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Janet Vander Kooi hangs her hat

Versatile teacher retires from Fresno Christian
Hailey Higton

Throughout Janet Vander Kooi’s 33 years working at Fresno Christian, she has worn many hats.Her roles have included, 2nd grade teacher, 5th grade teacher, 6th grade teacher, 8th grade English teacher, Learning Resource Center (LRC) teacher, and guidance instructional specialist. As the ’23-’24 school year comes to a close, Vander Kooi is hanging her hat and retiring.

Vander Kooi wasn’t born in the United States; she was born and raised in Canada. Vander Kooi graduated from University of Winnipeg in 1981 and got her masters degree in theology in 1990 from Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary. Having come from Canada, Vander Kooi greatly appreciates the sport of hockey; her favorite team is the Winnipeg Jets.

“There was a community rink next to the school so the kids would bring their sticks and skates and we would play hockey together,” Vander Kooi said.

She decided to move down to Fresno, California after her mother died and a tough year of teaching. After teaching 6th grade for 8 years, Vander Kooi’s working visa maxed out, meaning she needed a green card. Her students prayed that she would find someone to marry.

Don and Maria Brouwer, parents of a child in her class, set her up on a successful blind date with Bill Vander Kooi. They ended up getting married and having two children, Will and Cate Vander Kooi, who are both alumni of Fresno Christian. As a family they enjoy playing trivia games, attending hockey games, hanging out at the pool, and visiting family up in Canada as much as possible.

If you know her, you know her love for music and concerts, especially rock music. Last summer Vander Kooi traveled all the way to Amsterdam just to sing along with “The Boss” himself, Bruce Springsteen. “Best concert ever!” Vander Kooi said.

Weaving her way through various positions on the FCS campus, Vander Kooi’s favorite job was teaching 6th grade. She liked to find different ways to make it fun.

“We did ancient civilization and I developed a whole curriculum on time travel,” Vander Kooi said. “We did archeological digs, traveled to ancient Greece, wore togas, and did the Olympics.”

Tamara Hill, who works in the elementary building with LRC, has known Vander Kooi for 30 years; they met when her son was in Vander Kooi’s 6th-grade class. Hill has traveled with Vander Kooi and describes her as an adventurous spirit.

“She’s highly motivated to bring innovation to the students and how they learn,” Hill said.

As a former student of Vander Kooi, Sanjay Stephen, 24’, shares his experience with her in her 5th grade class.

The Vander Kooi family taking in one of their favorite sports in person.

“Mrs. Vander Kooi made me feel human,” Stephen said. “She never expected more of her students than she knew they could handle. Every mistake made was an opportunity to try again; she would always laugh it out with us, helping us to understand mistakes are a part of life.”

Tryphena Gunawan, ‘24, also fondly remembers her 5th-grade class with Vander Kooi as a good teacher and making learning fun.

“She was a very good teacher, and you can tell she loved teaching,” Gunawan said. “It impacted me because it made learning fun; I still remember all her time travel adventures.”

After retirement, she hopes to continue working with children by volunteering at CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). CASA is a nonprofit organization which is a non-profit organization whose mission is to recruit, train and support volunteers to speak up for the interests of abused and neglected children in the foster care system.  She is happy with the impact she has left at school and is sad to leave,

“My relationships with students and colleagues have impacted me the most. They have brought great joy to my life and enriched it greatly. I have loved laughing with them, sometimes crying with them, and I wouldn’t trade the time I had with them for anything in the world.”

Help us celebrate the impact of Janet Vander Kooi. Leave a memory or token of gratitude in the comments below.

To read more from The Feather visit the media page or Kimberly Bell says farewell



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About the Contributors
Owen Gainer
Owen Gainer, Journalist
Owen Gainer, ‘25, is a first time Feather Staffer. He was born and raised in Fresno, California. Gainer strives to learn more about photography and become a stronger writer. After high school, Owen wants to become a deep sea welder but in the meantime he works at Charles McMurray Company. You can find Owen on the golf course or riding motocross in the desert.   
Hailey Higton
Hailey Higton, Photojournalist
Hailey Higton is launching her freshman year as a photojournalist for The Feather Online at Fresno Christian Schools. Known for her tenacity on the soccer field, and in life, Hailey dedicates herself wholeheartedly to cross country, high school worship team, and children’s ministry at The Well Community Church. Hailey’s creative ambition is on display through her graphic art, videography, reels, and social media posts that aim to glorify God, celebrate student success and build school spirit at FCS.  
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