts that divine understanding is not something we strive for or are able to achieve on our own; this is the biggest existential and epistemological divide – God and human beings.  Only God can bridge this divide. And he did. Christ did so by relinquishing his privileges and “made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7).  God’s way of loving us is through his committed act of sacrifice, through the lowering of himself to humanity, and by bridging the fundamentally unbridgeable divide.


So, what are the implications of God bridging the impossible divide?  As Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians, because of his reconciliation work and the divine diversity of God’s family, “he gave us the ministry of reconciliation” with others in this life (2 Corinthians 5:18).  He calls us to bridge the divide between others and us, even when it might seem difficult.  The way that God came to know us, knowing even “the hairs in our heads” (Matthew 10:30) serves to give us the shape of knowing, or pattern of knowing others, whether it is people or subjects or the world around us, so that we know how to properly, thoughtfully, and redemptively relate to others who are different from us.


Furthermore, how this is important to Christ-centered education is that we must provide opportunities for our students to learn from those who are different from them and learn with those who are different from them.  We must communicate that bridging the divide between people for the love of knowing is fundamental to our faith journey.  Our students will lose out on this important dimension of their discipleship life if they don’t engage thoughtfully, intentionally, and redemptively with other students of different racial, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds.  Moreover, diversity in school allows many students of privileged backgrounds to learn how to relinquish their privilege, attentively listen to others’ stories, and attentively and lovingly develop genuine relationships with others.


Christian Schools and Service-Learning: A Different Approach
Dr. Michael Chen


As the head of a Christian school, one of my top goals is to graduate leaders of competence and character who will be compelling examples for Christ in today’s turbulent world. To achieve this, we strive to impart academic and spiritual knowledge that sharpen students’ minds and instill curiosity. We discuss pressing community and world issues as students engage in practical service opportunities, cultivating their compassion and empathy. These are core ingredients of a Christ-centered education. But, I’ve also come to recognize another often-overlooked, yet critical ingredient: learning to know and love people who are different from us through the development of authentic, committed relationships.

This concept is articulated by Lesslie Newbigin, a British theologian and missionary:


3 middle schoolers in a pacific bay Christian School“But there is another kind of knowing…It is the kind of knowing that we seek in our relations with other people. In this kind of knowing we are not in full control. We may ask questions, but we must also answer the questions put by the other. We can only come to know others in the measure of which they are willing to share. The resulting knowledge is not simply our own achievement; it is also the gift of others” (Newbigin 1995, 10)

It’s this type of “knowing” that I see as crucial for my students to develop.

Our turbulent world is full of broken relationships. We are often surrounded by only the voices with which we already agree, making it easy to just ignore or write off people with different perspectives. Yet, Christ calls us to something different—to love our neighbors as ourselves. To be effective, Christ-centered leaders, we must equip our students to lovingly engage with people who come from communities, life experiences, and perspectives different from their own—without presumption or expectation, but rather with the desire to truly know them.

Learning to “Know”: Relationship-Based Service-Learning

There are many ways that I seek to integrate the practice of “knowing” others into both my school’s culture and curriculum. One approach I want to lift up is relationship-based service- learning. Service-learning is defined as “a pedagogy that intentionally connects classroom learning with service opportunities outside of the school” (Swaner and Erdvig 2018). Studies identify several elements foundational to service-learning. These elements are: service participation of students; identified needs of the community; and integration of service and academic objectives (Shumer and Belbas 1996).

I have found that service-learning is most powerful when opportunities intentionally facilitate the development of meaningful connections and relationships to deepen “knowing” others in a lasting way. When I taught in Boston, our school took students to Nepal every summer for 10 years. On our trips, students shared meals with local families, organized community soccer tournaments, and threw birthday parties for children at the orphanage with which we partnered. Students and supporting teachers heard honest insights from local organizations, leaders, and community members on how we could best serve—and they shared these insights with us because they knew and trusted that we were with them for the long haul.

Some students went for repeat summers because of their relationships with individuals and organizations that they worked with and served. And, though only eight to 10 students went annually, our entire student body knew the names and stories of the people that we met and partnered with because we intentionally told their stories, raised money for them, remembered them in corporate prayer, and stayed connected with them until we met again.

This is the essence of relationship-based service-learning: building committed relationships with communities that we partner with and serve, not just during the service project, but in ongoing ways. When done well, the impact goes beyond the typical one-off service project that gets relegated into students’ memories as a “great experience.” Instead, students are more likely to meaningfully contribute to the communities they intend to serve; and, students’ empathic capacities are expanded as they connect with people during their service-learning experience and are also continually challenged to “know” those they meet—by remembering and standing in solidarity with them through relationship and justice action over time.

Avoiding Unintentional Harm

Relationship-based service-learning supports the development of young, resilient Christian leaders as they formulate their own understanding and empathy for the deep needs of the world. Yet, when the “relationship-based” aspect of service-learning is absent, it can unintentionally cause harm—both to communities being served, and in the discipleship of students. If service-learning is designed as a one-time experience without intentionally planning for continuity and relational commitment, it can be easy to lose sight of the real lives being impacted by our good intentions.

Students may come back from these experiences idealizing the people they met and overestimating the impact of their efforts without recognizing the complicated, lengthy, and iterative process of development work. Or, they may return discouraged because hoped-for change was not yet achieved, without recognizing that the impacts of service-learning might not be evident until years later. With relationship-based service-learning, schools can learn about and witness the non-linear development process and, with a long-term commitment, often see how seeds sown years before might begin to bear fruit.

Also, without relationship and trust, communities served by traditional service-learning efforts may feel reduced to “subjects” in a school project. I’ve heard many communities express that they feel “forgotten” by service and missionary organizations that bring volunteers to “serve” in the communities. They experience a constant churn of outsiders that enter their community but are never seen or heard from again once assigned projects are completed. When this happens, we miss the opportunity to share the fullness of Christ’s love, compassion, and justice to the people impacted through our service and actions. And, we miss the opportunity to grow in our own understanding of “knowing” others.

One Approach: Pacific Bay Christian School

As the new head of school at Pacific Bay Christian School in California’s Bay Area, I have explored new opportunities for relationship-based service-learning. One program that centers relationships in its service-learning philosophy is World Vision Ignite, which pairs schools in the U.S. with partner schools or partner communities in another country with the goal of mutual transformation. The program and curriculum work uphold the goal of combating global poverty, while supporting the development of globally and justice-minded students, school leaders, and staff through long-term relationships with friends around the globe.

In the coming years, we will partner with World Vision Ignite to integrate service-learning into our curriculum and school cultureOur focus will be in the Philippines, and our school community will connect with local communities in many ways. In sponsoring a group of children in a Filipino village, we read their stories, see their photos, and exchange letters with them to build relationships. Our students from kindergarten to 12th grade are taking ownership of this effort to know and care for the sponsored children, like sending birthday presents and taking the initiative to donate livestock to the village. In October 2019, our school will host a 6K run to raise additional funds for these children and raise awareness in our local community. We are also offering Advanced Placement Human Geography for our next school year where we will intentionally learn about our sponsored village and the surrounding community to connect academic learning to the real lives that we care about. Throughout, we are exploring opportunities to virtually build relationships with these children and our partner community through live-stream. And all of these efforts will prepare us for the launch of an annual service-learning and vision trip to the Philippines in summer 2020, where our students and the sponsored children and village will meet and engage in person.

This is just the beginning of our planning, and we know our approach will evolve over time as we learn more about how to serve and love our sponsored village more effectively. We as a school are committed to build this partnership over time, and not jump from issue to issue or community to community. We aim to cultivate a deep sense of “knowing” these brothers and sisters.

Questions to Consider

As your school explores relationship-based service-learning and consider programs, I encourage you to keep these key questions in mind:

  • Who are the partners (individual or organizations) that can invite you in and provide ongoing local perspectives to the communities that you will serve?
  • How do these partners engage local leaders and community members in collectively owned actions to address injustices, alleviate poverty, and promote overall well-being—whether economically, socially, spiritually, or physically?
  • How will you demonstrate commitment over time to a cause or community?
  • How will you remember the individuals and communities that you meet, continue to learn to “know” them, and practically stand in solidarity with them beyond the actual service-learning initiative?
  • How will you bring the whole student body into active partnership with partner communities and help them grow in their ability to “know” these communities?
  • How will we as educators address the fact that all of us still have blind spots when it comes to cultures and communities outside of our direct experience—and provide opportunity for self-reflection and truthful conversations that not only lead to our growth, but also model it for our students?

Additional Resources


Newbigin, L. 1995. Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Rah, S. and G. VanderPol. 2016. Return to Justice: Six Movements That Reignited Our Contemporary Evangelical Conscience. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press.

Shumer, R. and B. Belbas. 1996. “What We Know about Service Learning.” Education and Urban Society 28 (2): 208–23.

Swaner, L.E., and R.C.S. Erdvig. 2018. Bring It To LifeChristian Education and the Transformative Power of Service-Learning.Colorado Springs, Colorado: Association of Christian Schools International.

Our Beautiful Work
Dr. Chen


At Pacific Bay Christian School, we are engaged in a beautiful work, as explained here by Justin Cook, Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS):

teacher is assisting a study on computer

  Beautiful work is defined as quality work which invites students into God’s story.  It is complex, authentic, and involves craftsmanship, it encourages a deepening understanding of the knowledge of God’s Story and His kingdom. Beautiful work extends beyond the acquisition of knowledge encompassing a lived understanding which, over time, through modeling and practice, develops into applied conviction in a student’s life

kindergarteners are helping the school gardenOur beautiful work happens everyday as we help students engage in authentic learning.   We journey with them to discover our place in God’s story and we challenge them to apply their convictions in meaningful ways through such opportunities as Senior Thesis.  Ejypt Gates ‘19, recently wrote these words about PacBay and the impact of her Senior Thesis project:

Ejypt's photo

  I was able to identify and communicate how I can overcome a concern such as ethical issues in sports and improve the world that we live in today.  Pacific Bay Christian School has prepared me to be a confident Christian in  the realities of our world. I am absolutely confident that in the future I will be  and do something great, and I indeed do believe that that is what PacBay is trying to instill and teach in their students.

Like Ejypt, those who sit in our classrooms today will one day be corporate leaders, ministers, scientists, doctors, and lawyers – to name only a few of the opportunities open to our students.   As their teachers we are partnering with families to develop lifelong learners who desire to seek truth, do justice, create beauty, and live in community.

Emilie photoAlthough not a PacBay alumna, a former student of mine, Emilie Hodge Osman, articulates well the impact of our beautiful work; “It was always clear that Dr. Chen meant for us to apply what he taught to our lives and take it outside the classroom. Whether he was teaching about microloans or philosophy, he wanted us not just to receive the information, but to internalize it and understand what it meant for us in the world we live in.”

After graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in Global Development Studies, Emilie moved to Turkey where she works with Syrian refugees.  Our vision at PacBay is for students and faculty to form relationships that help students like Emilie “to think big and think outward.”

Senior SpeechCourses such as Human Geography, that encourages students to examine socio-economic organization and its environmental consequences inspire PacBay students to consider their place in the larger world.

I pray that when PacBay students reflect on their education here, they will recognize as Emilie has, “[being] pushed towards deeper and broader thinking is invaluable [and enables students] to find their way through issues of social justice, politics, and culture.”


Dr Chen's Signature




Michael Chen, Ed.D
Head of School