Crocker returns to high school
AJ Crocker has seen his life come full circle in the last 10 years.
A decade ago he was walking the halls of Caronport High School (CHS) as a Grade 12 student. Today he walks the same CHS halls where he serves part time as the high school chaplain. He divides the other half of his job between Youth Quake and public relations work at Briercrest College and Seminary.
“Today is my one year anniversary in this role,” Crocker said speaking of his chaplaincy. “I was hired primarily to oversee the chapel program—to give it vision and breadth and a consistent voice all year round. Beyond that there’s intentional mentoring that happens – there’s a handful of people I meet with every week.”
A steady stream of students visits Crocker in his office decorated with Toronto Maple Leaf jerseys, old Youth Quake posters and super hero figurines.
The chatter and mingling between classes in the hallway is one of the things Crocker likes best about CHS.
“I honestly think the hallway culture is probably the best – the coolest,” he said. “With the 10-minute breaks and at lunch time it’s just so accepting and so relaxed to a point that students are able to be themselves and find their own little groups of friends and not be having to hide or go elsewhere. No one has to walk with their eyes at the floor just trying to get through to the next class.”
Crocker admits this amazing environment could take some people by surprise.
“You wouldn’t expect a place in the middle of Podunk, Saskatchewan to be bragging about the atmosphere or the environment,” he chuckled. “But it’s a pretty wonderful place to be. I think for a high school kid especially.”
The CHS chaplain explains how he tries to extend this environment into the weekly chapels.
“The music’s going and the kids are coming in and there’s energy and what I interpret as excitement,” he explained. “There’s this genuine opportunity to meet with the Lord and the kids are willing and able to be there.”
Crocker is clear that he doesn’t want his chapel program to replace students plugging in at their own local church.
“We’re going to supplement what they’re already doing at church by additional biblical learning,” he explained. “In no way are we ever going to try to replace the church family piece. My dream is that we have a chapel program that takes the students deep into the Bible and pushes them hard to understand things that they don’t typically dialogue with.”
During his time as a CHS student, Crocker realized he wanted to go into youth ministry, but he decided to go to a different college than Briercrest.
“I’d always had this perception that I shouldn’t just go through the system here,” he said.
After graduating from CHS, Crocker lived with his family in Vancouver for a year before he went to Tyndale University in Toronto. While there, he missed much of the campus life that he had seen at Briercrest.
“(There were only) 80 people in dorm in a school of 500,” he said.
At semester he transferred back home to Vancouver and attended Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford. Again he was disappointed in the lack of student involvement on campus.
During this time, Marv Penner, who was then a professor of youth ministry at Briercrest College and Seminary, came to Vancouver to teach a class and took Crocker to lunch.
“He asked, ‘Why are you here? Why aren’t you at Briercrest?’” Crocker remembered. “I said, ‘That’s a good question.’ At that point I realized I wasn’t going to find a Briercrest experience anywhere else. It’s wonderfully unique the way that we do school here. I was hoping to find it in a much cooler location. I was hoping to find it near the Toronto Maple Leafs—hoping to find it in a city – but there was no way to do that so that next year I came back and I haven’t left.”
Crocker believes that Briercrest is also a key factor that gives CHS students a unique high school experience. The relationship between the schools allows high school students exciting opportunities such as helping out with Youth Quake or taking a college level course in Grade 12.
“There are bigger Christian high schools with way more programs,” he confessed. “But there’s no other school that compares in terms of atmosphere—in terms of general life outside of class and the advanced options that the college gives us.”