Cornerstone Christian School is expanding once again, this time more than 8,000 miles away.
Partnering with directors Trevor and Kasey Otto, Cornerstone is building a school in Blantyre, Malawi, which is set to open in September.
Trevor Otto has been living in Malawi with his family for almost six years, and knew there was a need for education in his area.
“The education system in Malawi is really broken, and there isn’t a lot of emphasis on it,” he said. “In addition, there’s no emphasis on individual growth of children — it’s kind of a sink or swim situation.
“When we see those gaps, we feel in our heart to try and fill those gaps in any way we can, and we’re starting with the smaller things. We decided opening the school would be the best way for us to make an impact that can last for generations.”
The tuition-free school is starting with nursery-age children in three classrooms, and will eventually grow into a preschool to high school program.
“I want to start also putting kids through college,” Otto said.
Otto said the vision has been in his mind since living in Malawi. It didn’t start kicking off until he was introduced to Cornerstone superintendent Teri Lynn Schrag three years ago by a mutual friend, school board president Bryan Bartels.
“When we initially came (to Cornerstone School), it really wasn’t clear what the partnership would look like or if there would even be one,” Otto said.
After meeting again with Schrag a year ago and collaborating with her and Bartels, Otto said it was apparent there needed to be a partnership.
Schrag, who visited the area in Malawi in September, said Cornerstone was originally thinking of partnering loosely with another school in Malawi. But that soon changed to building from scratch.
“Cornerstone’s role is to be the support in whatever way is needed,” Schrag said.
“Cornerstone Bellevue is going to look very different from Cornerstone Malawi, and yet it’s still Cornerstone.
“I see God setting Trevor and Kasey into a role of leadership within not just Malawi, but East Africa.”
There are three teachers and three assistant teachers hired so far, and the classrooms will have 15 students each.
Also hired is headmistress Faith Chapola.
“We want to be hands-on, because most of these kids have had zero educational background at all,” Otto said.
An average school day will consist of blended Montessori, U.S. and British curriculum.
“We’re trying to make them as well-rounded as possible, but at the same time we’re going to be doing a pattern of discipleship that goes over all of that,” Otto said. “It’s really a foundational element for them to learn about Jesus and to learn about who they are just as much as it is learning their ABC’s and how to write and read.”
Otto said this school is a first for Malawi.
“No one has tried to blend all these things, so we’re not 100 percent sure what that will look like, but we’re willing to be bold and try new things,” he said. “The really great resource that Cornerstone has is they’ve been willing to share with us.”
Along with the education, Otto said there will be snacks and meals provided for the children during the day, and students will be provided a blue uniform.
Otto said he’s looking forward to meeting and connecting with the families, as well as helping the students grow in faith.
“In the future in years to come, our goal is to teach and facilitate growth of the children that are going to change a nation,” he said. “The community we’re in is considered the worst slum and fourth poorest country in the world, and people don’t want to live there. We want to change that.”
Schrag said she’s happy to see the school starting up, and is excited to keep building upon the Cornerstone name.
“This is going to be a huge significant change to the Malawi community,” she said. “This next step in Malawi fits perfectly into commitment to prayer, discipleship. This is something that has been very, very prayerful.
“It’s that next step for Cornerstone, and there will be many more next steps.”
Otto said he hopes the school will grow smoothly and successfully over the years.
“The one prayer I’d ask is we would have enough faith that we would continue to move forward,” Otto said, “because God has made it clear that as long as we don’t stop, it will continue to grow. It’s all done on a matter of faith.”