Valley Christian School students attend chapel once a week, but a recent Tuesday morning was a special celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

“Let’s pray,” Head of School Dave Entwistle said as junior and high school kids lowered their heads and closed their eyes. “Kind Father, we just thank you for this new morning you've given to us and we thank you for this opportunity to celebrate Christmas. … We commit this season to you and to remembering your great love for us. In Jesus Christ’s name we pray. Amen.”

Earle Reimer and his wife, Sandra, opened the non-denominational, private Christian school in 1979, growing it from an elementary school with a few dozen students to one of Missoula’s largest faith-based K-12 programs today with about 300 students, whose families attend dozens of area churches. Earle Reimer died earlier this year.

Among the first graduates in 1985 was their son Jason, now a history teacher. Another son, Michael, leads the band, and his wife, Molly teaches choir. Their third son, Brent, served as athletic director and now coaches basketball. Many of their own children attend the school, as do many other kids of early Valley Christian graduates or teachers. Eight graduates have since returned to teach at the school.

Fifth-grade teacher Erin Hanson is among them and said she chooses to teach at the small school because of its atmosphere.

“It's like a family,” she said. “My little one starts next year.”

Cheryl Nurse has worked at the school for 26 years, including three as principal. Her two sons graduated from the school.

“We want our kids to be prepared to live a life for the Lord,” she said. “The foundation they got here, they're living out in their life now. They're definitely men of God and talk openly about their faith. I couldn't imagine being in an environment where I can't talk openly about my faith.”

In academic courses, students are encouraged to find the work of God. They also receive character and Bible lessons, and attend chapel once a week.

Recently, Michael Reimer led the band as they played ”Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” He tapped his foot and conducted with his right hand as he wiggled his left hand as a signal for Josie Cross to tap the cymbal. His son, Casey, played trombone.

As choir students sang renditions of “Hallelujah!” and “This is Christmas,” some of their peers raised their hands in praise, closed their eyes as they swayed to the rhythm, or recorded the performances with their cellphones.

After chapel services, high school students divided into groups by grade and gender for Bible Discipleship Training to discuss the day’s chapel messages, their latest struggles and how to manage them as people of faith.

Job Laurie, a math teacher, asked her “ducklings,” an affectionate term for the group of teenage girls she mentors, what they liked most about the service.

“When we sang, ‘Come Worship,’ the whole chapel changed and turned to God,” Katie Mienke, 16, said. “It was really peaceful.”

They talked about the people and problems in their prayers lately: family health challenges, worries about classes and usual teenage stresses. In another building, a group of boys discussed the same.

Jim Centifano, industrial arts instructor, encouraged the boys not to worry so much about earthly distractions that they missed opportunities to live for Jesus Christ.

“Replace distractions with simple prayer,” he said. “There's nothing wrong with music and sports. When it becomes an obsession, it becomes a problem.”

On the board was a verse from Matthew.

“Then Jesus said come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

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