As a young man, Pioneer alumnus John Bell was already good at solving tough problems. In those days, he was a math major in college, and had been a strong performer in high school where he always made good grades. However, during his first semester, Bell realized becoming a mathematician would never be enough, as he already had discovered a deeper yearning to make a difference in the lives of people. Joining a proud tradition of servant leaders who found their calling as Pioneers, Bell says attending MNU helped bring clarity to his compassion, which eventually blossomed into a bona fide passion to serve.
After getting involved with the MNU School of Education, and making some new friends, Bell says he quickly changed his major to elementary education, hoping to impact children early in life by acting as positive Christian role model. After graduation in 2005, Bell became a fourth grade teacher at Ravenwood Elementary School in Olathe—a position he held for over eight years.
Although the Principal speaks highly of his time at Ravenwood, he also had developed an interest in decision-making and leadership while serving as the both president of the Professional Teacher Candidate Organization, and senior class president at MNU. It was for this reason Bell decided to advance his education even further, electing to attend a graduate program at Emporia State University while still working full-time as a teacher. In 2009, the young educator earned his MA in education, and three years later he was offered the position of Principal at Westview Elementary School in Olathe.
“I love it here,” Bell says. “I think it’s the absolute best place to be. I feel like every day I come to work I am being of service, and I want these kids to have the same chance as the others.”
Still a problem solver by nature, Bell says he gratefully accepts the many challenges associated with his new position. Westview Elementary—a predominantly Hispanic school—is located in an economically challenged community, and many of its students face hardships at home that can impact their performance in the classroom.
“This is a needy community,” Bell says. “We have families with some pretty unique struggles. Many students are low-income, come from broken families, or have been victims of abuse. That’s why I try to be a positive male role model. They may have never seen that at home.”
In his mission to lead by example, Bell says sharing his faith is always a priority. Although most school districts prohibit teachers from directly advocating for their faith, the Principal says he is still able to engage students on a spiritual level by speaking openly about his own life as a Christian, as well as asking his pupils whether or not they attend a Church or have a faith of their own. This, according to Bell, is done in a non-confrontational, “getting to know the child” manner, which avoids giving students the impression he is trying to impose his religion on them.
“I think Olathe tends to be a pretty understanding community that supports our churches,” Bell says. “It’s very supportive of people who work in the school and have faith, and I think that’s put me in a good position not have to choose between the two.”
One of the biggest challenges faced by the staff at Westview Elementary is the language barrier. According to Bell, approximately 60% of the school’s population is Hispanic, and many of the students who attend speak little or no English, or speak a difficult mix of Spanish and English colloquially known as “Spanglish.” This, the Principal says, means Westview often trails other schools in the district in terms of academic achievement.
“We have to do a lot of language development,” Bell says. “But our teachers are awesome at working with the students and building their vocabulary. Very often, we read a book one would think every student knows the words in. But, you come to a word like ‘lawn,’ and they’ve never heard that word before. It’s always been called a ‘yard.’ Having that limited language really affects how our kids learn. But, we just have to be proactive and rise above it.”
One of the ways in which Westview Elementary is able to partially solve the language problem is by employing full-time interpreter Laura Thompson, also a Pioneer alumnus. Although Thompson’s primary role is translating for staff, Bell says she often acts as an “assistant principal,” speaking with parents about behavioral issues, counseling students, and assisting in emergency situations. Thompson, like Bell, said she was drawn to MNU because of the smaller class sizes and the prospect of a Christian education.
Although the Principal sees a great deal of work ahead, he believes the staff at Westview is up to the challenge.
“One of our goals is to be right up there with other schools in terms of our student achievement,” Bell says. When we’re starting with kids who don’t know the basics, like letters or numbers, we have to be creative and think of different ways to reach those goals. I want the best for these students, as they deserve the same opportunities as the rest.”
For those thinking of entering the field of education, Bell remains supportive.
“I think education is one of the coolest fields out there because you get to have fun all day,” Bell says. “I think teachers have a huge impact on a large number of people, and you don’t get that in many professions. It’s a lifelong impact, and you help form the next generation of kids.”