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A Voyage of Faith: Dawn Treader Christian School Inspires and Equips Students in Paterson

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Photo: Dawn Treader Christian School students sing at the annual Love Banquet on Nov. 22

By Matthew Becker

Named after the ship in C.S. Lewis’ fantasy book series The Chronicles of Narnia, the Dawn Treader Christian School in Paterson is a vessel in its own right, offering inner-city youth a quality Christian education and carrying them towards the hope of a bright future.

Dawn Treader, the only Christian school in Paterson, is located at 1 Market Street, close to the Great Falls Waterfall and National Historic Park on the Passaic River. The school was founded in 1977 as a project of the Evangelical Committee for Urban Ministries in Paterson, an independent organization of Christian Reformed laymen.

The mission continues today through the work of Head of School Charles Salinas and a dedicated staff. Salinas, who worked in corrections for 18 years, has always been driven by a need to help. During his time as a corrections officer, he relied on his trust in God as he faced some seemingly impossible challenges, inspiring him to walk in faith and not by sight. He was offered a position at Dawn Treader eleven years ago.

At that time, Dawn Treader was deep in debt, but through his leadership, they were able to build a sustainable ministry and partner with several local churches and organizations including Lighthouse Pregnancy Center and Servant’s Heart Ministry. Dawn Treader has even acquired a building next door to the school with Servant’s Heart, who transformed the facility into The Great Falls Center, “a place for creativity and transformation, that seeks to bring the good news of Jesus Christ into the Paterson community through training, mentorship, and programming.”

Future plans call for a Dawn Treader auditorium at the Great Falls Center. Currently, some of its students are learning trade skills through Servant Heart’s vocational program.

“We strive for our students to grow and develop into responsible and successful young adults,” Salinas said. “We pride ourselves in educating students who will become world changers, leaders, and innovators of transformational change.”

Helping Salinas to lead the school in a new direction is Assistant Head of School Suzanne Bruno, who is working to bring Dawn Treader into an accreditation candidacy, a process by which schools show that they are operating in multiple domains and validated practices. Bruno is working to bring encouragement, resources, and professional development to the students and staff of Dawn Treader.

In addition to enhancing students’ academics and life skills, the school also sets  aside time to extend a helping hand. Once a month, the student body dedicates a day to acts of community service, including providing food for homeless people in need as well as cleaning the city. Dawn Treader also provides a variety of extracurricular activities for the students which include music, theater, sports, art, and woodworking.

Whether it’s teaching life skills that could inspire career paths, or simply helping students find new hobbies, Dawn Treader seeks to keep inner-city young people involved with positive activities and on the right path. The school also partners with New City Kids, an after-school program and local ministry that serves in Paterson and Jersey City.

Many students have gone on to careers as doctors, musicians, lawyers, and teachers themselves. Many of whom have come back to Dawn Treader as teachers in order to aid the next generations of kids whose position they were once in. Charles Salinas, Suzanne Bruno, the school staff, board and all its volunteers are doing the Lord’s work by helping to steer the Dawn Treader forward and impacting the youth of Paterson.

For enrollment information or to donate or volunteer, visit www.dawntreaderchristian.org.

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