February 10, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

Christine Metzger, Brian Fuller and Rachel Kuyvenhoven in the studio

When the film crew showed up at the Mustard Seed School, in Hoboken, N. J., last January, it was a little disruptive, admitted the school’s director, 1989 Calvin alum Christine Metzger: “It felt like there were cameras everywhere, like it was a reality TV show,” she said, “and then they became part of the family.”

The crew that spent the three-week interim documenting the life of the Christian school was composed of Calvin media production professor Brian Fuller and three Calvin students. Their documentary, A Shared Space: Learning from the Mustard Seed School, will premiere in two screenings, at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., on Friday, February 11, 2011, in the Covenant Fine Arts Center Recital Hall. (The project was funded by the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning and the Battaglia Family with support from the Calvin College Alumni Association.)

The film’s premiere in Hoboken during November 2010 drew 1,000 people, and Metzger recalled Fuller answering questions from the crowd: “All these hands are in the air, and he’s calling on all these five-year olds, and they’re asking: ‘Why wasn’t I in the film?’” she said.

Everything is learning

A Shared Space explores the everyday functioning of the Mustard Seed School, founded in 1979 by two Calvin alumni. The students, drawn from an array of backgrounds, begin each day with worship. They learn Spanish by sculpting animals and labeling their body parts in that language. They learn fractions by quilt making. They learn the history of western migration through building covered wagons. The students spend part of each school day in solo projects and some in classes, and the grades gather together in the shared space to work at drama, painting, woodworking, weaving, textiles, science and computer research.

“Everything is learning—everything we do,” said Metzger. “It’s academics integrated with arts, faith and service, but it’s the child in the image of God who comes first.”

The approach is gaining fans, she said: “Pretty much everybody I give a tour to says, ‘I wish I had gone to school here.’”

Metzger said the idea to make a film about the Mustard Seed School came from David Smith, a Calvin professor of German and the director of the college’s Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning. She first heard Smith speak at a convention four years ago. “I told him that the idea he had for a Christian school we were doing at the Mustard Seed School,” she said. Metzger pestered Smith to pay a visit to Hoboken, and after he did, he contacted Fuller about creating a documentary of the school, funded by the institute.

Student help

“David is a visionary because Kuyers had never funded a film,” Fuller said. He flew down in 2009 to scout locations and filmed during 2010 with media production majors Kristin Crawford and Chad Drenth, now both seniors, and Kyle Berkompas (now graduated), who served the film as audio technician. Three more media production majors—seniors Taylor Wogoman and Rachel Kuyvenhoven and Eric Nondahl (now graduated) helped him cull the finished documentary from 131 hours of raw footage.

Kuyvenhoven was impressed by the school. “I was transcribing the film, and the teachers kept saying over and over again how impressive the students were,” she said.

 Metzger returned the compliment: “Everyone who has seen the film was inspired,” she said.

Recent stories